By Lawrence Budmen

In the musical world, Sir Neville Marriner is nothing short of a legend. The octogenarian British conductor was a violin prodigy. As a teenager he played under the baton of Sir Henry Wood, founder of the London Proms concerts and friend of Brahms and Dvorak. During his tenure as a member of the violin section of the London Symphony Orchestra, he was inspired by such conductors as Pierre Monteux and Josef Krips. Almost half a century ago Sir Neville founded the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields, a versatile chamber orchestra. On February 16 the Concert Association of Florida brought the still potent combination of Marriner and the Academy to the Carnival Centerís Knight Concert Hall.

In an evening of vintage Marriner, Stravinskyís Pulcinella Suite proved a delightful opener. This crack group of London musicians is class personified. The exquisite timbre of the woodwinds caressed the ear in the Gavotta con Variazioni. Concertmaster Kenneth Sillitoís smooth, silky tone gracefully adorned Stravinskyís coiffured strophes. A virtuosic trombone solo was a real stunner. Above all Marriner brought vivacity and dash to every bar of this elegantly concocted Stravinsky confection. (Pulcinella is supposedly based on themes by the Italian composer Giovanni Pergolessi but most of the acerbic neo-classical score is pure Stravinsky.) The high spirited Finale danced in rhythmic propulsion under Marrinerís deft baton.

In Mozartís sublime Piano Concerto No.23 in C Minor, Jonathan Biss was a note perfect, bland soloist. It seemed like two different performances were taking place simultaneously. Bliss, a pupil of Leon Fleisher, played accurately without Mozartean style or an artistic point of view while Marriner and his ensemble offered an incisive, sparkling rendition. Without real pianistic magic, the glorious Larghetto was curiously earthbound.

Beethovenís Symphony No.2 in D Major may be the least played of the nine symphonies by the master from Bonn. Marriner and the Academy gave an outstanding performance of this transitional work in Beethovenís orchestral oeuvre. From the mysterious opening chords through the succeeding Allegro con brio, Marriner led with strength, headlong rhythmic thrust, and boundless energy. The charming Larghetto was properly songful with Marriner deftly pointeing up instrumental felicities. (Indeed Beethovenís charming orchestral touches continue to surprise and astound. This score is the antithesis of the composerís monumental statements.) Marriner kept the Scherzo light and airy with superb horn playing in the trio section. The witty, Haydnesque brio of the final Allegro molto was captured with spirited lightness of touch. After nearly five decades, this matchless partnership of conductor and orchestra continues to produce great music making.

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