TAMPA — Some soloists seem especially inspirational to the Florida Orchestra, and Peter Rosel is one of them. The orchestra has always played exceedingly well with the German pianist, ever since his first appearance here in the Brahms Second Piano Concerto in 2004, and so it was again Friday night in Morsani Hall of the Straz Center for the Performing Arts.
Mendelssohn's Piano Concerto No. 1 is full of daunting passagework, with the soloist diving into it right away, just seven measures into the work, but Rosel brought an uncanny sense of clarity and crispness to the notes, although they fly by in great fistfuls. In the bravura first movement — the concerto is played without pause — it was as if he was able to slow down the music, even though it is incredibly rapid and difficult.
In Rosel's large hands, the limpid piano part of the Andante was meltingly beautiful, played over cellos and violas. In the finale, the soloist's display of digital dexterity in the spectacular coda — with just a touch of sluggishness near the end — brought the crowd to its feet.
As an encore, Rosel played the perfect complement to the concerto, Mendelssohn's hymnlike Song Without Words, Op. 19.
Guest conductor Sebastian Lang-Lessing, another German, had gotten the evening off to a tepid start with Liszt's Mephisto Waltz No. 1. The violins' frenetic fiddling was disjointed and out of synch, and the waltz lurched from one musical episode to the next with little cohesion. The plodding performance did the unthinkable and made Liszt sound dull.
Lang-Lessing's hyperactive, herky-jerky style was better suited to the Symphonie Fantastique, Berlioz's opium dream of a masterpiece that Leonard Bernstein summed up perfectly as "the first psychedelic symphony" in one of his Young People's Concerts. At first, things didn't sound very promising, as the opening movement lacked transparency, because the exacting wind parts were covered up by the rest of the orchestra.
The waltz in the ball scene was better, with a nice lilt to the strings. Then a highlight of the concert came in the country scene duet between guest first oboe Jaren Philleo, who played offstage, and English horn Jeffrey Stephenson. The movement closed on a heart-stopping note, with Stephenson's haunting extended solo with timpani.
The march to the scaffold featured sensational, stereophonic brass and percussion. For the witches' finale, principal percussionist John Shaw exited offstage to sound the funeral chimes while all hell broke loose in the orchestra, including blasts from a pair of tubas.
John Fleming can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8716.