Brahms and Mendelssohn fare best in Miami Symphony’s season opener

By Lawrence Budmen


Lola Astanova performed Rachmaninoff with the Miami Symphony Orchestra Sunday night at the Arsht Center. Photo: Nancy Ellison

“Grand Season of the Piano” is the theme of the Miami Symphony Orchestra’s 2014-15 season but  conductor Eduardo Marturet and the ensemble offered  the best music-making without a Steinway in a program of romantic works Sunday evening at the Arsht Center. Marturet’s thoughtful interpretations were matched by polished orchestral contributions. Except for some fleeting moments of insecure brass, the orchestra was in fine fettle at this season curtain raiser.

Mendelssohn’s concert overture Calm Sea and Prosperous Voyage is too rarely played, making Marturet’s revival especially welcome. A poetic slow introduction is followed by a lively section describing the boat’s voyage, replete with the composer’s charming melodies and sparkling orchestral writing. Marturet took the opening at an unhurried pace and was not afraid to take the dynamic level down to a whisper. The unison strings were impressively disciplined and the wind writing brightly articulated. Marturet led with plenty of vigor and firm control, the surprising soft ending beautifully drawn out.

Rachmaninoff’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini was more notable for clear delineation of orchestral detail than powerhouse keyboard playing. Russian-born soloist Lola Astanova offered a small-scale rendition of this virtuoso vehicle.  Technically adept, she can play the fastest runs with accuracy but her tone was slender and she was sometimes inaudible over full orchestral volleys. An elegant reading of the famous 18th variation and fast passagework in the 19th provided her best moments. The finale, however, was underpowered. Marturet’s insistent, propulsive leadership produced some brilliant playing and many niceties in the winds, often obscured, were given welcome prominence.

A chic stage presence with a large following on YouTube, Astanova was clearly an audience favorite. After repeated bravos, she offered Chopin’s Etude in C minor, Op. 25, No. 12 as an encore. She spanned the large octave leaps accurately but her phrasing was matter of fact, the romantic spirit definitely low voltage.

In recent seasons Marturet has led strong performances of Brahms’ Symphonies Nos. 2 and 4. His reading of the Symphony No. 1 in C minor was no less impressive. The Venezuelan conductor really knows his Brahms and expertly draws that dark tonal resonance from the lower strings that underpins so many of the composer’s orchestral scores. There was a fine sense of solidity and control in the slow opening section, followed by a hard driving allegro. Some brass bloopers intruded on a strong ensemble effort with consistently excellent contributions from first chair clarinet, oboe, flute and bassoon.

Marturet’s fine balancing of strings and winds and astute combination of passion and classical ebb and flow highlighted the Andante sostenuto. In solo passages, concertmaster Daniel Andai’s liquid tone and supple phrasing complemented the strings’ rich sound and impressive attack.

A majestic final movement capped the performance, the bass line in the solemn introduction given emphatic impact. Marturet  brought a sense of nobility and eloquence to Brahms’ melodies, building organically to the final clarion statement of the brass chorale. The pauses in the coda were expertly judged, Marturet keeping the momentum and urgency right to the final bars.

The Miami Symphony Orchestra’s season continues 6 p.m. November 16 at the Arsht Center in Miami with The Beatles’ U.S. Invasion – 50th Anniversary featuring works by Hyken, Breiner and Marturet with violinist Daniel Andai, pianist Ciro Fodere and the New Birth Baptist Church Choir.; 305-275-5666.

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Mon Oct 6, 2014
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