A few bumps, then Brahms program blooms

Published May 5, 2007

TAMPA - Stefan Sanderling has a way with Brahms. After all, it was Sanderling's marvelous performance as a guest conductor of the Brahms Fourth Symphony five years ago that essentially won him the job as music director of the Florida Orchestra. Friday, conductor and orchestra returned to the composer who got them together with the second of two programs in a Brahms minifestival at Morsani Hall of Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center. The centerpiece was Brahms' Symphony No. 2.

But first came the latest in a series of premieres of short works that have opened Sanderling's masterworks programs this season. This time it was Michael Sidney Timpson's Aperitif, which alternated slinky strings and brass fanfares, a well-crafted work that was over before you knew it. To continue the food metaphor that Timpson, a professor of music composition at the University of South Florida, pursued at length in a program note, it was a good palate cleanser.

Then there was a mixup that left the audience in the dark. Instead of what was listed in the program, Hindemith's Concert Music for Strings and Brass, the orchestra played Mendelssohn's Hebrides Overture. But there was no program insert and no announcement about the change. Listeners familiar with Hindemith's 20th century rhythms must have wondered why he sounded so old-fashioned.

James Connors, principal cello of the orchestra, was the soloist in Schumann's Cello Concerto, and he got off to a shaky start in this challenging work, whose three movements are played without pause. Connors' approach seemed much too careful.

Things improved greatly in a delicate little dialogue between soloist and orchestra, and then there was a beautiful extended duet by Connors and his stand mate, assistant principal cello Lowell Adams. This sort of playing reflected Connors' excellence as a chamber musician.

The concerto winds up with a flurry of fast, difficult playing, which Connors negotiated well.

The Second Symphony, which occupied the second half of the program, is Brahms at his most amiable. Sanderling's performance bloomed slowly, but then took hold with the passionate tumult that occurred halfway through the first movement. From there the intensity never let up through the tightly reasoned Adagio, the dance-like third movement and an exciting finale.

John Fleming can be reached at 727 893-8716 or fleming@sptimes.com.


Florida Orchestra

The program is repeated at 8 p.m. today at Mahaffey Theater, St. Petersburg, and 7:30 p.m. Sunday at Ruth Eckerd Hall, Clearwater. $17-$52. (813) 286-2403 or toll-free 1-800-662-7286; www.floridaorchestra.org.