The Sarasota Orchestra continued its parade of guest conductors for the Masterworks series with Daniel Hege, currently music director of the Wichita Symphony, who led them in a diverse and very challenging program. The orchestra’s performance was very good, but oddly not with the brilliant energy heard most recently.
Hege hit all the right marks in guiding them in Haydn’s Symphony No. 90 in C Major, Hob. I:90, a delightful example of the joyful wit and beauty for which Haydn is known. Emphasis on beauty of tone, clarity of texture, precision of attacks and delicacy of phrasing were all present in abundance.
It’s a wonder this No. 90 is not performed more often. The Andante movement, a double variation that offers many juicy tidbits of paired solo winds turning about two melodic themes. This beauty was in contrast with the giddy speed of the Finale. Again, the violins were particularly crisp and unanimous in the execution of numerous flurries of notes. I wonder if shortly we will take this perfection for granted and expect more. But that’s what happens when artistry grows. Audiences always want more.
And yes, that was a joke at the end deliberately played on the audience by Papa Haydn himself. Twice, four bars of silence provoked the audience to applaud only to be interrupted by the orchestra starting up again. We get it. Ha ha.
Violinist Philippe Quint brought a full share of musicality as well as leading-man looks to his performance of Barber’s Violin Concerto, Op. 14 with the orchestra. Stylistically worlds apart from Haydn, Barber offers a fresh, optimistic world of sound that we sense as distinctly American. He also offers a unique gift for singing melodies that Quint took easily as his own. He played masterfully, if with a bit more stage flamboyance than necessary, and clearly captured his audience with it. A devilishly fast conclusion helped to ignite applause as well.
The remainder of the program was dedicated to two more orchestral works sharing a general time period and turning point in music history. Debussy’s sensually evocative Prélude à l’Apres-midi d’un faune ushered in the modern era of music with its exotic orientalism and impressionist sensibilities. A chromatically slippery and long-winded melody introduced by the flute sets the stage for muted horns, soft strings, harps and cameos by other solo winds to loosely tell a story of the napping faun disturbed by sprites. Flutist Betsy Hudson Traba is often a standout in this orchestra and this was her show.
Perfection would have been a more translucent and pliant texture overall.
Hot-blooded presence and force, exactly the opposite, is what is called for and what we received from Stravinsky’s Firebird Suite. Both Hege and the orchestra were in full power and at home with the music.
It was a pleasure, but not astounding. See? We want more now.
MASTERWORKS. Sarasota Orchestra. Daniel Hege, guest conductor. Philippe Quint, violin. Reviewed Feb.1 at Neel Auditorium. Additional performance at 8 p.m. Feb. 2 and 2:30 p.m. Feb. 3 at Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall. 953-3434; www.SarasotaOrchestra.org.