TAMPA — The Hummel Trumpet Concerto is far from easy, but Robert Smith almost made it seem that way in his elegant performance as soloist Friday night with the Florida Orchestra at Ferguson Hall of the Straz Center for the Performing Arts.
Smith, the orchestra's principal trumpet, brought a warm, confident tone to the early Romantic chestnut, and his technique was completely up to the task of the virtuosic final movement, with all its rapid articulation, double tonguing and trills. Because the concerto is written in E flat, it can sound a bit dull at times, but Smith carried it off with panache. And if he took a shortcut in an absurdly tricky passage, it was suavely done.
On the podium was Gunther Herbig, a white-haired master of the Austro-German tradition, former music director of the Detroit and Toronto symphony orchestras.
He opened with Schubert's somewhat neglected Sixth Symphony, which a person sitting by me thought was too staid and predictable, and while I know what he meant, I thought the incredibly swift violin playing in the finale was fun.
The Schubert skeptic was there for Brahms' Fourth Symphony, and well he should have been, since it's all about big emotions and ideas, life and death, one of the pillars of Western culture. Herbig was quite detailed in his tempos, an approach that seemed, paradoxically, to free up the orchestra, which played beautifully, from the two-note pattern at the start to the complex set of variations at the end.
I was a little surprised that Herbig, old school as he is, didn't divide the first and second violins for the Brahms, because their intricate dialogue in the first movement sounds better that way than when they are massed to the conductor's left, but maybe the cramped Ferguson stage made the split seating unfeasible.
John Fleming can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8716.