The full force of the Sarasota Orchestra is a glorious experience and all the more so in its opening Masterworks concert in the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall Friday night.
Even the added complication of audience members showing negative COVID-19 test results, vaccine cards and IDs at the doors ran smoothly. Gentle reminders to wear our masks at all times abounded and to my eye everyone complied.
The hall’s lobby area and the audience seating was newly refreshed and ready for what could have been a full house but was not. Yet this grateful audience seemed jolted alive by the music. The concert program continues through Sunday afternoon.
Guest conductor Marcelo Lehninger, who led a 2019 Discover Beethoven Concert in Sarasota, introduced the audience to an energizing Abertura Festivo (Festive Overture) by the 20th century Brazilian composer Camargo Guarnieri. This celebratory score is packed with brilliant colors, particularly from percussion and winds, and syncopation that keeps everyone on their toes. It is probably as exhilarating to perform as it was to hear.
The Festive Overture was the perfect joyous blast to welcome everyone back into the concert hall after 20 months of near silence. The rest of the program cloaked us in familiar favorites that easily brought smiles and nods of satisfaction.
Soloist Blake Pouliot, a dashing young Canadian violinist with a winning smile, brought a hip vibe to the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto in D Major, Op. 35. His technique more than matched the technical demands of this concerto. There was a soft musicality as well when leaning on the sentimentality of Tchaikovsky’s melodic gifts.
At stunning tempos, the bravura passages were exciting if not entirely clean. Lehninger seemed hard-pressed to keep the necessary precision of the orchestra.
The audience was wowed and stood for a long ovation before Pouliot returned for an encore. His achingly simple folk song “The Last Rose of Summer” just made the audience love him more.
Modest Mussorgsky’s “Pictures at an Exhibition” for solo piano would not be as beloved today if it were not for Maurice Ravel’s hugely popular orchestration. We’ve heard it numerous times in Sarasota and by comparison we can measure the growth of the Sarasota Orchestra.
With each hearing, various aspects jump out as notable. The woodwinds have long been a strength. On Friday, my attention was drawn to the beauty of the brass texture with a solid foundation of tuba and trombones.
An impressive solo trumpet by Craig Morris led the promenade with authority. Principal tuba Aaron Tindall gave a buttery solo turn in the “Bydlo” (Oxen) segment. All together, in chorale segments for brass they were delicious.
The heart of an orchestra is always the blend and beauty of the strings. “Your” Sarasota Orchestra, as many from the stage remind us, is in fine form and ready for more. It’s going to be an exciting season back in the concert hall.
‘Portraits in Sound’
Sarasota Orchestra Masterworks, Marcelo Lehninger, conductor; Blake Pouliot, violin. Reviewed Nov. 5, Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall, 777 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota. Through Sunday. Tickets $35-$98. 941-953-3434; sarasotaorchestra.org