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Sibelius soars but Mozart is earthbound
By JOHN FLEMING, Times Performing Arts Critic
Published January 5, 2008
TAMPA - Sibelius had the gift of strangeness. Take the Finnish composer's First Symphony, which begins with a long, melancholy clarinet melody over hushed timpani, a strangely fragile, almost diffident way to launch such a robust work.
Those opening measures, poetically played by principal clarinet Brian Moorhead and principal timpani John Bannon, unfolded like a northern flower seeking the sun under the baton of Gunther Herbig, guest conductor of the Florida Orchestra on Friday night at Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center's Morsani Hall.
Herbig, with his silvery mane and erect bearing, is the very picture of the old-school maestro. He was music director of orchestras in Potsdam, Dresden and the former East Berlin in communist East Germany. He comes to the Florida Orchestra through his friendship with music director Stefan Sanderling and, especially, Sanderling's conductor father, Kurt. In 1977, Herbig succeeded Kurt Sanderling as music director of the Berlin Symphony Orchestra and held the post until immigrating to the United States in 1984 to head the Detroit Symphony Orchestra.
The romantic repertoire is Herbig's forte, and his reading of the Sibelius symphony was a pleasure. He brought a suave hand to its artful construction, such as the ever-shifting tempos of the first movement and the contrasting dynamics of the third movement. He expertly highlighted bassoon and harp passages. In the finale there was some glorious brass leading into the restrained final chords.
The concert started out with Mozart's Symphony No. 41 Jupiter. This was perfectly fine, in Herbig's broad, expansive conducting, but the performance never really took off.
Woody Allen once said that the Jupiter Symphony's incredible finale, in which no fewer than five themes are contrapuntally woven together like a baroque tapestry, proved the existence of God. As wonderful as Mozart's last symphony always is, there were probably still a few atheists in the audience on Friday.