Sarasota Orchestra’s recent Masterworks concert put the spotlight on “Music in Nature” with a cleverly designed program that featured two of classical music’s giants: Beethoven’s “Pastorale” symphony and Stravinsky’s “The Rite of Spring.” Artistic Director Leif Bjaland may not be the first to pair these picturesque pieces (Disney did it in “Fantasia”), but we give him credit for the motif he wove so well and the beautiful and electrifying sounds he elicited from his massive forces.
And massive they were. Between Beethoven and Stravinsky there were so many instruments on stage, it was hard to keep track. At one time or another we had three (count them!) different kinds of tubas: bass, tenor and Wagner. And those tuba mutes were positively other-worldly, looking like gigantic upside-down ice cream cones from Mars. There weren’t exactly 76 trombones, but there were trumpets of every size, including “rotary valve,” or European trumpets.
Of course, when it comes to the thunderstorm in the Beethoven and, well, almost all of the Stravinsky, you have to have percussion, and the Sarasota Orchestra almost sank the stage with more timpani and drums than you could shake a stick at.
But this concert didn’t need any pixilations to inspire our imaginations. (Okay, “Fantasia’s” hopping hippos and piping satyrs did dance through my head — I admit it.) It was the playing that lit my fire, from the rippling of the “scene by the brook” in the Beethoven to the vibrant, pulsating, driving, rhythmic, scathing, churning and, yes, beautiful Stravinsky.
It’s hard to believe that this “Rite of Spring” set off riots within the first few measures at its premiere. Now, almost 100 years later, the opening plaintive notes of the bassoon are downright romantic to our ears. And, as we looked around at the audience, we were pleased to see no one had left at intermission. Good thing, too, because they would have missed a veritable feast for the ears — one of the finest performances of the Stravinsky since Pierre Boulez stood before the New York Philharmonic.