by: June LeBell | Contributing columnist In my many years of interviewing famous classical musicians, I’ve never
met an instrumentalist who didn’t want to be a singer. Thomas Wilkins,
with his incredibly clear conducting style, turned the entire Sarasota
Orchestra into singers this past weekend, and even the crummy acoustics
of the Van Wezel couldn’t muddy this performance.
Wilkins conducts music, not beats, and, in doing so, elicits a warm but
transparent sound that is electrifying.
In this weekend’s cleverly-aligned program of Mozart’s “Jupiter Symphony
(No. 41)” and “The Planets,” by Gustav Holst, Wilkins brought out more
than the best from the Sarasota Orchestra, an ensemble that is
positively blossoming as it gets to play under new people with new
ideas. Together, Wilkins and the Sarasota musicians became a true
Mozartean ensemble, expansive — even in the brisk finale of the
Jupiter — but never rushing and always breathing and singing through
phrases. Much of their performance, especially in the second movement’s
gorgeous Andante cantabile, reminded me of a great Mozart recitative and
aria such as “Dove sono,” from “Le Nozze di Figaro,” sung by a greatly
capacious soprano, molding phrases with arcs that are inherent but too
often missed in Mozart.
In this intense, visually popping, audibly exhilarating performance,
just a few of the highlights included a brief but captivating euphonium
solo in “Mars, the Bringer of War,” some masterful playing from
concertmaster Daniel Jordan, cellist Abraham Feder and the great wind
section of this ensemble throughout the piece. The majesty the orchestra
and Wilkins brought to the famously flamboyant “Jupiter, the Bringer of
Jollity” was striking, particularly for the veddy British hymn that, in
their hands, might transport the entire royal armada to the stars
without a ripple.