TAMPA — Berlioz's Symphonie Fantastique was the main attraction of Friday's Florida Orchestra concert, led by guest conductor Pedro Halffter at Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center. Berlioz took up music where Beethoven left off with the magnum opus of his youth (the Frenchman was just 27 when he composed it in 1830), the first and still the greatest purely romantic symphony.
Before getting to Berlioz, there were a couple of interesting works on the agenda, beginning with the Interlude and Dance from De Falla's opera La Vida Breve. It's quintessentially Spanish music, with lots of rhythmic flair, and Halffter, a native of Madrid, was in his element.
Jason Vieaux was the fine soloist in Villa-Lobos' Guitar Concerto, a dreamy, offhand sort of concoction in which the soloist drifts in and out of the richly layered orchestral fabric. The highlight was a cadenza that was both sublime and flashy (if that's possible), with brilliant, sensitive fingerwork by Vieaux.
The soloist was amplified, with a small loudspeaker at his feet, but the perennial problem of acoustic guitar and orchestra was still present. In the early going you had to listen hard to make out the guitar until the balance got worked out.
Halffter, conducting without a score, led an immensely satisfying account of the Berlioz symphony, which was fantastic in performance as well as name. The passionate opening movement was taut and exciting, getting the autobiographical theme of the composer's obsession with an Irish ingenue off to an engrossing start. The second-movement ballroom scene was a glamorous moment for the two harps, leading an elegant waltz.
The third movement's country scene (reminiscent of Beethoven's Pastoral Symphony) featured principal oboe Katherine Young, standing stage left, and English horn Andrea Overturf in a hauntingly beautiful conversation. Then, in the concluding March to the Scaffold and Dream of a Witches' Sabbath, all hell broke loose with thunderous blasts of brass, mocking winds and amazing timpani.
John Fleming can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8716.