Review: The Florida Orchestra delivers graceful world music

Works of Ravel, Strauss and Dvorak provide for a winning Masterworks concert.

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TAMPA — A relaxed Florida Orchestra cruised through a lineup of luscious and sweet melodies that paid tribute to shifting styles of world music. Under the direction of gregarious principal guest conductor Stuart Malina, the musicians launched into their last set of Masterworks concerts before Christmas at the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts on Friday.

It was lullaby time at the gate, meant in the best possible way. Ravel's Le Tombeau de Couperin, which the composer created by smartly editing his original piano suite of six movements, was dedicated to friends who had died in war.

This is straight-up refined French music, lyrical and bright, the orchestra's most subtly moving work of the night. The flutes were crystalline throughout, mischievous in the second movement and fluid into the third. If you're looking for that moment to close your eyes and get carried away, to feel your shoulders relax and your throat catch, it's the third movement of the Ravel.

The orchestra gave one of its own a chance to shine as soloist in Richard Strauss' Concerto No. 2 for the horn. Robert Rearden, principal horn since 2010, was deliberate and focused while navigating the difficult French horn. That's more than 20 feet of brass, folks.

Strauss wrote the second concerto more than 60 years after his first. The Mozart fanatic started with notes only possible on a natural French horn — the kind with the big hole in the middle, during Mozart's time — before giving way to more romantic, dynamic progressions. Maybe that's why the concerto wasn't immediately magnetic. It trudged along before perking up, bolstered by urgent work from the strings.

The evening's war horse was Dvorak's Symphony No. 9, or the New World Symphony, a powerful crowd pleaser. Dvorak wrote it while living in America, evoking what he thought was America's sound, but it's still overtly Bohemian and folksy. The symphony draws from African-American spirituals (listen for Swing Low, Sweet Chariot in the first movement).

It opens with a beautiful cello melody that never returns, and in the second movement features a lovely solo on English horn, which looks something like an oboe but with a fuller, richer sound.

Maybe it's all the holiday carbs, but it was one of those nights when no one seemed to know whether to clap between movements. There are different schools of thought about that, but I say go with your heart. Clap, clap, clap, if you feel like clapping. After all, 'tis the season.

Contact Stephanie Hayes at [email protected] or (727)893-8716. Follow @stephhayes.

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