The Sarasota Orchestra’s Masterworks Series took us on a sonic tour of four scenic places: Cuba, Scotland, Czechoslovakia and Rome in “Seeing Music on Tour” this past weekend at the Van Wezel. In retrospect, it was also a dancing tour of foreign lands that had the audience tapping its toes as much as it does at a pops concert.
Gershwin’s “Cuban Overture,” written while the composer vacationed in Havana in 1932, is an American’s impression of that country, just as “An American in Paris” is his look at France. The rumba is the rhythmic impulse here, and the big orchestral sound was transmitted with joy and just enough abandon by conductor Leif Bjaland.
Bruch’s “Scottish Fantasy” gave a solo turn to the able and musical concertmaster, Daniel Jordan. But the violinist had a couple of things conspiring against him, not the least of which was the Van Wezel, one of the worst places for a fiddler — or almost anyone else — to flex his musical muscles. The hall muffles and swallows live sounds, and because Jordan’s is somewhat small and contained, we couldn’t help wishing he were in a real concert hall — one meant for live music. But don’t get me started on that!
Bjaland chose four of Dvorak’s “Slavonic Dances,” Opus 46, the most well known of the bunch (No. 5 through No. 8) being No. 8 in G minor, a furiant, which swirled like a dervish, with just the right touch of freshness and ebullience.
But the star of the afternoon was Respighi’s brilliantly orchestrated and masterfully performed “Pines of Rome.” The four movements were accompanied by some effective videos of children playing, ghostly catacombs, lovers on the Gianicolo and vibrant sun-dappled scenes along the Appian Way. Were the videos necessary? No. Did they enhance the already wonderful music and performance? Absolutely.
— June LeBell