It’s unfair to expect brilliance from every performance, but when an ensemble such as the Sarasota Orchestra has been making an impression concert after concert, it’s almost deflating when the results are merely excellent. Case in point, this concert, under the incisive leadership of guest conductor Tito Muñoz, opened with a wild scramble in Samuel Barber’s Overture to “The School for Scandal” which was soon brought to focus.
Despite the colliding notes, the noble and farcical flourish of this work shone with a youthful vitality.
Brilliance did strike in the form of violinist Giora Schmidt in “Las Cuatro Estaciones Porteño” (The Four Seasons of Buenos Aires) by Argentine composer Astor Piazzolla in an arrangement for string orchestra and soloist by Leonid Desyatnikov. Originally composed as four separate tangos for Piazzolla’s quintet of violin, electric guitar, piano, double bass, and bandoneon, this arrangement is a showpiece for both soloist and string orchestra with the witty insertion of echoes from the more familiar “Four Seasons” by Vivaldi.
Shifting with the seasons, these four tangos are irresistible. They ache with melancholy, kick with angular syncopation, and charged by Schmidt’s full-throttle performance and cosmopolitan panache. Raw with emotion, the music also calls upon soloist and orchestra to whine with glissandi, creak with ponticelli (bowing above the bridge), and rattle with col legno (beating the wood of the bow). This was not what one expects from a fine orchestra, but we got it all in full measure.
Conductor, soloist and every string musician on the stage seemed caught up in the singular passion of this music. A lyric cello solo by principal Abe Feder, a solo turn by concertmaster Dan Jordan, and a featured role for principal bass John Miller created a combo of soloists within the whole.
Vivaldi’s voice was heard on occasion with asides to familiar arpeggios and fragments amidst Piazzolla’s world. It’s a clever device, but an arrangement of Piazzolla’s “Four Seasons” for string orchestra with soloist would have made this purist happy.
The passion did not stop there as the program concluded with music of the 20th century’s favorite Romantic composer, Sergei Rachmaninoff. We love him for his lofty melodies and grandiose use of orchestral color. His hour-long Symphony No. 2 in E minor, Op. 27, performed this evening, clearly bears his stamp, but all calls for the hand of a good editor.
Muñoz proved a masterful sculptor of phrases as they ebbed and flowed with full expression. He led with clarity and precision while the orchestra, particularly all the wind soloists, soared with great beauty.
MASTERWORKS 4. Sarasota Orchestr, Tito Muñoz, conductor, Giora Schmidt, violin soloist. Reviewed Jan. 30 at Neel Performing Arts Hall. Additional performance at 2:30 p.m. today at the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall. 953-3434; www.Sarasota Orchestra.org.