Maybe we’re spoiled. Perhaps we’ve come to expect too much excitement at our Sarasota Orchestra concerts. So, it was with a bit of guilt that I found myself bored with parts of this past weekend’s all-Beethoven Masterworks Concert at the Van Wezel.
One certainly can’t fault the music. Beethoven is, without question, one of the great masters of the early part of the 19th century, responsible for changing the very sound and structure of music, and a concert featuring the second “Leonore” Overture, the third piano concerto and the “Eroica” can hardly be called shabby.
So, it was the performance Saturday night that bothered me — the first half, anyway. The “Leonore No. 2” was somewhat tentative and disjointed, with a sound that, except for the off-stage trumpet, seemed brittle and dry. And the C minor Concerto, a favorite under other circumstances, lacked character and color in the youthful hands of pianist Yevgeny Sudbin.
Performing music that’s so well known is tough, because you must either bring a freshness to it or you must, at least, live up to the performances that have come before. We’re not asking for novelty or change. What Beethoven wrote is ample on its own. But the wonderful thing about great music is that, in the right hands, it can be reborn, and that simply didn’t happen in the “Leonore” or the piano concerto.
It did happen after intermission in the “Eroica.” Artistic Director Leif Bjaland, conducting without a score, infused tension and energy into this Third Symphony of Beethoven, and the orchestra was tight, taut and vibrant. It was positively electrifying, proving that a traditional and beloved symphony can be heard anew. From the rich string sound in the second movement’s “Funeral March” to the horns on the hunt, this was an exhilarating “Eroica.”