TAMPA — The Florida Orchestra is winding up its season with works by two composers who labored in the shadow of Beethoven, Schubert and Brahms. On the podium Friday at the Straz Center was Gunther Herbig, who opened with Schubert's Symphony No. 5.
Perhaps because this symphony isn't performed much, or because the players were especially alert under Herbig's precise baton, or because they just wanted to finish the season on a high note — whatever the reason, the Schubert was exquisite, overflowing with glorious melodies like one long, elegant Viennese waltz.
Schubert grew up in Beethoven's day, but he was more influenced by Haydn and Mozart. Under Herbig, the Fifth Symphony had a classical buoyancy, but there was also an affecting sense of depth to it. As American composer John Harbison said, Schubert "got closer to full metaphysical revelation than any other composer."
Brahms was so intimidated by the legacy of Beethoven that he struggled for decades to write his first symphony, premiered in 1876. But then his second came quickly, a year later. It's one of Brahms' most genial, expansive works — the pressure to live up to Beethoven was off — and it's full of memorable passages, such as the exotic oboe tune (played by Katherine Young) in the Adagio.
Friday's concert was in the Straz's smaller orchestra hall, Ferguson, and its cozy dimensions squashed the big sound of the Brahms, not allowing it to bloom. (Ferguson's acoustics were quite suitable for the lightness of Schubert.) Still, the way the trombones kind of sneaked in for their big moment at the end was a blast, as always.
John Fleming can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8716. He blogs on Critics Circle at blogs.tampabay.com/arts.