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Roaring out of Russia

TAMPA — Nothing succeeds like excess, that seems to be the theme of the Florida Orchestra's concerts this weekend. The program is all Tchaikovsky, and why not? About the only time I've heard such roars from the audience was when the orchestra backed up a Led Zeppelin tribute band a few weeks ago.

Tchaikovsky and Led Zeppelin … somehow that's a pairing that makes a certain sort of sense, the heavy (metal in the case of Zeppelin) popmeisters of their respective musical genres, a century apart from each other.

Of course, it helped that the orchestra was playing one of Tchaikovsky's greatest hits, the First Piano Concerto, with a steely fingered soloist, Markus Groh, Friday night in Ferguson Hall of the Straz Center for the Performing Arts. He was subbing for the scheduled pianist, Mikhail Rudy, who canceled because he has tendonitis.

Groh, a ponytailed German, deserved every hurrah he got, right from the massive piano chords he laid down to accompany the famous melody in the orchestra that begins the concerto. He has the requisite big sound for such a grand conception, and at times he appeared to be wrestling the music from the piano (this is a fun piece to watch being played), but he also displayed a poetic sensibility in the cadenza of the first movement. He dashed off the speedy dance rhythms of the finale in spectacular fashion.

Music director Stefan Sanderling did well with the most obvious conducting challenge of the concerto when, about midway through the third movement, the tempo lurches slower, like a record suddenly changing speed. It's not Tchaikovsky's finest moment as a composer and can be awkward in performance, but it passed by without incident on Friday.

The orchestra opened the evening with Tchaikovsky's Third Symphony, which is not as familiar as his much-played Pathetique or Little Russian symphonies. "Of all his symphonies, this one is the least conformative to preset schemes and may produce an impression of strangeness," writes Roland John Wiley in his new Tchaikovsky biography. In other words, it has lots of pretty music but is incoherent.

The five-movement symphony was composed around the same time as Swan Lake, and the fourth movement is reminiscent of the ballet score with its skittering winds and strings. The third movement is the emotional heart of the piece and featured excellent work by principal bassoon Anthony Georgeson.

John Fleming can be reached at fleming@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8716. He blogs on Critics Circle at blogs.tampabay.com/arts.

. If you go

Florida Orchestra

The program repeats at 8 p.m. today at Mahaffey Theater, St. Petersburg, and 7:30 p.m. Sunday at Ruth Eckerd, Clearwater. $20-$67. (727) 892-3337 or toll-free 1-800-662-7286; floridaorchestra.org.

Roaring out of Russia 01/29/10 [Last modified: Friday, January 29, 2010 11:42pm]
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