FESTIVAL MIAMI
FROST SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA
THOMAS SLEEPER/ RICHARD STOLTZMAN
ELGAR/ FINZI (11-4-06) 
HEARTY BLAST OF BRITISH MUSIC SERVED UP AT FESTIVAL MIAMI


By Lawrence Budmen

British music of serene and agitated character was the hearty fare at the final concert of Festival Miami on Saturday. The gifted students in the Frost Symphony Orchestra could hardly have had a more impressive showcase. 

Sir Edward Elgarís Variations on an Original Theme, Op.36 (Enigma) is a landmark of British orchestral music and the greatest essay in this genre since Brahmsís Haydn Variations. The outward calm of the principal theme is broken by a series of dynamic, sorrowful, and witty variations that culminate in one of the most stirring finales in orchestral music. 

Despite a few minor slips in the winds and brass, the orchestraís performance was a remarkable accomplishment for a student ensemble. The young musicians essayed Elgarís orchestral showpiece with vitality and assurance. Principal cellist Amanda Andreasonís lustrous solo was shaped with aristocratic fluency. 

Conductor Thomas Sleeper was alert to the scoreís mercurial changes of mood and meter. His beautifully spun reading of the elegiac Nimrod variation was grave and wistful. A heroic burst of clarion trumpets capped Sleeperís brilliant version of this touchstone work. 

Sleeperís idiomatic affinity for British orchestral music was also strongly evident in his impassioned accompaniment to clarinetist Richard Stoltzmanís performance of the Clarinet Concerto, Op.31 by Gerald Finzi. 

Although Finziís 1949 work requires torrents of virtuosity, it is not an instrumental display piece in the conventional sense. The pensive turbulence of the opening Allegro vigoroso and dark ambivalence of the Adagio vividly conveys tragedy and restlessness (through the composerís signature contrapuntal neo-classicism). In the concluding Rondo, Finzi reverts to pastoral tone painting and imaginative recreation of modal harmonies and English folk song. 

After some initially tentative playing, Stoltzman returned to form and tossed off the finaleís high register acrobatics with panache, accompanied by exceptionally silky strings. Stoltzmanís mellow tone enveloped the Adagioís haunting aura in a performance of ethereal melancholy.

Promenade Ė Walking the Dog from George Gershwinís score for the Fred Astaire-Ginger Rogers film Shall We Dance (an encore) was vintage Stoltzman. His light, jazzily bouncy rendition recalled his big band sessions with Woody Herman. 

Copyright Miami Herald


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