by Timothy Robson
BlueWater Chamber Orchestra occupies a unique place in the current musical scene in Cleveland: an orchestra committed to imaginative programming, including unusual works by famous composers as well as new works by emerging composers. Saturday evening’s program, featuring Grammy-winning guitarist Jason Vieaux and conducted by artistic director Carlton R. Woods, was no exception in its exploration of music of Hispanic heritage.
The concert, which lasted about 90 minutes and was performed without intermission, opened with excerpts from Manuel de Falla’s ballet The Three-Cornered Hat. De Falla’s music is redolent of a hot Spanish afternoon, with folk music never far away. Each section of the suite was connected to the next.
The theater at the Breen Center for the Performing Arts on the campus of St. Ignatius High School has surprisingly good acoustics for a multi-purpose venue. BlueWater’s sound was clear and detailed in the de Falla and throughout the rest of the concert. The performance was colorful, especially the closing flamenco.
Mexican composer Silvestre Revueltas died of alcoholism shortly before his 41st birthday in 1940. He left a large catalog of compositions, although he is probably best known to American audiences for his orchestral work Sensemayá. In 1937, during the Spanish Civil War, Revueltas went to Spain, where he came under the spirit of the martyred writer Federico García Lorca. Revueltas’s Homenajo a Federico García Lorca is a tribute to the author in three short movements with an unusual orchestration of violins, woodwinds, brass, piano, double bass, and percussion, omitting the mellow sounds of violas and cellos.
The atmosphere throughout is phantasmagorical, sometimes sad and mournful, as in the opening trumpet solo, and at other times fantastical, with dissonant polytonality and off-kilter mariachi music. The quiet second movement was especially arresting, with soft, repeated figures in the violins, a plaintive trumpet melody, and odd, short “plinks” on the xylophone. It all ends with a soft stroke on the gong. The third movement was joyfully (and intentionally) chaotic. BlueWater made a convincing case for this unusual work, with excellent ensemble and solo work.
Aaron Copland’s Three Latin American Sketches did not fare quite as well. This is rarely-heard Copland, but the music has all of that composer’s trademarks: jazzy rhythms, lyrical melodies, and the ability to make music out of the most meager musical materials, in this case ascending and descending scales and a few triadic motifs. For all its considerable difficulty, the piece sounds derivative and is not top-drawer Copland. BlueWater’s performance — in contrast to the Reveultas work — seemed tentative, and its ensemble was scrappy in places.
Jason Vieaux, now considered one of the world’s top classical guitarists, has been the head of the guitar department at the Cleveland Institute of Music since 2001. His solo album Play won the 2015 Grammy Award for Best Classical Instrumental Solo. He brought his remarkable technique and eloquent musicianship to BWCO’s performance of Joaquin Rodrigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez, which may be the most famous of all classical guitar concertos. Spanish folk music was again a strong influence in the work.
Rodrigo’s orchestrations are cleverly designed to complement the sound of the guitar, and never cover its fragile sound. In this performance Jason Vieaux used discreet amplification of the guitar, but it only enhanced and never distorted the sound. Carlton Woods kept the accompaniment under control at all times. The solo part requires great virtuosity, and Vieaux tossed it off with seeming ease. The enormous range in the color and texture of his guitar sound reflected the changing characteristics of the music. In the several substantial cadenzas his playing was sometimes gentle and other times ferocious. The three soft notes that close the concerto brought it to a magical conclusion. After several curtain calls Jason Vieaux came back for a solo encore, the Capricho árabe, a showpiece by Spanish composer Francisco Tárrega.
The closing work on the program was the Danzón No. 4 by Mexican-American composer Arturo Márquez, whose training was varied. He studied at the Mexican Music Conservatory, then in Paris, and at the California Institute of the Arts under composers Mel Powell and Morton Subotnick. Marquez’s sensuous Danzón features sinuous melodies winding their way through the orchestral solos. The plaintive sound of the soprano saxophone takes up the melody as the intensity of the music develops, building also in rhythmic complexity. Despite a few moments of imprecise ensemble, the group held things together. After all the rhythmic activity, the work ends incongruously on an unexpected, sustained major chord.
BlueWater Chamber Orchestra is to be commended for a well-conceived program, long enough to be satisfying but short enough not to overstay its welcome.
Published on ClevelandClassical.com September 15, 2015.
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