Sunday, March 20, 2011

NJSO "Best Of Spanish Flair"

The New Jersey Symphony Orchestra’s “Best of Spanish
Flair” program last night at the Count Basie Theatre in Red Bank featured the evergreen Concierto de Aranjuez of Joaquin Rodrigo in its entirery, surrounded by a collection of mostly well-known but also some less familiar works.

The Gershwin Cuban Overture was a bit of a suprise. Less popular by far than his orchestra touchstones Rhapsody in Blue and American in Paris, Cuban Overture bubbles with the hip-shaking rhythms of Cuban nightclubs of the 1930s, with signature bongos, maracas and claves in the percussion section. Like all of Gershwin’s music, the overture bubbles like an unstoppable, sexy diletante--a romantic, evocative poetry from a high-priced hotel barstool. It is well-crafted, effective entertainment by a born entertainer.

Another less-known piece was living Mexican composer Arturo Marquez’s Danzon No. 2. Written in 1994, the music sounds as if it could have been written in Gershwin’s lifetime, full of the same gushing sweep of folk-inspired melody. The rhythms were more unusual and compelling--a more personal view of Mexican folk style than Gershwin or Copland could achieve. But the piece itself has an easy structure designed to be downed in one gulp.

These two, plus Manuel da Falla’s “Miller’s Dance” from The Three-Cornered Hat and Copland’s El Salon Mexico. It was a pleasure to hear the consistent tangle of Latin dance rythms articulated for such a good long stretch in an orchstra concert, rather than just as single character work. In all three, the orchestra played with suitable energy and enthusiasm, but the diamnd-tipped precision needed to carry off the polyrhythms, particularly in the counterpoint of the Gershwin and Copland, was somewhat lacking. The combined effect made me think that there should be more bands specializing in this repertoire.

But the Aranjuez was the real jewel of the evening and here the orchestra was at its best. Oren Fader was the perfect soloist--steeped in the complexities of new music, he threw light on both the technical and the expressive, showing the strength and dignity in both, and turning what could easly have been a run-of-the-mill event into something captivating and exquisite.

Sadly, I had to leave before I could hear the Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov Capriccio espagnole that concluded the concert. I’m sure it was my loss. Throughout, guest conductor Thomas Wilkins was a relaxed, charming host, telling stories, chatting with children in the front row (noticeably few children in attendance--few enough of anyone under the age of 50 in fact) and putting the program selections into context.

The "Best of Spanish Flair" will be repeated at bergenPAC in Englewood this afternoon at 3 p.m. For more information visit the NJSO website.

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