SYMPHONY OF THE AMERICAS
JAMES BROOKS-BRUZZESE/ENRIQUE GRAF/CIRO FODERE
By Lawrence Budmen
Uruguayan born pianist Enrique Graf is an artist with the unique ability to make the keyboard (nominally a percussive instrument) really sing. A former student of Leon Fleisher at Baltimore's Peabody Conservatory and winner of numerous international competitions, Graf does not lack pianistic firepower. Yet his patrician artistry and refined technique manage to enchant the listener. Graf was in top form at the season opening concert of the Symphony of the Americas on October 20, 2009 at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts' Amaturo Theater in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, USA.
The Concert No.21 in C Major, K.467 may be the Salzburg master's most frequently performed keyboard work but Graf imbued the thrice familiar gem with fresh insight and mature artistic wisdom. Crystalline lightness and graceful shaping of the melodic and contrapuntal lines made the opening Allegro maestoso a brightly enlivening prelude to an enduring masterpiece. Eschewing overt sentimentality and heavy-handedness, Graf essayed the central Andante at a faster clip than the norm, weaving the unforgettable melodic line with the finely chiseled delicacy of a Mozartean operatic aria. The pianist's vivacious approach to the Allegro molto finale sparkled in the bubbly fashion of the best musical champagne. Graf's stellar technique always stood at the service of the music, revealing transparent lines and subtle underpinnings often obscured in more workmanlike performances.
Symphony of the Americas' artistic director James Brooks-Bruzzese conducted with brio and élan, supporting Graf with a light, finely calibrated orchestral framework. The orchestra responded with luminous, effervescent playing. In Francis Poulenc's Concerto for Two pianos in D minor, the conductor effectively suggested the jazzy, Gallic scented aura of this iconic score from the heyday of Les Six.
Dismayed with many French composers' fascination with Wagnerian romanticism and dubious about the impressionistic route of Debussy and Ravel, Les Six (Georges Auric, Luis Durrey, Darius Milhaud, Germaine Taillferre, Arthur Honegger and Poulenc) sought a new Gallic sensibility that combined classicism with indigenous, popular culture - the meeting of the concert hall, jazz club and dance hall. Poulenc was ambivalent in embracing the ideals of his fellow composers. He shared their discomfort with late 19th and early twentieth century French musical trends but longed to be taken seriously as a creative artist. Within the decade of the 1930's Poulenc would compose the Baroque inspired Organ Concerto and solemn choral Stabat Mater and the irreverent, scintillating Concerto for Two Pianos. That remarkable work was one of the true monuments of the artistic ferment that Les Six embodied. In this one of a kind score, Poulenc manages to capture populist sensibilities of the Gallic cinema and dance of the era while paying tribute to the two composers he truly revered - Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Igor Stravinsky.
Enrique Graf was joined by Ciro Fodere, piano professor at Miami's New World School of Arts and former member of the New World Symphony, the South Florida based orchestral academy. (During his four year fellowship with that ensemble, Fodere gave a performance of Rachmaninoff's Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini under Alasdair Neale. This critic commented that Fodere's "high voltage reading made many note perfect competition winners' performances seem tame by comparison.") Graf and Fodere were a stimulating combination: Graf ever nimble and robust at the keyboard, Fodere fleet fingered and intense. They vividly captured the wit, modernity and jazzy combustion of the opening movement. In the sensuous Larghetto (with its echoes of both Mozart and Ravel) the duo spun an elegant, austere, beautifully embroidered line. The high speed finale was dashed off with power to spare. Poulenc's delightful score was richly served by two splendid soloists with fine instrumental support.
After the interval, Brooks-Bruzzese led a rousing rendition of Sir William Walton's 1937 coronation march Crown Imperial. Walton was Elgar's equal in combining ceremonial majesty with joyous high spirits - a unique genre exemplified by the Pomp and Circumstance marches and Walton's two coronation pieces. The charming waltz Alma Llanera by Venezuelan composer Pedro Elias Gutierrez was a delightful bon-bon, played with verve.
Eduardo Magallanes' Mae Mia (dedicated to the composer's wife on their 50th wedding anniversary) received its premiere performance. (Magallanes is the Symphony of the Americas' composer/ arranger in residence.) At once sensuous and folkloric, this score vividly conveys the composer's love of European and Mexican culture and dazzling mastery of orchestration. The beautiful string writing of the score's first section is contrasted with the brass and percussive fiesta of the conclusion. Brooks-Bruzzese offered an authoritative reading with the orchestra's glowing strings and flaming brass and percussion having a field day. Although Magallanes' colorful score was the last work on the printed program, orchestra and conductor were joined by a mariachi band and vocalist for two festive Mexican songs. A rousing opener for this fine Ft. Lauderdale based symphonic ensemble!
On December 8, 2009 the Florida Singing Sons Boychoir (Craig Dennison, director) joins James Brooks-Bruzzese and the Symphony of the Americas at the Amaturo Theater in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, USA for a holiday concert featuring selections by Leroy Anderson, Victor Herbert, Meredith Wilson, Vaughan Williams, Rutter and Tchaikovsky.
Tenors Eduardo Aladren and Franc D'Ambrosio and sopranos Maria Aleida and Elizabeth Roberts are featured in a program of music from opera and Broadway on January 12, 2010.
On March 23, 2010 Brooks-Bruzzese conducts Tchaikovsky's Coronation March, waltzes from Swan Lake and Eugene Onegin, March Slave and Piano Concerto No. 2 (with soloist Ricardo Roel).
The season concludes on April 20, 2010 with pianist Joaquin Achucarro as soloist in Franck's Symphonic Variations and Rachmaninoff's Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini and Brooks-Bruzzese leading Beethoven's Symphony No.7.