TAMPA — Music director Stefan Sanderling had a pair of themes for Friday night's Florida Orchestra concert. One was about music and the visual arts, as indicated by the titles of the pieces on the program: Trittico Botticelliano, Respighi's three little tone poems inspired by and named for Boticelli paintings; the Mathis der Maler Symphony, drawn from Hindemith's opera about a painter; and Mussorgsky's famous stroll through a gallery of sketches and architectural drawings by Victor Hartmann, Pictures at an Exhibition.
The other theme of Friday's concert, played at Morsani Hall of the Straz Center for the Performing Arts, was all about the brass section, at least in the last two works on the program. The overriding sonic impression was of sumptuous brass choirs in Hindemith's three opera interludes and Ravel's glamorous orchestration of Mussorgsky's suite of piano pieces, epitomized by the thrilling, majestic finale, The Great Gate of Kiev. Only Trittico Botticelliano was not brassy, mainly consisting of delicate, pretty music, such as the middle movement showcasing the winds in the Epiphany hymn O Come, O Come Emmanuel. Doubling note: Orchestra cellist Alfred Gratta played celesta in the Respighi — and that keyboard instrument with the heavenly sound has a prominent part— then went back in the cello section for the rest of the evening.
Hindemith always comes as a refreshing surprise because his music is not frequently heard, and Friday's performance was a downright revelation. Banned by Hitler as "degenerate," Mathis der Maler must be an interesting opera, because the extracts in the symphony do not sound like anything I have heard, such as the big brass chords suggesting a cross between Kurt Weill and Anton Bruckner. The second movement closes on a simple, lovely horn-flute duo, and the third movement's brass chorale is a knockout.
Pictures at an Exhibition is one of the most familiar concert works, with its catchy Promenade melody and evocative scenes. The Ravel/Mussorgsky score also features a rare orchestral appearance by alto saxophone, played with exotic flair by Valerie Gillespie in The Old Castle.