TAMPA — Valentina Lisitsa is an internet sensation — her YouTube videos have been viewed by millions — so that may explain the lively crowd that turned out Friday night for the Florida Orchestra's concert at Morsani Hall of the Straz Center for the Performing Arts. It didn't hurt that the Ukrainian-born pianist is a tall blond in a long black dress.
Lisitsa was the soloist in one of her party pieces, the Rachmaninoff Piano Concerto No. 2, and she gave a thrilling performance that made the difficult music seem effortless. Hunched intently over the keyboard, she played with a nice sense of rubato, right from her deceptively offhand entrance on the chordal progression that opens the work. Music director Stefan Sanderling was a supportive partner, giving the pianist plenty of flexibility in his tempos, and she brought a lovely, almost improvisational fluency to the poetic middle movement. Only in the finale did a certain brittleness creep into her tone in the grand, forceful runs.
After a standing ovation, Lisitsa played an encore, the Schubert-Liszt Ave Maria.
Sibelius' Symphony No. 1 is kind of a problem piece, loaded with brilliant touches, of course, but there may actually be too much of it, as if the composer put everything into it that he knew at that point in his development — he was 33 — when less would have been more interesting. Sanderling and the orchestra gave a cohesive account, highlighted by the plaintive clarinet melody (played by Brian Moorhead) that begins the work.
To open the program, the orchestra played Nielsen's Helios Overture, a tone poem that evoked the arc of the rising and setting sun.
John Fleming can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8716.