TAMPA — Berlioz was a great composer of overtures, and he was also quite the Shakespearean. There is no better curtain raiser than the overture to his strangely neglected opera inspired by Much Ado About Nothing, named for the sharp-witted, sarcastic lovers, Beatrice et Benedict. And so with Berlioz, the Florida Orchestra's concert got off to a lively start Friday night at Ferguson Hall of the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts, with guest conductor Larry Rachleff leading the final program of the season before musicians go on summer hiatus.
Rachleff, music director of the Rhode Island Philharmonic, has a detailed conducting technique that drew an alert performance from the orchestra. He mixed things up for each of the four pieces. For Barber's Adagio for Strings he conducted without a baton. For the suite from Stravinsky's ballet score Pulcinella, stagehands removed the podium and he led a chamber-sized orchestra from the stage. During the first half of the evening, Rachleff made life easier for the orchestra librarian by conducting all three pieces without a score but then had sheet music in front of him for the big finale, the Brahms Violin Concerto, featuring a rising young soloist, Augustin Hadelich.
If there was a musical goodbye on the program, it may have been Barber's transcendent little masterpiece, which manages to be both melancholy and uplifting at the same time, like a bittersweet departure, but it suffers a bit from familiarity and felt just a touch perfunctory.
No such complaint for Pulcinella, perhaps the pinnacle of Stravinsky in his French phase, sounding very Ravel-like at times. Typically inventive, it features a rare little duet for trombone and double bass.
Hadelich gave a consummate reading of the Brahms. He sailed through the flashy, gypsy-style fiddling with ease, and his sweet, singing tone in the upper register was a treat to hear. He also communicated the concerto's drama in a cerebral, subtle way and was especially fine in caressing transitions between solo passages and the full orchestra.
John Fleming can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8716.