TAMPA — As principal second violin, Sarah Shellman doesn't get a lot of chances to shine with the Florida Orchestra. Most of the time, she's a team player. But Friday night, she was in the spotlight as the fearless soloist in Thomas Ades' 2005 violin concerto Concentric Paths.
Alexander Mickelthwate, music director of the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra, was the guest conductor at the Straz Center's Ferguson Hall.
Shellman made a bold choice to play the concerto of Ades (pronounced Ah-diss), an Englishman who just turned 40 and is one of the most ambitious composers of his generation. It's a daunting piece of music, but she and her colleagues were up to the task.
The structure of the Ades concerto has a "circular'' theme — the movements are titled "Rings," "Paths" and "Rounds" — but I was more struck by its brilliant sonic effects. Soloist and orchestra strings sounded like the rustling wings of a flock of strange birds in the almost continuous music of the first movement. Random low rumbles in brass and percussion added to the ominous mood.
Shellman, playing with a score on the stand in front of her, and cutting a slim, elegant figure in her long black gown, gave a confident, commandingly secure account of the complex second movement, the heart of the matter. Her rich, narcotic tone cut through the overlapping layers of the orchestra. Mickelthwate kept the blasts by brass and percussion that punctuate the 20-minute work pretty restrained, even the slashing disharmony that ends it with a bang.
Haydn's Symphony No. 59 opened the evening. Coming about half way through the composer's amazing output of 104 symphonies, it is an unfamiliar one, but like so many of those you've never heard, it turned out to be a delightful surprise. Haydn's music is not necessarily profound, but it's almost always entertaining.
Mickelthwate, who led the orchestra with big, broad gestures, did a good job of shaping the ebb and flow of Elgar's Enigma Variations, which took up the second half of the program. All of the 14 variations have titles that refer to the composer's "friends pictured within,'' and No. 9, "Nimrod'' (Elgar's publisher) was, as always, the glorious highlight.
John Fleming can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8716.