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Orchestra brings out brilliance in percussion

It was percussion night for the Florida Orchestra on Friday. Not only was Michael Torke's concerto Rapture given a workout by the amazing Scottish percussion soloist Colin Currie, but the orchestra also played Shchedrin's Carmen Suite for strings and percussion.

But first there was Mozart's Symphony No. 29, with associate conductor Susan Haig making her masterworks debut in Ferguson Hall of Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center. She brought out a sparkling performance, which featured an especially beautiful combination of hunting horn calls and rapid string play in the finale.

Shchedrin was the Soviet Union's official heir to Shostakovich but without the genius. He could be an entertaining composer when writing dance pieces for his wife, the Bolshoi prima ballerina Maya Plisetskaya, and his 1967 suite from the Bizet opera is a crowd pleaser.

All the familiar tunes are there, including the Habanera repeated again and again, most pleasingly in a marimba-vibraphone duet by John Shaw and David Coash. There were some haunting string effects in the Adagio. Haig and the orchestra seemed too restrained for such cornball music.

Torke has reorchestrated parts of Rapture since its 2001 premiere, and the composer was in attendance Friday to hear the revised version for the first time. Both he and Currie, for whom the work was commissioned, had a few words to say from the stage before the music got under way.

Initially, the balance was off, with the soloist sounding too loud from his battery of percussion in front of the orchestra, but things improved as Haig and the players settled into the groove.

Rapture is typical Torke in the orchestra, a mesmerizing blend of melody and repetitive patterns in the strings. His tweaking of the instrumentation in the first movement did seem chunkier and more effective than in the Naxos recording of the work.

Currie was remarkably poised for having so much to do _ there are some 13 drums and eight wood instruments to play in the first movement alone _ and he did a fantastic job of pacing his performance.

The second movement, in which he plays a five-octave marimba, was a shimmering wash of colors. The third movement was an exciting dash through pairs of metal instruments, from cymbals to brake drums to gongs.

As gorgeous as the parts of Rapture are, they may not add up to an emotionally satisfying whole. The nature of a percussion concerto is to be a bit static. Still, in the talented hands of Currie, the inventive scoring of Torke developed a thrilling, orgasmic momentum. It was as if Bolero had met up with Stomp.