If you go
What: Masterworks concert, with the Naples Philharmonic Orchestra, Rossen Milanov conducting; soloists Glenn Basham and Jessie Goebel
When: 8 p.m. today and Saturday, Jan. 19
Where: Philharmonic Center for the Arts, 5833 Pelican Bay Blvd., Naples
Tickets: $35 to $70; discounted rush tickets 6-7 p.m. at the box office
To buy: thephil.org or 239-57-1900
When Rachmaninoff is on the program, it’s worth standing in line to get tickets.
This weekend, with the Naples Philharmonic Orchestra playing and Rossen Milanov conducting the Rachmaninoff Symphony No. 2, it’s worth camping out.
If a snatch of melody doesn’t immediately come to mind, perhaps one of its most famously co-opted themes will: Eric Carmen’s 1976 hit, “Never Gonna Fall in Love Again.” It stayed in the Top Forty for nearly three months; even pop lovers can’t resist the Rach.
He proved irresistible again Thursday night at the Philharmonic Center, where Milanov led the orchestra in a well-defined, emotionally charged performance of Symphony No. 2. Luckily for music lovers there are performances through Saturday night, Jan. 19.
As beautiful as it is, this is a work full of pitfalls. There’s an extended, nervous tremolando from all the string sections in the first movement that could turn to auditory mush, but Milanov and the orchestra kept its energy stoked vividly. There is also a temptation to drench the famous Adagio theme in syrup — can we call that the Eric Carmen effect? — to which neither orchestra nor conductor succumbed.
Finally, nearly every section has to take turns rowing the ship as well as contributing solos. Thursday the solos included a beautiful poignant clarinet interlude from Paul Votapek and a sweet violin phrase from Glenn Basham.
The brass sections in particular, having just gotten a workout in the first movement, had to return again and again as a herald for the second. All of them did, models of clarity without sacrificing dynamics. Their partner was the orchestra’s percussion section, in top form Thursday night – expect a kettle drum lift from your seat in the second movement.
This orchestra has been without a music director since the Phil reopened its search under new CEO Kathleen van Bergen. No matter what our misgivings are on that, the guest conductors have brought in a rewarding element of boundary stretching for the musicians. The Bulgaria-born Milanov is expressive — even to an occasional bout of head frenzy during the Rachmaninoff — and commanding. He worked effectively with the orchestra to fine-tune volume and dynamics.
Even he, however, couldn’t quite save the Mozart Sinfonia Concertante that was the first half of this program. Thursday night, the work, with concertmaster Basham and Jessie Goebel, principal viola as soloists, never reached a comfort level for either them or, it seems, the audience.
The concertante has an unusual tweak. Because of its upper register interplay with the violin, the viola part was written for a key a half tone lower than the violin, and then brought up to the violin’s key by tightening the strings. Called scordatura, the result, ideally, is a viola with more of a violin’s brightness.
That didn’t seem apparent Thursday in the sound from Goebel’s instrument Thursday, and both soloists were occasionally grasplng for the right notes.
This wasn’t a bad performance; each offered some sublime moments of solo and combined phrasing. And the Milanov-led orchestra worked valiantly to bring out the brilliance in this work.
But there was a tension about it that only seemed to feed on itself.
We hope — in fact, we’re betting — it was a case of first-night jitters that will be gone by Saturday. At that point, the audience could have a tough time choosing which half it likes better.
Harriet Howard Heithaus writes about classical music and dance for the Naples Daily News.