TAMPA — Stefan Sanderling, conducting the Florida Orchestra on Friday night, gave an enthralling performance of Mahler's hybrid of song cycle and symphony, Das Lied von der Erde (The Song of the Earth). The excellent soloists were mezzo soprano Susan Platts and tenor William Burden, who alternated in the six songs, set to German translations of ancient Chinese poems.
Platts in particular was overwhelming, bringing a sense of passionate restraint, combined with tremendous warmth and eloquence, to her songs on nature, loneliness and beauty, growing older and death. The 30-minute finale, Der Abschied (The Farewell), is the pinnacle of the work, and she gave a mesmerizing reading of it, her dark richness of tone interspersed with bursts of vibrant color. There was an elemental quality to her performance that was breathtaking as it emerged from the complex orchestral texture, complemented by fine solos by Anna Stearns, playing principal oboe this weekend, and principal flute Clay Ellerbroek.
Burden (a late replacement for Vinson Cole, who canceled because of illness) had the less interesting songs, and the tenor got pushed to the limits of his upper register in the opening movement, resulting in occasional imbalance between soloist and orchestra. But he was a genial, swaggering presence in his lusty accounts of youth, drinking and all-around merriment.
The concert, which concluded with Haydn's Symphony No. 45, Farewell, was performed in Ferguson Hall of the Straz Center for the Performing Arts. It began Sanderling's first and only appearances with the orchestra this season since the surprise announcement last summer that he was making his exit as music director two years early.
Though Sanderling is scheduled to return for another masterworks program in 2014, the Mahler and Haydn works certainly suggest an ending, with their common themes of farewell. He said in an interview that the pairing was not meant to be a statement, that the two works simply worked well together, but acknowledged that under the circumstances the program did seem to have extra meaning.
Haydn's Farewell built up to a twist in the finale, in which the orchestra gradually disappeared from the stage, with one player after another picking up his or her music and departing into the wings. At first the audience was bemused and then, as the joke became clear, amused, finally laughing as Sanderling walked off, leaving only a pair of violins, concertmaster Jeffrey Multer and principal second violin Sarah Shellman, to play the final notes.
Not only was Haydn's classical symphony a buoyant delight, but it was also great theater
John Fleming can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8716.