Guests conductor Steven Sloane, pianist Shai Wosner demonstrate skill guided by instinct
The Sarasota Orchestra continued its high standard of excellence in the Masterworks 3 series with guest conductor Steven Sloane. I heard Sunday’s concert, the finale of the series.
The orchestra again showed that it is one of the finest regional orchestras in this country. These fine musicians were aided and led by Sloane and pianist Shai Wosner.
The program was anchored by Mahler’s First Symphony, in its third outing by the orchestra in the last eight years: Carl St. Clair, 2011-12, Anu Tali, 2017-18 and now Steven Sloane. Odd how the same piece with different conductors can seem so different. St. Clair gave warmth and klezmer-like sounds, and Tali gave it a Baltic-Nordic steely quality, so I was waiting to hear Sloane’s interpretation.
Sloane is obviously a no-nonsense conductor, with a clear and evocative beat and a good set of ears, who knows what he wants from an orchestra and a musical composition.
Beginning with the barely perceptible unison notes, the symphony seemed to be emerging from nowhere, with each added sound creating an atmosphere of pastoral peacefulness. Sloane elongated the introduction, bringing us slowly but gently into the world he and Mahler were creating. He had the orchestra play in a dynamic range from almost inaudible to almost unbearable, but always within his controlled creative arch. The Mahler First is an old friend, but I had the feeling that it was actually being created as it progressed in performance. Now, that doesn’t happen very often, if ever, but that’s the way it felt.
Rarely has the Sarasota Orchestra played with such transparency, clarity and control. Inner voices and themes emerged as never before heard, whether it was in the drawn-out romantic passages, which were simply gorgeous, or the “Sturm und Drang” of the louder more combative passages. Yet Sloan kept everything in musical perspective and within the grand arch of his interpretation.
An interesting change was to have all the string basses play the minor version of “Brother John,” in the 3rd movement funeral march. Eight muted string basses playing that solo in unison in triple piano softness, created a wonderful yet spine-tingling mood.
It was that way throughout the entire symphony, and the audience and orchestra alike were completely immersed in what seemed a transcendental interpretation and performance. Every player on the stage contributed his/her musical all, and each one would deserve individual recognition.
Mozart’s Piano Concerto # 21 in C Major, the “Elvira Madigan,” opened the concert in a glorious and elegant performance by pianist Shai Wosner. Wosner possesses more than ample technical skill, yet his phrasing is both tasteful and very musical.
I have a feeling that he had some hand in composing the cadenzas in both the first and third movements, since each one ended with a not-too-subtle quote from “The Marriage of Figaro” and “The Magic Flute,” adding a note of humor.
Sloane and the orchestra provided a wonderful accompaniment, again with utmost clarity and musicality.
We are indeed fortunate in having this great orchestra in Sarasota, and should do all we can to keep it as one of the jewels in Sarasota’s cultural crown.