What’s old is new again, and for its first Masterworks concert of the season, Sarasota Orchestra’s Artistic Director and Conductor Leif Bjaland proved this adage. Some early 20th-century programs he’d seen at the Library of Congress inspired the concert. In the olden days, programs were choc-a-bloc with short pieces, even (horrors!) excerpts from symphonies and concertos.
Which way is right? Whichever way works. And Bjaland’s mix last weekend worked fine.
Violinist Vadim Gluzman added to the color with his richly toned 1690 ex-Leopold Auer Strad, which he played with gusto and grit. Bjaland allotted him a trio of showpieces, starting with Ravel’s “Tzigane,” a gutsy favorite that showed off Gluzman’s meaty, lower register. The Glazunov arrangement of Tchaikovsky’s “Meditation” from “Souvenir d’un lieu cher,” and Wieniawski’s “Fantaisie brillante on themes from Gounod’s Faust,” may not be as well known as the Ravel, but they’re technical blockbusters.
The Wieniawski is a particularly interesting work featuring a pastiche of familiar operatic excerpts from Siebel’s Aria and the demonic “Le Veau d’or,” to the romantic garden scene duet and a bit of the ballet music. The changes in tempi and switches in mood are tough, but Bjaland traversed them with ease.
The rest of the program was devoted to exciting, exhilarating works that showed off the orchestra. “Short Ride in a Fast Machine,” one of John Adams’ best known orchestral pieces, is an entertaining,
unrelenting work and the orchestra gave it a good touch of brashness without running away with itself.
“Medea’s Mediation” and “Dance of Vengeance,” by Barber, and Richard Strauss’ “Til Eulenspiegel’s Merry Pranks” were high tests for the ensemble, which they passed well. It was only the “Dance of the Seven Veils,” from Strauss’ “Salome,” that seemed to drain the players of energy, but that’s no breeze for anyone except, perhaps, the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra.
For an encore, we heard a rousing rendition of “The Orange Blossom Special,” a country-Western hoedown romp that lifted the orchestra and audience to their feet.