Masterworks series ends with brilliant playing by all.
The Sarasota Orchestra ended its Masterworks season last Sunday with a sold-out house with guest conductor Han-Na Chang in a program guaranteed to please.
Possibly due to her extensive European engagements, Chang reseated the orchestra in a European seating, with the second violins opposite the firsts, violas to audience left and the cellos to the right, inside the violins. Many conductors prefer this as they feel it adds to the antiphonal effect of the first and second violins. Chang is slight of build and large of gesture, with a clear-cut technique that gives no doubt about what she wants from the orchestra, and she certainly achieved that in her opener, Rossini’s Overture to William Tell.
The “William Tell Overture” has acquired an after-life of its own, even beyond Rossini’s opera about the Swiss hero. It was Rossini’s last — and many say greatest — opera. From the lushness of the opening cello solo, throughout the storm, calming English horn solo and final galloping allegro, the orchestra was in top form. This is not an easy piece to play, and it was virtually tossed off as if it were a simple C Major scale, with brilliant playing from every soloist and the entire orchestra.
Bertrand Chamayou was the soloist in Mendelssohn’s “Piano Concerto No. 1” in G minor. Composed when he was 22, and despite the somber opening, it still bears a great resemblance to the overture to “Midsummer Night’s Dream” written three years earlier, with multitudes of notes challenging the technique of both soloist and orchestra. Chamayou rose to this challenge and executed them all, even though some passages seemed to run together a bit. This concerto, played without pause much as the violin concerto, has a lovely second movement that was beautifully performed by soloist, conductor and orchestra. Chamayou is an excellent pianist, and it would be a pleasure to hear him in a varied program.
Surely the highlight of the concert was the performance of Beethoven’s 7th Symphony in A major. This symphony ranks as a favorite with audiences, players and conductors, and it is a challenge for all. This performance, while brilliantly played, seemed to be very driven in tempo without much subtlety of interpretation. Very often Chang’s tempi were so rapid that clear articulation was virtually impossible to achieve. On the other hand, the slow movement with its unrelenting ostinato figure had some lovely playing by everyone. The final two movements were taken at a roller coaster pace that left little time for the music to breathe, which it badly needed. To me, it was merely fast and not thrilling; nevertheless, the audience loved it, and the applause was long and hearty.
The Masterworks Series this season has presented us with a wide variety of repertoire, from traditional to contemporary with excellent soloists and conductors. Yet the most outstanding and inspiring part of this orchestra continues to be the players, those who devote their lives and professional skills to the art of making beautiful music for those of us who are fortunate enough to live in Sarasota.
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