Sunday, February 18, 2018
Stage

Calm of Debussy and Duruflé surrounds the storm of Beethoven's Symphony No. 2

TAMPA — The latest offering by the Florida Orchestra begins with dewdrops and ends on a whisper. Between 20th century compositions by Claude Debussy and Maurice Duruflé bursts Ludwig van Beethoven, like an intruder yanking out all the drawers in the house and smashing everything that can be smashed.

This season's Masterworks lineup emphasizes French and Russian romanticism. Performances of Debussy's Danse sacrée et danse profane and Duruflé's Requiem for Chorus, Orchestra and Organ, temper the effects of Beethoven's Symphony No. 2, while showcasing a stellar talent in harpist Anna Kate Mackle and the Master Chorale of Tampa Bay.

Neither the venue Friday in the acoustically inferior Ferguson Hall at the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts nor the program screamed "must see" to fickle fans (who were probably in the adjacent Morsani Hall enjoying Wicked), but those who filled the house more than got their money's worth. Debussy wrote the piece (literally translated as "dances sacred and profane") in 1904, commissioned as a test piece for a new kind of harp. Instead of the usual 46 strings with foot pedals to loosen or tighten for flats and sharps, this experimental "chromatic harp" developed by Gustave Lyon provided a string for every pitch.

Mackle, the orchestra's principal harp since 1999, led with bright chords and unorthodox melodies, establishing a reflective mood. The other strings behind her created an intimacy, about halfway between a chamber group and a full orchestra. Mackle's elegant melodies contrasted with deeper, moodier underpinnings in those long bow strokes of the double bass. The chromatic harp did not last long. Musicians found that its two rows of intersecting strings muffled tone and were almost impossibly difficult to play. This performance, on a conventional harp, comes through as if intended for this very group.

Beethoven wrote his second symphony in 1802, the same year he penned a letter to his brothers disclosing his hearing loss and consequent despair. Scholars point to this "Heiligenstadt Testament" as evidence of the turning point the composer was undergoing simultaneously, moving from the Viennese classical style of Haydn and Mozart to a romanticism all his own. Symphony No. 2, music director Michael Francis said before the concert, is "probably the most underestimated of his pieces."

In the opening movement, the brass and flute and lower strings take turns venturing and returning. Moments of reflection never last long, replaced with a pitched fury. An expansive second movement, in which violins carry the theme and the oboe and bassoon play point and counterpoint, could be called luxurious. But there always seems to be a pessimism lurking, a forcefulness that reawakens in the rapid scherzo of a third movement and a furious finale.

Durufle's Requiem takes the pace down after intermission, to a contemplative level stemming from the influence by Gregorian chants. It is by far the composer's best-known work. Written on the heels of the German occupation in 1947, the piece moves through a standard requiem format, but with a decided preference for somnolent peace over a trumpet-blasting rendition of "days that will dissolve the world in burning coals" (otherwise known as the Dies irae, dies illa). Francis conducted the orchestra and the Master Chorale of Tampa Bay, which navigated the changing features of this piece crisply.

Two soloists underscore the quiet grandeur of this music. James K. Bass, a baritone and former artistic director of the Tampa Bay Master Chorale, gives the score the sober and serious dignity it calls for. Mezzo-soprano Anita Krause hauntingly embodies the cavernous spaces for which such works are written.

Instrumental groups alternate the melodies, sometimes the violas, other times different sections of woodwinds. Together with the chorale, the effect is akin to echoes bouncing off the walls of a cathedral. The requiem ends quietly, as prayers often do.

Contact Andrew Meacham at [email protected] or (727) 892-2248. Follow @torch437.

Comments
Trumpeter is the highlight of a concert featuring ‘West Side Story’ themes

Trumpeter is the highlight of a concert featuring ‘West Side Story’ themes

TAMPA — Leonard Bernstein would have turned 100 this year. The Florida Orchestra performed two of his works Friday, the second of which paired the dances from West Side Story with the overture to Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet.The orches...
Published: 02/17/18
Five things that make Cirque du Soleil’s ‘Volta’ different and fun

Five things that make Cirque du Soleil’s ‘Volta’ different and fun

TAMPA — Cirque du Soleil is back in town with a new show.The Montreal-based company always puts on an extravaganza, splashing around color with the abandon of a toddler playing with paint buckets and a storyline several layers deep, the artistic skel...
Updated: 3 hours ago
On stage this weekend: Trumpeter Haken Hardenberger, Complexions Contemporary Ballet

On stage this weekend: Trumpeter Haken Hardenberger, Complexions Contemporary Ballet

FLORIDA ORCHESTRA: ROMEO AND JULIET The Florida Orchestra has lined up a romantic evening. This weekend’s concert, Romeo and Juliet and West Side Story, pays tribute to Tchaikovsky and Leonard Bernstein. Bernstein’s prelude, Fugues and R...
Published: 02/14/18
‘Brownsville Song’ at Stageworks tells important story but falls short on believability

‘Brownsville Song’ at Stageworks tells important story but falls short on believability

TAMPA — In some ways, the latest offering at Stageworks Theatre comes loaded with promise.A young man with a lot of motivation, personality and wisdom dies in a random and violent way. In telling his story, we also get a glimpse of life in a Brooklyn...
Published: 02/12/18
Laura Benanti talks about her Melania impression, growing up ‘the odd person out’ and more

Laura Benanti talks about her Melania impression, growing up ‘the odd person out’ and more

Tony winner Laura Benanti (for best actress in a musical), who brings her cabaret act to the Straz Center this week, was a self-described ugly duckling. Growing up in New Jersey, she never tired of Sondheim soundtracks and struggled with a secret shy...
Published: 02/09/18
Even Jimmy Buffett does not live the Jimmy Buffett lifestyle anymore

Even Jimmy Buffett does not live the Jimmy Buffett lifestyle anymore

Jimmy Buffett awoke one morning last year in one of his many homes — he can’t remember which one, there are a lot of them — and a panic gripped him in his throat. His new Broadway musical, Escape to Margaritaville, was coming along nicely, but someth...
Published: 02/08/18
Updated: 02/09/18
Florida Orchestra mixes it up, collaborates with community in 2018-19 season

Florida Orchestra mixes it up, collaborates with community in 2018-19 season

ST. PETERSBURGThemes are useful sometimes. Right now, the Florida Orchestra is still enjoying the heart of its 50th anniversary season, which has been big and loud and celebratory.At other times, maybe it’s best to just put a fine program together an...
Published: 02/08/18
Andrea Bocelli, ‘Phantom of the Opera’ and Cirque du Soleil are all in town for Valentine’s Day

Andrea Bocelli, ‘Phantom of the Opera’ and Cirque du Soleil are all in town for Valentine’s Day

VALENTINE’S DAY: ANDREA BOCELLISuperstar Andrea Bocelli and Broadway legend Kristin Chenoweth team up again, the conclusion of a three-city tour. This time it’s a crossover trio with soprano Nadine Sierra, a 2009 winner of the Metropolitan Opera Nati...
Published: 02/07/18
Updated: 02/09/18
The weekend is cool, but how about a Valentine's Day Wednesdate?

The weekend is cool, but how about a Valentine's Day Wednesdate?

Happy February, lovers. Valentine’s Day a week away. Have you made plans? Possibly not, since the holiday falls on an inconvenient Wednesday this year (especially inconvenient for those who observe Ash Wednesday, a day of denying yourself exce...
Published: 02/07/18
Cirque du Soleil raises big top with ‘Volta’, could open doors for neighbors

Cirque du Soleil raises big top with ‘Volta’, could open doors for neighbors

TAMPAIt took 60 people to raise the white tent last week in the parking lot of the Tampa Greyhound Track, the "big top" for Cirque du Soleil’s Volta.With Volta, now open and running through March 18, Cirque brings its first tented show to the Tampa B...
Published: 02/06/18
Updated: 02/14/18