Thursday, November 23, 2017
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A string of rare musical gems

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TAMPA — Cellist Xavier Phillips came onstage with the sleeves of his black, open-collared shirt rolled up, as if to say that he was going to get right down to work. And did he, as the spectacular soloist in Prokofiev's Sinfonia Concertante with the Florida Orchestra Friday at Morsani Hall of the Straz. Center for the Performing Arts.

Virtually every technical demand for the cello is called upon in the Prokofiev, and Phillips was master of them all, such as the extreme high register of many passages (oddly, the only time his intonation got a touch wayward was in a few low notes in the third movement). He had a good partner in guest conductor Julian Kuerti, who managed the intricate transitions between soloist and orchestra in seamless style.

Phillips ranged from slashing, virtuosic, almost nonstop playing, with incredibly rapid bowing and fingerwork, to long-lined, expressive, singing lyricism. He never lingered too long over a phrase. This was a rare gem of a performance.

Kuerti, a former assistant conductor with the Boston Symphony Orchestra, was attentive to detail without losing the rhythmic flow of Schubert's C-major Great Symphony after intermission. A notorious trap in the first movement is to allow the coda, when the opening horn melody returns, to slow down and go slack, but he kept the tempo moving. Lane Stevenson, the English horn player sitting in as first-chair oboe, dispatched his prominent solo in the second movement with aplomb. However, in that same movement some magic was missing from the presentation of horn calls that Schubert famously described as coming "from another sphere."

The Great is not just Schubert's greatest symphony — his answer to Beethoven's Ninth — but also his longest, and I had to leave a little early to make deadline. But I was able to hear how the violins handled the fiendishly fast triplets in the finale. Just fine.

John Fleming can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8716.

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