TAMPA — Stewart Goodyear turned the concert hall into a rocking juke joint Friday night when he was the stunning soloist in Gershwin's Piano Concerto in F. And the Florida Orchestra backed the pianist like the plushest dance band you've ever heard, with music director Stefan Sanderling on the podium, at Ferguson Hall of the Straz Center.
Gershwin's concerto owes a lot to Rhapsody in Blue, and there are all kinds of other influences sprinkled throughout, from show tunes to Yiddish fiddle music. But it takes a remarkable pianist to bring this sometimes ungainly work to full-blown, pulsating life, and Goodyear did exactly that with his taut, percussive style. Though not big, he's a powerful player, having no trouble cutting through the orchestral sound. To wind up the first movement, his performance of rapid, jazzy runs, full of cat-quick syncopation, was brilliant.
The second movement, with its "poetic, nocturnal atmosphere" (in Gershwin's words), was less involving, but that was just the lull before the storm. Goodyear played like a man possessed in the frantic finale, which brought down the house. The pianist basked in the thunderous applause, and then, gracefully, called on principal trumpet Robert Smith to take a bow for his great, bluesy solo.
Friday's program opened with a new work by Osvaldo Golijov called Sidereus, commissioned to honor Henry Fogel, former CEO of the League of American Orchestras, and being played by 35 orchestras around the country. It was led by Mihaela Cesa-Goje, winner of the Taki Concordia Conducting Fellowship, and the diminutive Romanian brought an incisive approach to Golijov's silken blocks of sound that was very effective.
Sidereus, inspired by Galileo's revolutionary theory in 1610 that the earth revolves around the sun, is a short work, running eight or nine minutes, but it packs a lot of meaning beneath its melodic surface. A constant, restless pulse in the rumble of timpani, murmuring brass and probing lower strings somehow suggests "a giant object from outer space, floating ominously above us" (in Golijov's words).
Sanderling presided over a joyous performance of Dvorak's Symphony No. 8 to close the evening, highlighted by the tireless, lyrical flute play of principal Clay Ellerbroek. The melancholy, lilting dance of the third movement was absolutely gorgeous.
John Fleming can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8716.