The Sarasota Orchestra and Music Director Anu Tali gathered over the weekend to present the final Masterworks concert of a very exciting and successful season. It was a varied program that brought us lots of different sounds, most of them romantic and lush.
“Cantus Arcticus,” a work by Finnish composer, Einojuhani Rautavaara, began with a modal flute line that blossomed into the full orchestra accompanied by recorded bird songs. Somewhat like stepping into an enchanted jungle, it was a fertile, grassy mix of Vaughan Williams and Debussy, with more rainforest than North Pole. Its shimmering music and a brilliant experiment in traditional sounds of wild life and orchestral instruments that made for very beautiful music-making by the Orchestra, Tali and the anonymous but well-coordinated audio engineer.
Erich Wolfgang Korngold’s Violin Concerto has become one of the most frequently played works for violin and, hearing it with soloist Benjamin Schmid, we understand why. It’s romantic, bold music with lots of intervals of open fourths and fifths that make it sound like a European take on America. And, no wonder. Korngold was a master of movie music who moved to this country and this concerto has many familiar themes floating through it. Best of all, Schmid and Tali seemed to be very much of one mind and they accompanied each other with a perfect balance of musical understanding, especially through the tempo changes and rubatos that flow through the piece. The final movement, a rollicking, jazzy piece that bounces along like a three-legged race, is sheer fun. In fact, the whole concerto with the Orchestra, Tali and Schmid, is a gigantic cinemascopic extravaganza in living color. How do you follow that? With a solo violin encore: a perpetual motion presto from Ysaye’s Fourth Sonata. Brilliant.
The concert concluded with a very controlled performance of Brahms’ Symphony No. 2. While the orchestra played cleanly and well, this was an unstylistically lean performance led by Tali. Brahms is a very vertical composer but this was very linear; the kind of reading more suited to the purity of the Baroque than the Romantic era. It was well played but it was too thin for my taste. More Boulez than Bernstein.
The orchestral encore made up in excitement what the Brahms lacked in style: a galloping polka by Johann Strauss, complete with vocalized laughs shouted from the orchestra members and a fantastic whistle that almost brought every New York City taxi cab flying to the Van Wezel. Great fun for a finale.