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Arts and Entertainment Tuesday, Oct. 6, 2015 3 years ago

Music review: Sarasota Orchestra Quintets and Tuba

Sarasota Orchestra chamber ensembles display virtuosity

There’s more to the tuba than an oom-pah-pah. And in Jay Hunsberger’s hands, it’s a solo instrument capable of great emotion, sensitivity and eloquence. In fact, Hunsberger, the Sarasota Orchestra's principal tubist, is such a virtuoso on this instrument that he could easily go bell to bell with the best of the best from the world’s finest orchestras.

Last week, chamber ensembles from the Sarasota Orchestra presented a program called Quintets and Tuba, and it featured the professional premiere of David Carlson’s Tuba Concerto. Commissioned just a few years ago by Hunsberger’s late partner, Jon Partridge, Carlson worked closely with Hunsberger, bringing out the great virtuosity and musicality of this special player.

In two movements, Carlson managed to show us what a virtuoso of composition he is. It’s difficult to describe new music without associating it with the past, so I must invoke the memory of Ralph Vaughan Williams because Carlson’s Tuba Concerto is, in ways, reminiscent of Vaughan Williams’ “The Lark Ascending” and “Serenade to Music.”

But Carlson writes as if he’s reinvented the Vaughan Williams sound, bringing the composer into the 21st century with luxuriant harmonies and a freshness that touches on Stravinsky’s dance works.

Elfin, playful, charming, cheeky and puckish, the finale is a gossamer treat. But the opening movement, marked Andante affettuoso, has a mysterious air to it that allows the sensuousness of the tuba, lovingly caressed by Hunsberger, to sound like something both beautiful and otherworldly.

The combination of Hunsberger’s enormous ability backed up by the unheard of, yet successful, pairing of tuba with harp (played with great warmth by Cheryl Losey Feder), and a string ensemble, led by Concertmaster Daniel Jordan, made this a premiere to be reckoned with.

Carl Nielsen’s Wind Quintet, Opus 43, is a well-known and beloved work that is, in style, something like Elgar’s “Enigma” Variations because Nielsen used its movements to celebrate and honor some of his friends, much as Elgar did. But the music is more like Mahler (think the slow movement of that composer’s First Symphony) with a little Walton (“Façade”) and Prokofiev (“Peter and the Wolf”) thrown in for fun.

That’s not to say Nielsen’s four-movement Quintet is derivative. It’s great music that becomes truly impressive when in the hands of talented and appreciative musicians, and flutist Betsy Hudson Traba, oboist (and English horn player) Nicholas Arbolino, clarinetist Bharat Chandra, hornist Joshua Horne and bassoonist Fernando Traba, gave it a splendid reading.

The program opened with Jan Bach’s “Rounds and Dances,” a devilishly difficult work for trumpets (Michael Dobrinski and Gregory Knudsen), horn (Laurence Solowey), trombone (Brad Williams) and tuba (Hunsberger), which was performed with fluency and a lot of fancy, rapid tonguing.

The finale was particularly fascinating because of its hilarious takeoff of the “William Tell” Overture.

Hi Ho, Silver.

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