Sometimes, musical performances come across as flawless. The Florida Orchestra provided one of those rare experiences during its Morning Masterworks concert at the Mahaffey Theater on Friday.
The elusive moment of musical ecstasy is no small feat, especially for a group of 80 or more musicians. Think of all the correct notes that need to be placed in exactly the right space in time. All of the hours musicians have spent on their technique. The intangible element of musical expression that is so lacking in many performances. Surely individuals are making small mistakes, but on the whole, everything collides in a spectacular way.
Speaking of such collisions, a standout piece in Friday's concert was Michael Daugherty's "Red Cape Tango" from Metropolis Symphony, a depiction of the fight between Superman and the villain Doomsday. Guest conductor Daniel Hege seemed excited to introduce the work from the podium. He described the explosive moments as onomatopoeia, like you might see in the comics: WHAM! BOOM! or POW!
It begins with a call and response between an offstage French horn and one onstage. A solo bass introduces the tango rhythm, which persists for most of the piece, and a solo bassoon plays the principal melody, which is woven from the same fabric as the medieval plainchant Dies Irae from the Mass for the Dead.
Then we get the BLAMS and KAPOWS, often punctuated by total silence. Hege was exemplary in these moments: The alternation between tango and musical fight sequences (or both combined) was extremely effective and pulled off without a glitch. Hege had the perfect combination of technique and expression and didn't distract from the music in any way.
The concerto on the program was almost equally exciting. Rachmaninoff's Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, performed by piano prodigy Andrew von Oeyen, is just about as flashy a showpiece as you can get from the piano repertoire. Von Oeyen was brilliant in his somewhat showy performance and even looked snazzy in his designer blue suit. He made the last variation of the work — the one that gave Rachmaninoff himself trouble — seem easy. It's also interesting to note the bit of clever programming: Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini has a reference to the Dies Irae chant as well, but in a much more romantic fashion.
Perhaps it was because the first half of the concert was so interesting that the Schumann Symphony No. 2 in C major seemed rather lackluster. It was by no means a bad performance, although the violins did seem to struggle just a bit with their entrance to the very demanding second movement scherzo. It's so violin-heavy, in fact, that Hege motioned for them to stand separately from the rest of the orchestra as they were accepting the applause, which still wasn't as enthusiastic from the audience as before intermission.