Poulenc’s powerhouse Organ Concerto highlights Miami Symphony program

By Alan Becker

Eduardo Marturet

In a program titled “Masterpieces by Subscribers’ Request” it’s hard to imagine Elgar’s Serenade for Strings or Poulenc’s Organ Concerto vying with Mozart’s Symphony No. 40 for the favored attention of concertgoers.

Whatever the rationale, it was good to have these works performed with energy and sophistication by the Miami Symphony Orchestra Saturday night at the Wertheim Performing Arts Center on the campus of Florida International University.

The Elgar is a particularly lovely work that joins with the Dvorak and Josef Suk Serenades in capturing the lyrical beauty of a composer at his melodic best. In three short movements, it has a youthful charm and a beguiling reticence in which the music unfolds without complexity.  As in all the best Elgar, there is a deeply moving poignancy in the Larghetto central movement that tugs on the heartstrings. The first and last movements have a tripping theme that gently insinuates itself on the listener. All of this was beautifully executed by conductor Eduardo Marturet who, with his impressive ensemble, easily handled the subtle dynamic shadings of the music.

Poulenc’s Concerto for Organ, Strings and Timpani is a serious work, without the characteristic French insouciance to be found in his other concertante music.  It was not well received at its premiere, but things have changed considerably since then. The reserved quasi-religious slow sections contrast with the impetuosity of the faster music, which threatens to spill beyond the confines of the unusual single-movement structure.

The Miami-born organist Gregory Zelek joined forces with Marturet to deliver a powerhouse of a performance. The pipe organ at Wertheim, a 74-rank Schantz, is an awesome instrument and, given the forward acoustics of the auditorium engulfed the listener in heart-stopping pedal tones and huge fortissimos.

Zelek also provided a substantial solo encore in Hommage to Stravinsky by the contemporary Lebanese composer Naki Hakim. As an impressive jumble of technical legerdemain, jazzy rhythms, and chordal climaxes, it brought the house down. Stravinsky, who disliked the sound of the organ, might have been flattered, puzzled, and amused by the piece had he lived to hear it.  Surely he would have  been impressed by Zelek’s effortless facility on the instrument.

Mozart’s ever popular Symphony No. 40 in G minor concluded the program. This was not your run-of-the-mill, everyday run-through of the warhorse. With the addition of winds and horns to the ensemble the orchestral colors took on a plush sound, and Marturet, with arms flailing and hands molding each phrase, found just the right impetuosity to spark the opening Allegro molto. The violas’eighth-note rhythmic pattern was for once not slighted or smoothed over.  The Andante expressively showed how much the orchestra’s string section has improved over the years, and the Menuetto and final Allegro assai led the conductor through a fascinating terpsichorean display.

With dedication to both his audience and his wife, Marturet offered Elgar’s Salut d’amour as an encore– a perfect choice for an appreciative audience.


Posted in Performances

One Response to “Poulenc’s powerhouse Organ Concerto highlights Miami Symphony program”

  1. Posted Apr 14, 2011 at 2:11 pm by MJM

    I thought the organist looked like Justin Bieber. Great Show!

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Sun Apr 10, 2011
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