Archive for the ‘Music Reviews’ Category

Music review: ‘Voices of Freedom’

July 7th, 2017Posted by admin

Choral Artists of Sarasota’s annual Fourth of July concert shines brighter than just patriotic fanfare.


Originally published in The Observer
Date: July 6, 2017
by: Edward Alley | Contributor

My conundrum: How to review a concert by an organization you have helped build, when you also participated in the concert — and it was dedicated to the memory of your wife, June LeBell.

Yes, it’s an ethical problem, but when I presented it to my editor, he said the equivalent of, “Of course, you can do it,” so here goes, following full disclosure:

First, it’s the annual July Fourth patriotic concert. Second, it’s by Sarasota’s only fully professional chorus, Choral Artists of Sarasota, recently renamed to show growth and versatility. Third and fourth, they packed the house and they are better than ever.

As much of an occasion as a serious concert, these annual Independence Day concerts by then Gloria Musicae were first started by June LeBell, who felt a rousing chorus concert on July Fourth would be a good prelude and kickoff to the annual fireworks display — which it was, and still is.

But this year’s concert featured more than just the traditional flag waving patriotic songs and choruses. Artistic Director Joseph Holt builds excellent programs for these concerts, and they always are more than just a parade of patriotic songs. After René Clausen’s fine acapella setting of the “Star Spangled Banner,” perhaps the sub-theme of the concert emerged in “Because All Men Are Brothers,” a setting of the well known Bach chorale with words by Tom Glazer and Pete Seeger.

Following “America, the New Colossus,” to the words of Erma Lazarus on the base of the Statue of Liberty, Holt then gave us a group of compositions tracing the struggles of wars fought by America: “Chester,” a favorite of the Revolutionary War; “A Mystic Chord,” and a setting of the Gettysburg Address, for the Civil War; “Flanders Field,” a lovely setting of John McCrae’s World War I poem by Paul Aitken and “Homeland”, based on the “Jupiter” movement of Holst’s “The Planets”, with words by Holst and Spring-Rice.

George M. Cohan’s “You’re a Grand Old Flag” in a sprightly arrangement by Doug Katsaros was a bit of a respite, and the entire group was nicely wrapped up with “Lift Every Voice for Freedom,” a moving combination of “America” and the African-American Anthem “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” perhaps reminding us there are still battles to be fought and won.

Then the traditional fun began with Holt’s own “Armed Forces Salute,” followed by “An American Tribute” of six American favorites and ending with “God Bless America.” “Stars and Stripes Forever,” the traditional encore, sneaked up earlier in the concert, complete with kazooing choristers and universal flag waving. The solemn and ever-moving Wilhousky setting of “Battle Hymn of the Republic” made a beautiful coda to this uplifting concert before a completely enthralled audience at the First United Methodist Church.

The Choral Artists of Sarasota, formerly Gloria Musicae, have continued to improve under Joseph Holt’s leadership. Individual singers are better, and the overall blend is becoming more cohesive. Yes, the men do get carried away at times, with a coarse sound that overpowers the women’s voices in the louder passages, but maybe they were just overcome with enthusiasm in the spirit of the occasion.

I was privileged to serve as narrator for two of the selections in the concert, and it’s still quite a thrill to sit on stage, almost in the midst of the singers for part of the concert. Quite a fitting prelude for the evening’s main course of fireworks on the Bayfront.

It was a great afternoon.


Festival wraps with a delightful mix

June 26th, 2017Posted by admin

Third portion of Sarasota Music Festival offers greatest contrast.


Originally published in The Observer
Date: June 26, 2017
by: Edward Alley | Contributor

The closing weekend of the Sarasota Music Festival gave us a combination of music which was traditional, cutting-edge, and classical cross-over. Quite a mixture, to say the least.

Friday night’s offering presented the greatest contrast, starting with the Wind Quintet, opus 10, of Pavel Haas, written in 1929. Although Haas was Czech and a student of Janacek, at times there were hints of Kurt Weill, his German contemporary. Mostly serious, except for the “Ballo eccentric” 3rd movement, with piccolo and E-flat Clarinet, it was given a thoughtful and moving performance by Carol Wincenc, flute, Stephen Taylor, oboe, Charlie Neidich, Clarinet, William Purvis, horn and Frank Morelli, bassoon.

Schumann’s Piano Quartet in E-flat Major, written during his chamber music year of 1842, wound up being the “oldest” work of the weekend. Written in his full romantic and sweeping style, with a few Mendelssohn-like moments in the scherzo, it was beautifully performed by Jeffrey Kahane, piano, Frank Almond, violin, Barbara Westphal, viola, and Brinton Smith, cello.

The balance of the evening featured yMusic, a chamber group of young performers from New York, in a set of works as different and somewhat perplexing as the makeup of the group itself. The combination of flute, clarinet, trumpet, violin, viola, and cello is far from traditional, and so was their music. The seven works they performed, although by different composers, sounded vaguely alike, with combinations of sounds and effects, usually starting quietly, building to a shattering climax, and ending quietly. More variety would have been welcome, but their appearance gives evidence that the Festival is indeed expanding its reach in the experience it provides for both students and audience. It was a musical stretch and not to everyone’s taste I’m sure, but is an important addition to the Festival.

Read: Sarasota Music Festival returns with three weeks of classical music

Read: Review of Sarasota Music Festival’s Week Two

It’s difficult to believe that Barber’s Adagio for Strings (1936) was once considered to be adventurous, with its slow moving themes and resolving dissonant harmonies , but it was. Originally a movement from his string quartet, this Adagio has been arranged for many combinations, including a lovely choral setting. The Festival strings, all standing (except for the cellos) and playing without a conductor, gave an absolutely glorious performance, bringing goose bumps and a few tears of joy at the sheer beauty of sound and melody.

Beginning with a crack of the slap-stick, Ravel’s Piano Concerto in G-major immediately takes us into this Frenchman’s version of Gershwin’s New York jazz. Filled with “blue notes” and “flatted fifths”, together with Ravel’s brilliant pianism and orchestration, this work is something of a tour de force for both orchestra and soloist, especially when the soloist is also the conductor. Kahane performed both roles brilliantly, especially the quiet and contemplative second movement, which in contrast to the Big City excitement of the first and third, is virtually a nocturne in its melodic simplicity.

Timo Andres’ Paraphrase on themes of Brian Eno, is odd in that it is one contemporary composer’s reflections on the work of another. Ambient and collage are two adjectives used for Eno’s music, and Andres’ musings are just that, providing sounds evoking vast reaches of space, then strikingly romantic phrases sounding like movie underscoring; all reasonably tonal, and yes, ambling along a little bit. Andres uses a steel drum, that pillar of Caribbean calypso, as a new voice and texture, again providing more collage and ambience.

Gershwin and Ravel influenced each other, and both gained from that influence, with Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue preceding the Ravel Concerto by several years. Kahane, again conducting from the piano, chose the original Paul Whitman “jazz band” version, orchestrated by Ferde Grofé, replete with saxophones, brass, and tuba. Almost as evident as the soloist was clarinetist Charlie Neidich, who from his opening glissando set the mood for this rousing and energetic performance. At times the execution was more enthusiastic than accurate, but clearly everyone was having a good time with this cross-over classic, especially the audience, which responded with shouts, bravos, and applause.

Returning for several bows, and acknowledging everyone in the orchestra, Kahane ended the concert and the Festival with a quiet, respectful and very moving improvisation on America the Beautiful. Truly a fitting end to an outstanding Festival.


Music review: Music Festival Weekend Two

June 19th, 2017Posted by admin

Students and faculty continue to impress in Sarasota Music Festival’s second weekend.


Originally published in The Observer
Date: June 18, 2017
by: Edward Alley | Contributor

Last Friday’s concert of the Sarasota Music Festival was dedicated to the memory of June LeBell, broadcaster, host of SILL’s Music Mondays, classical music reviewer for the Observer Group, and — my wife. Brief but moving opening remarks were made by Robert Levin, former artistic director, who was returning for his 38th year.

Barber’s “Summer Music”opened this chamber music concert, with students Christine Murphy, flute, Breana Gilcher, oboe, and Sara Aratake, clarinet, joined by faculty members William VerMeulen, horn and Nancy Geores, bassoon, in an excellent performance. Alternating brisk and rapid passages with more contemplative ones, Barber gives us an evocative portrait of a quiet summer evening, interrupted by firefly or birdlike twitters and soothed by calming contrapuntal passages which could signal the coming of nightfall.

Mendelssohn’s delightful 2nd String Quintet was next, with Madeline Adkins and Felicity James, violins, Carrie Jones and Thomas Duboski, violas, and Natalie Helm, cello, and it was given a rousing and energetic performance. Several passages are pleasant reminders of his earlier works, namely the octet and “Midsummer Night’s Dream,” yet this is an excellent example of Mendelssohn at his finest.

Brahms’ massive Piano Quartet No. 2 in A Major closed the concert, featuring faculty members Robert Levin, piano, Alexander Kerr, violin, Robert Vernon, viola and Timothy Eddy, cello. Certainly of symphonic proportions, this thorny work has such an abundance of musical ideas and working out of themes that it is not easily assimilated on first hearing, but still its innate artistry, construction, and majesty make it a worthy challenge for any audience. From the fiery opening chords of the first movement, through the lyrical song-like writing of the second, to the long working out of the themes in the finale, the work creates a lasting impression. There was a lot of good listening to do in this first-rate performance by these fine players. A few imperfections in intonation were easily pardoned in the overall sweep of sound.

Saturday’s concert opened with Stravinsky’s “Dumbarton Oaks Concerto” for orchestra, which could appear an odd choice in an otherwise Mozart evening, but it actually wasn’t. Written in Stravinsky’s neoclassical period in which he abandoned the complexities of his earlier works for a seemingly simpler and more classical style, this was “lean and mean” writing: lean since the texture was clean and clear, and perhaps a bit mean, since every voice was virtually a solo and there was no place to hide, musically speaking. There was certainly no need to hide, for the musicians were more than up to the task, giving us a performance that highlighted each of the players and sections in this somewhat playful, but deadly serious piece.

Alexander Kerr, currently concertmaster of the Dallas Symphony, was soloist in Mozart’s Violin Concerto # 3, written when Mozart was 19 and Concertmaster of the Salzburg Court Orchestra. Kerr plays with a clean, clear sound, and good technique, with excellent execution and musical taste, especially in the lyrical second movement, which was beautiful music making at its finest.

Mozart’s Symphony No. 40 in G Minor ended the evening, showcasing both the increasing artistry of the orchestra and introducing a new conductor to the Festival. Brett Mitchell, conductor of the Colorado Philharmonic and a slew of guest engagements, is a real find. His spare yet eloquent technique brought forth all the lovely contours of the work without sacrificing any of the precision. Often conducting phrases more than measures, Mitchell and the orchestra created a beautiful, moving and mature performance that made it even more difficult to realize this is nominally a student festival orchestra and not an ongoing entity. Yes, it was that good!


Music review: Sarasota Music Festival opening weekend

June 14th, 2017Posted by admin

Jeffrey Kahane and the Festival Orchestra opened the festival with palpable energy.


Originally published in The Observer
Date: June 12, 2017
by: Edward Alley | Contributor

If last Friday and Saturday’s sold-out concerts at the Sarasota Opera House are any indication, the Sarasota Music Festival has struck the mother lode in its appointment of Jeffrey Kahane as Music Director. He is a combination of superb musician, outstanding performer and excellent conductor — a veritable trifecta in the music world. And he speaks well.

Friday night’s concert was an adventurous risk in programming: All six of the Bach Brandenburg Concerti in one evening. But it worked, and how. Hearing all of these concerti together, one realizes the genius of Bach’s talent, adhering to the Italian concerto grosso style, while using different pairings of solo instruments. Each solo group had its own sound and style, from three oboes to three violins to no violins, to flutes and violins, to flute, oboe and trumpet, and it gave us a grand tour of all these possibilities. To me, the different sound of each of these groupings was the highlight of hearing all six concerti performed in one program.

Each featured group was a combination of faculty and students. To list them all by name would alone use up all my space, but highlights included the virtuoso horns in the first, the excellent strings in all six, the Vivaldi-like solo violin outburst in the fourth, and of course, the famous high-wire flights of the piccolo trumpet in the second, ably played by Robert Smith, substituting for Michael Dobrinski. Music Director Jeffrey Kahane conducted all from the harpsichord, with a brilliant solo himself in Concerto No. 5.

Saturday evening’s concert opened with Gabriel Fauré’s languid “Pavanne,” performed with the stately elegance it deserves. It could easily be paired with the Sicilienne from his “Pelleas and Melisande” suite, for they are so alike in style and mood.

Jasmine Choi, a 2003 festival alumna, was soloist in Jacques Ibert’s feisty Flute Concerto, long neglected because of its difficulty, but she breezed through it as though it were a mere piece of fluff — which it certainly isn’t. Ibert’s Concerto is truly a virtuoso work, with the soloist playing almost nonstop throughout all three movements. Choi is a cool performer, playing with the near straight tone favored today, executing all the pyrotechnics of the first and third movements with ease, while providing lovely phrasing and sound in the lyrical second movement. Truly a brilliant performance.

How many times have you heard Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony? Probably too many to count, but the performance by the Festival Orchestra, conducted by Kahane, sounded fresher and newer than could be imagined. Beginning with “the most famous four notes in the world,” as Kahane mentioned in his introductory remarks, the performance sprang forth with a relentless momentum that was sustained throughout. Never rushed, but always insistent, the constant forward motion Kahane generated in this performance created a grand arch, which culminated in the climactic entrance of the brass with trombones in the great C major chords, which open the last movement. I have always been captured by the beautiful structure Beethoven gave this symphony, taking that four-note motif and giving it permutations throughout the movements, providing us with a wonderful example of inspired classic symphonic form.

The Festival Orchestra had only two, maybe three, rehearsals to prepare this concert, yet the results were excellent. What was most exciting to me was the increasing sense of ensemble, nuance and just plain enjoyment they were experiencing as they progressed through the four movements of the Beethoven. It was palpable.

Kahane galvanized his eager and energetic musicians throughout the evening, and their enthusiasm was transmitted to the audience, who responded with warm, enthusiastic and well deserved ovations.

With this pair of concerts, the 2017 Sarasota Music Festival has indeed created a tough act to follow. Will they do it? It’s probably best to attend the next concerts yourself and learn the answer first hand.


Music review: Outdoor Pops

May 16th, 2017Posted by admin

Sarasota Orchestra and guests score a home run at annual outdoor concert.


Originally published in The Observer
Date: May 14, 2017
by: Edward Alley | Contributor

In a picture-perfect evening Friday, May 12, the Sarasota Orchestra, with assists from the All-Star Singers and American Idol runner-up Clark Beckham, scored not only a home run — but a grand slam with its annual concert at Ed Smith Stadium.

Why is it we all get so excited about being able to enjoy hot dogs and peanuts (and yes, Cracker Jacks) while listening to a symphony orchestra? Maybe it’s the same somewhat perverse pleasure some receive (myself included) by being able to eat popcorn at an HD performance by the MET Opera. But unlike the darkened movie theater, an outdoor concert is an event in and of itself, with casually dressed people from everywhere flocking into the sold-out audience opposite third base to enjoy an evening of popular favorites.

Popular and favorite they were, beginning with “Entrance of the Gladiators,” that wonderful march that is the soul of the circus and followed by the “Star Spangled Banner,” beautifully sung acapella by the eight voices of the All-Star Singers. This fine group from Orlando, which has performed regularly at Disney World, continued with a set consisting of selections from “Damn Yankees” and “Momma Mia,” which turned into a spontaneous clap-and-sing-along and ended with a moving arrangement of Leonard Cohen’s classic “Hallelujah.”

Then, the Sarasota Orchestra, which could easily be the “best backup band” in the business, came into its own with “Orange Blossom Special”— morphing every violinist into a “fiddler” charging full speed ahead in a pretty dazzling waterfall of fine fiddling. Following were musical “Portraits of the Beatles,” a selection from John Williams’ fine score for “Star Wars: The Force Awakens”and a “Marvin Hamlisch Celebration,” beautifully arranged by Henry Mancini.

The evening’s headliner was Clark Beckham, runner-up in “American Idol” in 2015. Clearly an audience favorite, his casual manner, combined with his fervent country-blues style singing, brought forth big applause and cheers, especially his performance of Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition.”

For his finale, Beckham was joined by the All-Star Singers in “God Bless the USA,” which brought the audience to its feet, singing and swaying with patriotism galore.

The Sarasota Orchestra then got down to the serious business of Tchaikovsky’s “1812 Overture,” which has virtually said “Get ready for the fireworks,” since it was first used for that purpose in an outdoor concert, probably by the NY Philharmonic in their Park Concerts in the 1960s.

And arrive they did — aided and abetted by Sousa’s “Stars and Stripes Forever,” the fireworks once again stole the show with a gigantic display that ended a wonderful evening at Ed Smith Stadium.

No, the mandatory amplification of the orchestra is still not the best, but it has improved steadily over these past four years, and is only a part of the total ambience of the evening, which is the excitement of hearing a great orchestra and guest artists perform in an outdoor setting. No wonder it’s been sold out for four years and had a second concert scheduled this year. Congratulations to both the Orioles and the Sarasota Orchestra on a terrific evening.


Music review: Verdi’s ‘Requiem’

April 25th, 2017Posted by admin

Choral Artists of Sarasota offer energetic, musically sensitive performance.


Originally published in The Observer
Date: April 23, 2017
by: Edward Alley | Contributor

The Verdi Requiem and Mount Everest have something in common: each is monumental and each is “There!” I don’t know of any performer alive who has not wanted to sing, conduct, or play this great work at some time or another, and like Everest, it is not for the faint of heart. Each is packed with challenges and dangers that lie in wait for the unsuspecting or unprepared.

On Sunday afternoon at the Sarasota Opera House, the Choral Artists of Sarasota (nee Gloria Musicae), the Master Chorale of Tampa, four able soloists and the Sarasota Orchestra, all prepared and conducted by Joseph Holt, were set and ready to scale the heights of this great masterpiece.

And scale it they did, with energy to spare. These some 200 performers, onstage and in the pit, took advantage of the great karma of performing in “Verdi’s American Home,” the Sarasota Opera House, to absolutely raise the roof at least a foot or so, with both the performance and then the applause from the sold-out house.

Combining the professional singers of the Choral Artists of Sarasota with the semi-professional/community choral singers of the Master Chorale of Tampa, Joseph Holt presented a Verdi Requiem with singers with excellent pitch and diction, combined with immense musicality from all. After a somewhat tentative start, the “Introit and Kyrie” came together and one could hear these musical forces join and blend in what became a most moving performance. English text was shown above the stage so we were able to comprehend both emotion and understanding as the sections of the Requiem unfolded.

The massive “Dies Irae” or Day of Wrath landed with all the force and violence of Judgement Day in what seems to be a preview of the storm scene in the opening of Verdi’s “Otello,” written some years later, and it was reprised again in the Requiem’s final section. While in the louder passages the chorus oversang just a bit (who wouldn’t with all that drama going on), the soft passages gave us that wonderful, lovely depth of sound that can only be accomplished by a large chorus singing well.

Most all of the pitfalls for chorus in this massive work were surmounted, especially with the steady rhythm and quick tempo in the notorious double fugue of the “Sanctus,” and the final ”Libera me” where many performances have foundered in its fugal passages.

The four soloists for the occasion were Danielle Talamantes, soprano, Robyn Rocklein, mezzo-soprano, Blake Friedman, tenor, and Kerry Wilkerson, bass. Verdi certainly favored the two female voices in his Requiem, giving them most of the vocal gems, with few exceptions. Both soprano Talamantes and mezzo Rocklein were up to the task, commanding in all their solos and ensembles. Talamantes’ lovely sound soared above the orchestra in the musical climaxes, and Rocklein was quite impressive throughout. Although their blend at the beginning of the “Agnus Dei” could have been warmer, these are two fine singers. Friedman gave his best in his “Ingemisco” solo, with a slightly stretched sound, but he more than held his own in the trios and quartets. Wilkerson, more of a bass-baritone than bass, as called for by Verdi, seemed challenged by the lower range of his part, with a somewhat dry sound, but still sang with great drama.

In the pit, the full Sarasota Orchestra again showed all the quality and versatility of this fine group. Its members had just played three pops concerts in two days, then massively switched gears to play the Verdi Requiem. Joseph Holt, in his six years as Artistic Director with Gloria Musicae/Choral Artists of Sarasota, has grown musically, both as interpreter and conductor, providing us with an energetic and musically sensitive performance, in which the orchestra never over balanced the singers and coalesced into an afternoon of excellent music making. More kudos for the arts in Sarasota.


Music review: La Musica

April 17th, 2017Posted by admin

Last-minute substitutions bring pleasant surprises at La Musica.


Originally published in The Observer
Date: April 14, 2017
by: Edward Alley | Contributor

The third La Musica concert April 9 featured a last-minute substitution: a somewhat well-known Mendelssohn quintet, and for me, a welcome musical surprise from Smetana.

Violist Hsin-Yun Huang’s flights from Atlanta were cancelled, making it impossible to arrive in time for rehearsals, so the Schubert Piano Trio in E flat Major (Nocturne) was substituted for the originally programmed String Trio, Op. 797. Dedicated to the memory of the late John Hunter, long a friend of La Musica, the Nocturne is in one movement and presents us with a lovely lyrical composition. Even with the minimum rehearsal available, the performance by Claudio Cruz, violin, Derek Han, piano and Antonio Meneses, cello, was nicely nuanced and began the evening in a tranquil, lovely mood.

Mendelssohn’s String Quintet in A major featured a double substitution, with Claudio Cruz switching to viola and joining Cecilia Ziano and Frederico Agostini, violins, Bruno Giuranna, viola, and Antonio Meneses, cello. The first movement began with a few miscues, but the musicians soon settled into a good performance. A lovely elegy-like second movement was followed by a typical Mendelssohn scherzo, introduced by a quick fugal theme that scampered through all five voices like fireflies on a still night. The strong finale showed good balance and dynamic range, but the first violin was occasionally overbalanced in the soft passages. Truly Mendelssohn at his best, with his spare but effective writing and natural scoring.

For me, the big surprise of the evening was the final work, the Piano Trio in G Minor, by Smetana. No wonder it was championed by Franz Liszt, who must have had a special fondness for the piano writing, here well played by Derek Han. Even though the work was written in memory of and in tribute to Smetana’s musically talented daughter, who died an untimely death at the age of 4, this work is hardly a lament. The first movement opens with its very angular theme, stated by solo violin, soon joined by the cello in a musical dialogue that adds the piano and progresses through modulations and development to a recap of the solo violin, leading to a thrilling finale.

The second movement is a loving musical tribute to the daughter, from the springing lightness of the first theme through moments of drama and beauty, leading us to the finale, opening with a furious presto with its challenging juxtaposition of duple against triple rhythms, which suddenly stops to give forth a lovely elegiac cello solo, brilliantly played by JeongHyoun Lee with a soaringly beautiful sound. The opening theme returns and alternates with the cantabile themes, which develop and finally emerge into a deceptive, then explosive finish to an exquisite performance of this monumental work.

La Musica has been bringing outstanding chamber music to Sarasota for over 30 years now, but in many ways, the repertoire has grown a bit stagnant and predictable with some variable performances and smaller audiences. With the addition of fresher performers, such as JeongHyoun Lee and works like the Smetana Trio, La Musica could very well enjoy another 30 years of bringing chamber music to larger Sarasota audiences.


Music review: La Musica Music Festival

April 9th, 2017Posted by admin

La Musica Music Festival opens with an elegant, compelling performance.


Originally published in The Observer
Date: April 6, 2017
by: Edward Alley | Contributor

Of the several music festivals in Sarasota that feature the performance of chamber music in addition to teaching and orchestral concerts, La Musica Music Festival, which opened its 31st season last week at the Sarasota Opera House, is strictly chamber music performance. This years series of four concerts opened with youthful compositions of three well-known composers, Mendelssohn, Webern, and Richard Strauss. Yes, youthful, even though Mendelssohn was all of 30 years old when he wrote his “Piano Trio in D minor,” the opening work of the evening.

Overshadowed perhaps only by his magnificent Octet, Mendelssohn’s D minor trio is one of his most performed chamber works, here played by Federico Agostini, violin, Antonio Meneses, cello and Derek Han, piano. After a somewhat staid and tentative beginning, the performance grew bolder in the later movements, especially the typical Mendelssohn Scherzo and Finale. However, the warm sounds of both violin and cello tended to be overpowered by the piano, especially in the forte sections.

Anton Webern’s “Langsamer Satz” for string quartet introduced us to a Webern few knew existed. Composed before he delved into the atonal 12-tone world of composition, this piece is pure unabashed romanticism, complete with languid themes and lush harmonies, beautifully performed by Claudio Cruz and Cecilia Ziano, violins, Bruno Giuranna, viola and especially JeongHyoun Lee, cello. Composed in 1904 at the age of 21 and lost for years, only to be performed in 1962, the “Langsamer Satz” must have been quite a revelation for both players and listeners when it surfaced.

Closing this opening concert was the youthful “Piano Quartet in C minor” by Richard Strauss, given a rousing performance by Claudio Cruz, violin, Bruno Giuranna, viola, JeongHyoun Lee, cello, and Derek Han, piano.

Richard Strauss completed this quartet when he was 21, three years before he wrote his career-changing “Don Juan” for full orchestra, but it already has the sweeping melodies, rich harmonies and musical exuberance featured in his later works. Even though there are homilies to Brahms, his idol of the moment, the piece is pure Strauss, through and through. The thoroughly energetic and compelling performance radiated the energy and inspiration of the young Strauss, especially in the Scherzo which had hints of “Til Eulenspiegel,” yet to appear in a few years. The lovely third movement was the precursor of an elegant Strauss song at its best, and the final Allegro Vivace allowed all to display their musical wares to the fullest.

All in all, a good opening for this venerable chamber music series, and it’s unfortunate that the audience couldn’t have been larger to enjoy this fine musical evening.


Music review: Sarasota Orchestra Masterworks 7

April 4th, 2017Posted by admin

Masterworks series ends with brilliant playing by all.


Originally published in The Observer
Date: April 2, 2017
by: Edward Alley | Contributor

The Sarasota Orchestra ended its Masterworks season last Sunday with a sold-out house with guest conductor Han-Na Chang in a program guaranteed to please.

Possibly due to her extensive European engagements, Chang reseated the orchestra in a European seating, with the second violins opposite the firsts, violas to audience left and the cellos to the right, inside the violins. Many conductors prefer this as they feel it adds to the antiphonal effect of the first and second violins. Chang is slight of build and large of gesture, with a clear-cut technique that gives no doubt about what she wants from the orchestra, and she certainly achieved that in her opener, Rossini’s Overture to William Tell.

The “William Tell Overture” has acquired an after-life of its own, even beyond Rossini’s opera about the Swiss hero. It was Rossini’s last — and many say greatest — opera. From the lushness of the opening cello solo, throughout the storm, calming English horn solo and final galloping allegro, the orchestra was in top form. This is not an easy piece to play, and it was virtually tossed off as if it were a simple C Major scale, with brilliant playing from every soloist and the entire orchestra.

Bertrand Chamayou was the soloist in Mendelssohn’s “Piano Concerto No. 1” in G minor. Composed when he was 22, and despite the somber opening, it still bears a great resemblance to the overture to “Midsummer Night’s Dream” written three years earlier, with multitudes of notes challenging the technique of both soloist and orchestra. Chamayou rose to this challenge and executed them all, even though some passages seemed to run together a bit. This concerto, played without pause much as the violin concerto, has a lovely second movement that was beautifully performed by soloist, conductor and orchestra. Chamayou is an excellent pianist, and it would be a pleasure to hear him in a varied program.

Surely the highlight of the concert was the performance of Beethoven’s 7th Symphony in A major. This symphony ranks as a favorite with audiences, players and conductors, and it is a challenge for all. This performance, while brilliantly played, seemed to be very driven in tempo without much subtlety of interpretation. Very often Chang’s tempi were so rapid that clear articulation was virtually impossible to achieve. On the other hand, the slow movement with its unrelenting ostinato figure had some lovely playing by everyone. The final two movements were taken at a roller coaster pace that left little time for the music to breathe, which it badly needed. To me, it was merely fast and not thrilling; nevertheless, the audience loved it, and the applause was long and hearty.

The Masterworks Series this season has presented us with a wide variety of repertoire, from traditional to contemporary with excellent soloists and conductors. Yet the most outstanding and inspiring part of this orchestra continues to be the players, those who devote their lives and professional skills to the art of making beautiful music for those of us who are fortunate enough to live in Sarasota.


Music review: Masterworks 6

March 21st, 2017Posted by admin

A ‘Titan’ of a program at Sarasota Orchestra’s masterworks concert.


Originally published in The Observer
Date: March 19, 2017
by: June LeBell | Contributing Columnist

Putting works by Bernstein, Tchaikovsky and Mahler on the same program may not make much sense when you first look at it, but when you think they’re all Titans of music, it makes all the sense in the universe. And that’s exactly what Sarasota Music Director, Anu Tali did in this past weekend’s Masterworks VI series.

Beginning with a sprightly Overture to Bernstein’s opera, “Candide,” the concert got off to a very fast start with the orchestra sounding spry and agile. Maybe a little too spry for my taste. It was one of the fastest readings of this well-known, beloved overtures, and in its straight-forward performance, it passed over some of the nuances Bernstein wrote into the score. Tali seemed to lose track of some of the melodic lines, giving us a reading that lost some of the intrinsic color and humor Bernstein wove into the work.

Tchaikovsky’s “Variations on a Rococo Theme” came next but in a very unusual setting. Originally written for cello and orchestra, this performance featured virtuoso flugelhorn player Sergei Nakariakov, not only in his transcription but also on an instrument that sported an extra valve so he could adjust to the range of the cello, keep the work in the original key and with only a few minor adjustments, come out with a mellow, cello-like warmth that made his unusual instrument into something sounding like a cross between a French horn and a trumpet.

Nakariakov is a virtuoso player, be it on flugelhorn or trumpet, and to prove the point, he followed the Tchaikovsky with an encore that delighted the audience: a set of Theme and Variations for “The Carnival of Venice” that showed off the soloist’s zippy double and triple tonguing and buttery sound. It’s actually not a big sound for a brass player, but it’s so musical and sensitive, it makes one want to listen forever.

Tali and the Orchestra were excellent accompanists throughout both works, giving support and adding color to these familiar works.

The entire second half of the program was given over to Mahler’s Symphony No. 1 in D, “The Titan,” in an unusual but agreeable performance. Like many conductors these days, Tali chose to drop the fifth movement, which was discarded by Mahler, himself, making this a shorter, more concise work. But, like the Tchaikovsky that preceded it, this symphony is filled with folk material, including one movement based on what we know as “Frère Jacques” in a somber, minor mode, and a few songs from Mahler’s own “Songs of a Wayfarer,” plus allusions to music by Humperdinck (“Hansel and Gretel”) and a bit of Richard Strauss here and there.

I found this a well-constructed symphonic reading that Tali tied up neatly by starting it and driving it to the conclusion with a very pastoral feeling, almost like a village awakening, yawning and stretching and finally getting down to business. For my taste, there was too much business, too much seriousness, and not enough of Mahler’s contrasts, playfulness and dancing. Mahler purposely wrote a Klezmer-like part for the clarinet but Tali chose not to go that route, showing off the contrast between Jewish and Catholic traditions. I missed it. I missed the fun, cavorting and impishness of Mahler in what, until the very end, was a very strict, precise reading of a work that usually has me going from giggles to tears in a matter of phrases.

The playing, though, was exquisite, from the offstage brass at the start to principal bassist John Miller’s “Frère Jacques” solo, then taken up by the winds and other members of the Orchestra. Harp, flute, oboe, trumpets, horns — well, the whole ensemble sounded mighty and strong. And the finale did what Mahler wanted — whisked us to Heaven as few other composers are able. It was here that Tali let loose and gave us the Mahler we know and love.