Multicultural programing came to the Florida Orchestra with half a program of Hispanic-flavored music at Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center Friday night. The other half was given to Polish romanticism in one of Chopin's two piano concertos.
Guest conductor Bruce Hangen, artistic director of the Omaha Symphony Orchestra, bridged the potentially schizophrenic gap deftly, leading a well-played concert. A highlight was Falla's two suites from the ballet score The Three-Cornered Hat.
Horacio Gutierrez, the scheduled soloist in Chopin's Piano Concerto No. 1 in E minor, canceled because of illness. He was replaced on one day's notice by Seung-Un Ha.
As she demonstrated in a Mozart concerto with the orchestra last season, Ha has a strong musical personality that expresses itself in an appealing combination of intensity and lyricism. Chopin's E-minor Concerto is long on piano and short on concerto, but when the music is working it seems as if the soloist is also conducting. Ha achieved that kind of transcendence in the slow movement with elegant right-hand rubato.
Falla's picturesque music tells the tale of a Spanish Corregidor _ a provincial political boss _ who tries to seduce the wife of a miller, losing his three-cornered hat in the process. Brilliant melodies come and go fleetly, and there's a barrage of castanets at the end. The Corregidor is portrayed by solo bassoon. The rarity on the program was A Gathering of Angels by Robert Xavier Rodriguez (born in Texas in 1946), whose inspiration was a passage from Milton's Paradise Lost. The eight-minute work of shifting tone colors doesn't add up to much until the lively finale kicks into gear.
One interesting touch was the handbell choir, rarely heard in symphonic repertoire. The handbell players were from First Presbyterian Church of St. Petersburg.
In 1932, Gershwin took a vacation in Havana, a sojourn that led him to write the Cuban Concerto, originally named Rumba, which opened the concert. It's a Broadway composer's idea of what Latin music is all about, and that means plenty of rhythm. The score takes a half-dozen percussion players plus the timpanist, and they're all busy through most of the piece.
Friday at Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center. Bruce Hangen, conductor; Seung-Un Ha, piano. Program repeated at 8 tonight and 7:30 p.m. Sunday.