We are often told that today’s audiences tend to value raw energy over refinement and balance in musical performances, and not only in those events featuring “pop” music.
That was certainly the case on Saturday evening, when guest conductor Philip Mann led the Sarasota Orchestra in a blazing performance of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony that brought a huge and noisy ovation from the capacity audience at the Van Wezel.
In his graceful introductory remarks, Mann stated that this symphony changed the nature of classical music forever, leaving behind much of the polite rhetoric previously the norm, replacing it with raw passion and insistent rhythmic fire.
This approach to a complex score requires more precision and balance than we heard on this occasion, but the rhythmic drive and emotional tension expressed were impressive, despite occasional rough edges and a persistent overbalance in favor of the trumpets to the point that the rest of the orchestral texture was obscured.
The same issues affected the performance of Beethoven’s monumental “Egmont” Overture, written to introduce Goethe’s play commemorating triumph over a foreign tyrant, which opened the concert. The solemn energy of this celebration of freedom overcame small inconsistencies in the orchestral fabric.
Between these two monuments to heroic issues, the Orchestra’s Principal Harp, Cheryl Losey, delivered a performance of Alberto Ginastera’s Harp Concerto that was nothing short of dazzling in both its technical wizardry and interpretive charm.
The concerto is puzzling in many respects, and often inconsistent in its message, mixing traditional Latin American style with iconoclastic gestures. This performance, too, drove the audience to an appreciative frenzy.
MASTERWORKS VII, "Beethoven's Fifth," Sarasota Orchestra. Conducted by Philip Mann, Cheryl Losey, harpist. Reviewed at the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall April 5; additional performance (sold out) 2:30 p.m. April 6. www.sarasotaorchestra.org.