Tuesday, August 21, 2018
Music News, Concert Reviews

Review: Debussy's Prelude showcases the deep talent of the Florida Orchestra

TAMPA -- Music of sensuality, charm, mystery and power highlights this weekend's concerts by the Florida Orchestra.

On Friday evening, concertmaster Jeffrey Multer was featured in Mozart's Violin Concerto in G major, a cheerful piece written when the composer was just entering the adult phase of his prodigious career. But in pieces by Debussy and Stravinsky, it was the orchestra's wind and French horn players who stole the show.

In a concert without a visiting guest star, it was a demonstration of just how deeply talented our local band is.

Principal flutist Clay Ellerbroek had the delicious treat of opening Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun, with an extended solo that was both sensuous and pure. Midway through, there's a quick up-and-down arpeggio (which Ellerbroek executed flawlessly) that makes Debussy's languorous tune all the more enticing.

John Upton's oboe, Andrew Karr's horn and Brian Moorhead's clarinet provided evocative moments of their own at the Straz Center, while guest conductor Fawzi Haimor had the whole ensemble, including the deeply resonant strings, billowing in voluptuous waves.

Debussy's impressionistic piece was criticized as "formless" after its premier in 1894, but that's because nothing like it had been composed before. Today we hear its whole-tone scales and absence of conventional cadences as a revolutionary expansion of harmonic possibilities. The effect is dream-like and blissful. If the concert had ended with this initial piece, I could have gone home hypnotized and happy.

But I would have missed Stravinsky's Firebird Suite, adapted from the ballet he composed in 1909-10. (This suite, one of three excerpted from the larger work, is the 1919 version.)

Once again, the winds and brass are highlighted to dramatic effect. They come in punctuating bursts in the ominous introduction. In "The Round Dance of the Princesses," oboist Upton has a haunting solo that is answered by the mellow horns. With stretching and flowing gestures, Haimor encouraged the entire orchestra to play with a sumptuous elasticity of line.

Which makes the percussive opening of the third section ("Infernal Dance of the King Kaschei") all the more startling. This is organized mayhem, but Haimor's precise direction kept all the jagged pieces together.

Finally comes the soft and slow buildup to the Finale, with another mysterious wind solo, this time from assistant principal bassoonist Maurizio Venturini,* and a string ensemble that was portentous and wise.

The brass fanfare of the final few minutes is dramatic, urgent and insistent, and by the end you feel as if you've just experienced a miracle.

Powerful stuff.

Between the Debussy and the Stravinsky came the Mozart Concerto and a short set of songs by Gabriel Faure.

Multer gave a proficient but plain-spoken rendition, or perhaps it only sounded that way after the richness of the Debussy. Still, I missed the shapely singing tone I've heard before, from him and others.

The Faure songs, though, are charming miniatures, full of wit and delicate interplay.

* Editor's note: This review has been corrected to show that Maurizio Venturini, assistant principal bassoon, performed the solo.

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