Sunday, May 20, 2018
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Old piano work gets debut with Florida Orchestra

TAMPA — This weekend's concerts by the Florida Orchestra ask a fascinating musicological, or perhaps philosophical, question: Why are relatively few composers from the Romantic era remembered, with their works being played over and over again, while their contemporaries are forgotten?

Yes, Mendelssohn, Schumann, Chopin and Liszt were musical geniuses, but during their time, the mid-19th century, Europe was full of composers striving to make their mark in the wake of Beethoven. Surely, more than a handful of them are worth remembering.

One of these neglected composers was Eduard Franck (1817-1893), a German whose Piano Concerto No. 1 in D minor (Op. 13) is receiving what is billed at its U.S. premiere by the orchestra, with James Tocco as the soloist, music director Stefan Sanderling conducting. The first of three performances was Friday night in Ferguson Hall of the Straz Center for the Performing Arts.

The Franck concerto dates back to the 1840s, when the composer, also a pianist, was the soloist in performances of the work in Berlin and Leipzig. But the instrumental parts were lost for more than a century, until they were discovered recently in the archives of the Accademia Santa Cecilia in Rome. Now the concerto has been published, thanks to efforts of the composer's descendants, including his great, great grandson, Andreas Feuchte, who made the trip from Germany for the concert.

Tocco and Sanderling are well suited for a Franck revival. The pianist has made excellent recordings of the composer's chamber music, and he is editor of the newly published concerto. Sanderling, of course, is German, and he has the intellectual bent for such a project.

The Franck concerto, which runs about half an hour, is an elegantly crafted work that owes much to Mendelssohn and Schumann, but it lacks the textured complexity of an original, unpredictable work of art, like the Schumann piano concerto. Instead, it is mainly a vehicle for virtuosic display, the kind of difficult show-off piece that pianists love to master, and Tocco gave a brilliant, overpowering performance — maybe a little too overpowering for Ferguson's cramped acoustics. The highlight was the slow movement, featuring a tender, meditative melody that returned in grandiose form in the finale.

The rest of Sanderling's program consisted of overtures, a rather eccentric but ultimately charming approach that he described from the podium as "a pops concert of 150 years ago." There were operatic bonbons by Weber, Mendelssohn, Albert Loring, Otto Nicolai and, to wind things up, Wagner's prelude to Die Meistersinger, with its stirring brass fanfares.

John Fleming can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8716.

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