Rousing Performance- Mendelssohn, Ravel, Larsen and Tchaikovsky in South Florida
February 14, 2009
By Lawrence Budmen
BOCA RATON -- The Boca Raton Symphonia is doing some of the most arresting programming in South Florida. Principal conductor and artistic advisor Alexander Platt imaginatively combines rarely heard scores with emotionally compelling contemporary pieces and a smattering of more familiar repertoire. Platt, a discerning interpreter of wide ranging musical vistas, was in great form on 8 February 2009 as he led the ensemble (now in its fourth season) in a typically eclectic program in the Roberts Theater at Saint Andrew's School in Boca Raton, Florida, USA.
Platt's clearly delineated, precise baton technique drew strongly accented, adept performances from his highly polished chamber orchestra. Opening with a vigorous, tautly gauged performance of Mendelssohn's Hebrides Overture, Platt was equally at home in the lyrical impressionism of Ravel's Pavane pour une infante defunte ('Pavane for a Dead Princess') -- a gossamer performance that cast its hypnotic spell.
Minnesota-based composer Libby Larsen conceived her setting of Elizabeth Barrett Browning's Sonnets from the Portuguese in 1993 for the illustrious American soprano Arlene Auger. Like Peter Lieberson's recent Neruda Songs, Larsen's six song cycle revels in sensuous orchestral colors, strings and harp painting evocative backdrops to the often high lying vocal arioso. The score begins with the ringing of chimes as prelude to I thought once how Theocritus had sung, as the writer anticipates death. At the conclusion of the final setting How do I love thee? chimes again ring out as the singer intones the final line 'I shall but love thee better after death'. Larsen effectively mirrors Browning's volatile moods (and sense of doubt) with jittery orchestral figurations and wild leaps in the vocal line.
Soprano Nancy Allen Lundy successfully met the composer's formidable vocal demands. Her beautiful, luminous timbre and fearless high register were matched by a pure, firmly focused core of tone and exquisite word painting and textual clarity. A veteran opera conductor (and currently resident conductor of the enterprising Chicago Opera Theater), Platt led a soaring accompaniment, bridging ethereal orchestral tone portraits with the mercurial vocal writing.
Platt concluded the matinée performance with Tchaikovsky's rarely played Orchestral Suite No 1 in D minor, Op 43. (This was probably the work's first performance in Florida.) Composed after the composer's Fourth Symphony, brass fanfares of a similar nature appear early in the piece. The specter of Swan Lake seems to haunt this balletic music. Indeed the Divertimento movement (a sentimental waltz) and concluding Gavotte could well have appeared in one of Tchaikovsky's ballet scores. Although the charming Marche miniature, a favorite encore piece of conductor Arthur Fiedler, is fairly well known, the remainder of the work remains a rarity. This is all the more surprising since the six movement suite is replete with typically Tchaikovskian melodic beauty and opulent orchestration. The Intermezzo recalls the sentimentality and melancholia of the slow movements in the Serenade for Strings and Souvenir de Florence while the Scherzo is an invigorating miniature in the manner of similar movements from the composer's early symphonies.
Platt changed the order of the movements, resulting in greater contrasts of mood, character and instrumentation. The Boca Raton Symphonia responded to his superbly coordinated leadership with a colorful, rhythmically crisp, vivacious and rousing performance. Led by concertmaster Misha Vitenson (first violin of the Amernet String Quartet), the orchestra's silken strings had a field day with Tchaikovsky's lush textures and beguiling melodies.
Copyright © 14 February 2009 Lawrence Budmen, Miami Beach, USA