'To Sarasota With Love' showed the artistic strides this orchestra has made since Tali took over as music director in 2013.
Valentine’s Day is certainly over, but not for Anu Tali, the Sarasota Orchestra and its audiences this past weekend. Masterworks 6 was titled “To Sarasota With Love,” spotlighting soloists from within the orchestra and the orchestra itself. The Sarasota Orchestra Gala Feb. 22 was a stellar tribute to Tali and the strides the orchestra has made under her leadership, culminating in this 70th anniversary season.
Friday evening at the gala, the orchestra performed several selections without conductor as a surprise tribute to Tali, in this her final year as music director. Highlighting the strings, winds and brass of the orchestra, intermixed with live and video tributes, the evening was indeed in heartfelt gratitude to Tali.
In the three concerts of the Masterworks 6 series, which I heard Sunday afternoon, Tali and the orchestra presented their belated Valentine to Sarasota with a musical potpourri of a program specifically selected to show off the orchestra itself and some of its outstanding players.
The concert opened with a swift “take no prisoners” performance of Glinka’s overture to his opera “Russlan and Ludmilla.” It was obviously paced to show off the virtuosity of the strings, since the notes were flying by so fast they almost blurred, but they didn’t. This piece has long been a great concert opener and audience favorite and it apparently still is.
The strings were showcased in Sibelius’ “Rakastava Suite,” arranged from his original for men’s chorus, and the shifting harmonies and use of muted strings served as a fitting accompaniment for the elegant solos of Christopher Takeda, associate concertmaster.
Although Richard Strauss was basically known for his operas and concert pieces for grandiose orchestras, he also had a quieter side. The Duet-Concertino for Clarinet, Bassoon and small orchestra shows how he was able to create great tone colors and images with small forces. Bharat Chandra, clarinet and Fernando Traba, bassoon, both long-time principals in the orchestra, beautifully accompanied by Tali, truly gave us an example of lovely music making. Both soloists were clearly enjoying themselves as they spun out melodies and ornamentation.
Two well-known orchestral works again highlighted the artistic strides this orchestra has made in the five-and-a-half years of the Tali tenure. The intermezzo from Mascagni’s opera “Cavalleria Rusticana” has never sounded so lovely with the sheer warmth of the string sounds supporting the lovely oboe solos of Christine Kim.
The “Peer Gynt” Suite of Edvard Grieg has long been a concert staple, and Tali and her orchestra played it beautifully. She made special emphasis on the dynamic range from the almost inaudible softness in “Äse’s Death” to the rousing brass of “In the Hall of the Mountain King,” in which, for me at least, the brass got a bit too feisty and overpowered the winds and strings.
Concertmaster Daniel Jordan gave us some of his most sensitive and musical playing to date in his lovely performance of Dvorák’s “Romance in F Minor.” His masterful playing of this seldom heard work only made us want to hear it more often.
Glazunov’s “Reverie” for horn and orchestra was the shortest work in the concert, but co-principal Joshua Horne only needed those few bars to cast a musical spell with his warm and gorgeous sound.
Then there was Ravel’s “Bolero,” one of the great orchestral showpieces, which brought everything around and back home again, musically speaking. Relentless in its rhythm and constantly repeating two themes, this time it didn’t remind us of Bo Derek walking down the beach in that movie. This time all those repeats and crescendos proved the great progress this orchestra has made during Tali’s leadership.
What better way to end a program that needed no encore, but to reprise Tali’s and the orchestra’s most moving and heartfelt rendition of “Nimrod” from Elgar’s “Enigma Variations.” Unforgettable music making.
A bit belated for Valentine’s Day, but it was a weekend-long musical love fest we’ll cherish for a long time.