TAMPA — Stefan Sanderling looked wrung out when he turned to face the audience at the end of Prokofiev's Symphony No. 6. And for good reason. This was music fraught with history and emotion for Sanderling, who led the Florida Orchestra in its first performance ever of the work Friday night at Ferguson Hall of the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts.
The Sixth Symphony, sometimes called the darker twin of Prokofiev's heroic Fifth Symphony, is rich with meaning for the orchestra's music director because his father, conductor Kurt Sanderling, was present at the creation, as co-conductor of the Leningrad Philharmonic, which premiered it in 1947. The senior Sanderling died just short of his 99th birthday in Berlin in September, and Friday's performance felt like an homage to the great conductor, who considered the Sixth the most important of Prokofiev's seven symphonies.
In general, the symphony is a somber affair, with the thud of percussion suggesting the tread of a funeral march throughout the first movement, along with dissonant brass. Prokofiev's orchestration is sublime in the lower strings, creating a constant undercurrent of movement beneath the main themes. A horn choir in the middle movement provides a burst of warmth. A section in the third and final movement has the ebullient brightness of a show tune. Unlike some recordings I've listened to (I had never heard the work live before), which tend to give the symphony a kind of schizophrenic quality, Sanderling's interpretation had a confident coherence.
Missing from Friday's performance were the orchestra's principal oboe and flute, but their sections acquitted themselves well.
Stefan Jackiw was the fresh-faced soloist in the Beethoven Violin Concerto, which occupied the second half of the program. The violinist produced a silken, sensuous tone and soared easily into the upper register, where he was completely secure.
With Beethoven's concerto, you can take either a Classical or a Romantic approach, and Jackiw and Sanderling definitely went the Romantic route, slowing the pace down to the point that the first movement unfolded over a long, weighty 25 minutes, concluding with a ravishing reading of the imaginative cadenza (by Fritz Kreisler). The soloist squeezed every last drop of drama from the middle movement's set of variations.
John Fleming can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8716.