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Florida Orchestra season ends on a triumphant note with Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 5

Croatian pianist Dejan Lazic? plays Beethoven’s Emperor Concerto for the Florida Orchestra’s final concert of the season.
Published May 20, 2017

TAMPA — The Florida Orchestra ends its 49th season with a complete set of three qualitatively different pieces. They joined Beethoven and Tchaikovsky with a brand new work on a weekend that signals the departure of one of its longest-serving musicians and the ascent of first-year principals.

The orchestra under the baton of music director Michael Francis delivered a stunning Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 5, bringing a full-house audience to an ovation lasting several minutes Friday at the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts. It was as good as anything the orchestra has done all year.

The evening began with Deconstruction of Anger, Francesco Sclafani's ironically titled balancing act between cold objectivity and rage.

Haven't heard of Sclafani? If this world premiere was any indication, you will. In March, the 23-year-old University of South Florida student won a composing contest sponsored by USF and the orchestra with this piece. Sclafani explained his motivation and methods in a brief address to the audience. The key, he said, was to stretch himself with an emotion he said he rarely feels, identifying different types of anger and giving each a musical form.

It starts with a sharp strike of strings, the physical embodiment of a war of nerves. Various types of percussion burst in, almost from the starting gate. It builds as horns take the lead. The New York of Sclafani's Italian father springs to mind, with all of its elbowing angles and cellular shifts, like fury captured under a microscope lens.

The night's title piece, Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 5, better known as the Emperor,' is considered a step forward for soloists in becoming co-equal with the orchestra. In this case, the soloist is Croatian pianist Dejan Lazić, who launches the piece with the composer's explicitly written-out cadenza. In this first of his concertos, which Beethoven himself did not play, the soloist's prominence might signify a kind of announcement as to the pianist's continuing importance, parallel with the "entrance" of the mythical emperor someone else attached to it.

Lazić combines technical mastery with a pronounced or even flamboyant expression, often taking the volume of the music way down, as if insisting we listen to the delicacies. While this takes a little getting used to, it's a legitimate interpretation and one that complements the orchestra but does not overshadow it.

But the night's highlight was the astonishing performance of the Tchaikovsky, a rumination of his inner battle with the society that repressed his homosexuality. He wrote it at age 48, five years before his death. The first movement begins with unison clarinets, broadening as bassoon and string sections join in. Strings that enter on a plateau suddenly diverge in opposite directions. Bursts of desire meet with shame-based retractions, only to re-emerge even stronger.

The second movement opens with principal horn player David Smith's breathtaking solo, one of the most evocative in the instrument's repertoire, clarinet and bassoon tenderly woven around it. The tempo shifts to a waltz in the third movement but never really eases. A magisterial fourth movement brought together all of the elements that prompted the audience to pack the hall — the grand resolution of a masterwork, and a full orchestra under the physical direction of Francis, who is wringing excellence out of them to the triumphant finale.

Contact Andrew Meacham at ameacham@tampabay.com or (727) 892-2248. Follow @torch437.

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