TAMPA — The Florida Orchestra gave a little Belgian music festival Friday night, at least in the first half of the concert under guest conductor Rossen Milanov in Ferguson Hall at the Straz Center for the Performing Arts.
Cesar Franck was Belgium's best-known composer, but his symphonic poem Le chasseur maudit is rarely heard. It's something of a thriller-diller, inspired by an 18th century poem about a defiant count who goes hunting (thus the horn calls) on a Sunday morning (church chimes in the percussion section). Nothing good comes of such impiety, of course, and Milanov, who was extremely detailed in his stick technique and gestures, plunged the orchestra into the frantic finale depicting the nobleman's damnation, much influenced by the pyrotechnics of Berlioz's Symphonie Fantastique, to be played on the next masterworks program in March.
The theme continued with music by another, lesser known Belgian, Joseph Jongen, whose two-movement Suite for Viola and Orchestra from 1915 featured principal viola Ben Markwell. It was hard to get interested in the work, which is awfully slow-moving in the first movement and only fitfully takes advantage of the viola's seductively dark sound. Markwell, playing with a score, gave it a workmanlike reading, marred by some episodes of wayward pitch against the impressionistic haze of the orchestration.
If the works by Franck and Jongen were obscure, Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 5, which took up the second half of the program, is a familiar crowd-pleaser, with its "fate" theme introduced right away by low clarinets, one of classical music's signature tunes. A highlight was principal Robert Rearden's immaculate, sublime performance of the second movement's famous horn solo, marked dolce con molto espressione. Milanov, a Bulgarian who is music director of the Princeton Symphony Orchestra in New Jersey, handled Tchaikovsky's trademark mix of melancholia and excitement in fine fashion.
Because Friday's concert got under way about 15 minutes late, I had to leave before the symphony was finished to make my deadline, but fortunately I was able to stick around long enough to hear the third movement's perfect waltz, suggesting Tchaikovsky's great ballet music.
John Fleming can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8716.