The best and the worst thing about live music-making is that it’s transitory, and, unless there’s a recording of the evening, what happens disappears the moment it’s made. The finale of the Sarasota Music Festival at the Sarasota Opera House last week was probably recorded for posterity, and, for that, we’re thankful.
The finale was, indeed, grand and there’s much to remember.
The program was, in itself, a hodgepodge of works — probably things the artists wanted to perform. But, leaving that aside, it contained some of the finest performances of the entire festival, and it displayed some bright stars that should have been brought to light earlier than the last night. Chief among them was the conductor, Dante Anzolini.
One of the finest orchestral accompanists we’ve heard in a long while, he had some unusual but well-thought-out ideas of his own in the evening’s final work, Prokofiev’s Classical Symphony. Tempos were slower or faster than they’re usually taken but at no time were they changed without a well-planned strategy. The work took on a brilliance and color not often heard in this often-played piece. Conception always led to delivery and, even though Anzolini chose not to take the repeats in the symphony, he led the orchestra in a thoughtful, challenging performance that I’d love to hear again.
Although the evening began with a somewhat subdued reading of the well-known Boccherini B-flat Cello Concerto, with soloist Ronald Leonard, it certainly picked up with the festival premiere of Yehudi Wyner’s piano concerto, “Chiavi in mano.” Played with great flair and elan by Robert Levin, for whom it was written, it’s a rhapsodic, pulsating piece with jazzy elements and lots of all-American themes.
A bit disjointed at times, it probably has more notes than the startled piano wants to give, but Levin, in formal tux with bright purple socks, gave it the necessary dash and dazzle needed to bring the audience to its feet and the composer up to the stage for multiple bows.
But the true star of the evening was soloist Charles Neidich, who took on the overly (and deservedly) familiar Mozart Clarinet Concerto with such beautiful, musical playing that a new standard was set for performance. Anzolini and the orchestra did their part, too, in giving the kind of support needed, making it a real chamber-virtuoso piece. But Neidich, played a basset clarinet, a sort of long, slender version of the instrument that, except for the white rubber band he used to make his single embouchure more comfortable, may be something close to the basset horn originally heard in Mozart’s time. We think Mozart wrote it for clarinet, but the sound of this instrument was so far superior, others may consider using it in the future.
Although the Sarasota Music Festival could use a major overhaul in programming and performance, the grand finale was grander than anything so far, and we hope to see and hear much more from the students and Anzolini in the future.
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