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Review: Florida Orchestra gets inside a child's mind with Mahler

Published Mar. 22, 2015

TAMPA — It's no wonder adults try to get in the heads of children, to recall how it felt to dream big without the realities of maturity bugging you.

The latest Florida Orchestra masterworks program, conducted by Cristian Macelaru, gave the audience three chances Friday night at the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts. The main event was Gustav Mahler's Symphony No. 4, a thrilling four-part vision of the afterlife that ends in the eyes of a child.

First came Richard Strauss' Serenade for Winds, a piece the rebellious teenager composed after sneaking into a Wagner rehearsal his father forbade (that new sound, you know). Principal flutist Clay Ellerbroek shone in this whimsical interplay among 13 wind instruments.

An orchestra performance can be a touch underwhelming, both visually and acoustically, in the Straz's Ferguson Hall. It's especially the case with a Mahler program, which could really use a more significant venue (Morsani Hall was full with Motown the Musical on Friday).

The addition of soprano Talise Trevigne to the stage in a grand white satin skirt gave the atmosphere more sense of occasion and glamour. Her voice was clear and never drowned, effectively interpreting Samuel Barber's Knoxville: Summer of 1915. Barber composed this when his father was near death, based on the writing of James Agee.

Trevigne sings Agee's English words. But due to the nature of operatic pronunciation, you'll have to follow the program to translate a child's perfect summer night of blue dew and stars and quilts. With the death looming, a soul-stirring moment came when the orchestra made a giant, dissonant leap, crying out while Trevigne sang of a good-hearted father.

The first half was only 30 minutes, so people kind of shuffled out to intermission unsure if they really needed it. But it was a good idea with the 55-minute Mahler coming up.

The symphony is a heck of a Mahler ride — complex, interesting, often hard to understand — but Macelaru kept things on track. There were clean reminders of place, including recurring sleigh bells from principal percussionist John Shaw (really cool alongside thumps from double basses).

In the second movement, concertmaster Jeffrey Multer switched violins to one tuned with more tension (and slightly more reddish in color? Or was that just me?). It was meant to sound like the devil, and it especially did when Multer plucked it. Picture a jagged fingernail poking you in the back.

Reprieve came in the third movement, the pace almost too relaxed after the frenzy we had just experienced. It all built to the finale, with Trevigne interpreting a child meeting St. Peter and smelling bread baked by angels.

How do you think a child would see heaven? It sounds so poetic and serene when you say it, but imagine the reality. The running. The sensory overload. The sheer excitement of it all.

Contact Stephanie Hayes at shayes@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8716. Follow @stephhayes.

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