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Carlisle Floyd (born 1926) is one of America's best known opera composers. His Susannah and Of Mice and Men have become American classics. Willie Stark, Floyd's setting of Robert Penn Warren's All the King's Men may be a neglected masterpiece. In the early 1970s Floyd composed Pilgrimage, a biblical song cycle, for the late American bass Norman Treigle. A thoughtfully conceived, accessible work, Pilgrimage is not first class Floyd. Much of the score brings to mind Aaron Copland on one of his less inspired days. Yet Floyd's hymn-like setting of Psalms 148-149 Praise the Lord, O my Soul is marvelously stirring. The concluding 'For I am Persuaded' (Romans 8) is warmly lyrical, pure Americana. There is surprising dissonance and astringency (for Floyd) in 'Save me, O Lord, for the waters are come unto my soul'. This Festival Miami revival was a welcome opportunity to explore the byways of a celebrated American composer's creative oeuvre. Bass baritone Donnie Ray Albert imbued each of the five sections with intense, dramatic power. Except for some strain at the upper reaches of his voluminous voice, Albert sang with a dark, golden, evenly produced flow of tonal beauty. (Albert was an impressive Rigoletto at Miami's Florida Grand Opera a decade ago. More recently he has played Wotan in Wagner's Ring cycle. A specialist in contemporary opera, Albert is now in rehearsal for the première of William Bolcom's A Wedding -- based on the Robert Altman film -- at Lyric Opera of Chicago.) Floyd could not have wished for a more dedicated interpreter. Albert's performance was memorable! Sleeper's idiomatic support was admirable. The orchestra played the score with fluency and remarkable professionalism.

Donnie Ray Albert
Donnie Ray Albert

While Richard Strauss's Tod und Verklärung (Death and Transfiguration) Op 24 may not seem like typical repertoire for a student orchestra, Sleeper and his eager musicians gave a surprisingly accomplished performance of this moving Strauss showpiece. While there were prominent fluffs in the brass, the wind playing was strong. Beautifully articulated solos by the first chair oboe and flute riveted attention. The first violin, viola, and cello played the Viennesse chamber music section with warmth and stylish schmaltz. Sleeper commanded a remarkably large, solid tone from the strings (with shimmering harp glissandos). Strauss's gorgeous peaks of sound were well served. Sleeper is a first class Strauss conductor! His thoughtfully conceived, powerfully shaped reading often achieved eloquence and beauty. His affinity for Strauss's long limbed melodies was special. The moving power of Strauss's beautiful score was well served!

Thomas Sleeper
Thomas Sleeper

Festival Miami again brought students and veteran professionals together for a stimulating evening of music. With the combination of an interesting revival by a prominent American composer and compelling performances of serene masterworks from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Festival Miami's second decade is off and running. A worthy evening of fine music making!

Copyright © 12 October 2004 Lawrence Budmen, Miami Beach, USA



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