TAMPA — The Florida Orchestra has a long season, and sometimes it's the incidental pieces that stay with you more than the blockbusters. That was the case with Friday's curtain raiser, Debussy's Petite Suite, an unexpected gem whose opening movement featured a sweet flute tune over gentle strings and winds. This created a delightful fantasy effect, like the twinkling music that greeted Dorothy's arrival in Oz.
The suite's infectious melodies were by Debussy, who wrote it originally for piano, four hands, but the artful orchestration (reminiscent of Ravel) was by Henri-Paul Busser. Stefan Sanderling, who has been bringing a lot of French music to the orchestra lately, conducted.
Another pleasant surprise was Haydn's Horn Concerto No. 1, with James Wilson as the soloist. The Haydn is not played as often as the horn concertos of Mozart, Richard Strauss and Gliere, but it's well worth hearing.
The concerto seemed to agree with Wilson, the orchestra's principal horn who has been on leave of absence to teach at Florida State University. In a genial, almost laid back performance, he displayed classically warm, burnished tone, plenty of power to fill the hall with sound and bravura technique in the cadenzas.
Both the Debussy and Haydn deployed a reduced orchestra and worked nicely in Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center's smaller Ferguson Hall.
Concertmaster Jeffrey Multer was the star of Scheherazade, Rimsky-Korsakov's take on Arabian Nights, with the solo violin representing the sultan's wife, spinning tales to avoid execution. Multer was pitch perfect in the glistening high passages, and he didn't go overboard on the vibrato. And it wasn't just the concertmaster's showpiece, as there were fine solos taken throughout the orchestra.
But Rimsky-Korsakov didn't know when to quit. Scheherazade is tiresomely repetitive and about 10 minutes too long.
John Fleming can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8716.