Cuban orchestra makes raucous impression in lightweight program at Kravis Center
The Regional Arts Concert Series opened Saturday night at the Kravis Center in West Palm Beach with a largely pops concert by the National Symphony Orchestra of Cuba. A Mendelssohn masterwork replaced the originally scheduled early Schubert symphony as the only substantial work on the program. Unfortunately, while the visit of the Havana-based ensemble was noteworthy—especially in South Florida—the orchestra’s music-making proved provincial at best.
The raucous, uneven brass playing of the American and Cuban national anthems that opened the concert carried over into the ensuing Cuban Overture by Gershwin. Music director Enrique Pérez-Mesa set a lively pace and the strong principal clarinet reveled in a bluesy solo. The energetic percussion section created a splendid racket with the native sounds of maracas, bongos and claves.
Guido Lopez-Gavilan took over the podium for his own Guaguanco and Tribute to Lecuona, both scores featuring the Cuban-born, Minneapolis-based pianist Ignacio “Nachito” Herrera. Herrera’s arrangement of Ernesto Lecuona’s Malaguena and Ante el Escorial is a jazzed-up affair, reflecting the pianist’s pop bona fides. Unrelenting extreme volume and blurred passagework marked his superficial versions of these classic vignettes, lacking the idiomatic elegance that Thomas Tirino and Santiago Rodriguez bring to Lecuona’s music.
Attractive writing for mallet percussion was the most interesting aspect of Gavilan’s composition. With audience clapping, string players pounding out rhythm on the wood of their instruments and Herrera standing and doing a dance while pounding at the keyboard, the piece seemed better suited for the ambience of a nightclub than a concert hall. The audience seemed to love it, interrupting the performance with applause, standing ovations and cheering at the conclusion.
Jorge Lopez Marin’s Danzon El Medico de Pianos offered a kind of Cuban Leroy Anderson, complete with catchy plucked string figures and an upbeat trumpet tune. Instead of performing such fluff on its first American tour, the orchestra could have revived scores by such pioneering Cuban modernists as Alberto Caturla and Amadeo Roldan.
Mendelssohn’s Symphony No. 4 (Italian) was substituted for Schubert’s Symphony No. 5 without announcement. Pérez-Mesa’s plodding, earthbound conducting failed to channel the Mediterranean sunshine of Mendelssohn’s profusion of inspired melodies. Brass burbles, sour winds and ragged string playing marked by faltering intonation were consistent problems, the ensemble’s sonority coarse and unpolished. Pérez-Mesa’s range of dynamics was two tiered—loud and louder. The horns effectively negotiated the sliding melodic patterns in the trio of the third movement but the violins’ scrawny sound and lack of recision made a chaotic mess of the concluding Saltarello.
While the renewed effort to bring closer cultural ties between the United States and Cuba is welcome and laudable, sending a third-rate orchestra doesn’t do much to enhance the musical stature of the Caribbean island nation.
The National Symphony Orchestra of Cuba plays music by Lecuona and Lopez-Gavilan with violinist Ilmar Gavilan as soloist in Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto 2 p.m. Sunday at the Kravis Center in West Palm Beach. 800-572-8471; kravis.org.
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Sun Nov 11, 2012
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