By Lawrence Budmen 

A pianistic volcanic eruption rocked the Broward Center’s Amaturo Theater on October 23 when Jorge Luis Prats was soloist with the Symphony of the Americas at the opening concert of its 20th anniversary season. Playing Dimitri Shostakovich’s unjustly neglected Piano Concerto No.2 in F Major, Prats was an incendiary force at the keyboard. This Cuban born pianist was absolutely fabulous! 

Best known for the agonizing Mahlerian angst of his late symphonies and string quartets, Shostakovich also composed works in a lighter vein. His F Major Concerto suggests the quirky humor of his contemporary Serge Prokofiev. The piece is a bravura pianistic vehicle that only artists with fleet fingers and powerhouse technique dare attempt. 

Prats displayed awesome technique wedded to dare devil command that ventures where other keyboard artists dare not tread. In the opening Allegro, Prats’ dazzling octaves and relentless rhythmic energy fired up the stage. The piece seemed to flow as if improvised at the moment of performance. Prats brought spontaneity and explosive force to every bar. Yet he turned poetic in the soulful Andante. In this moody, rhapsodic reverie (in the vein of Rachmaninoff), the pianist gave a dazzling display of crystalline tone, vibrant coloration, sensitivity of line, and quicksilver lightness. Prats attacked the Allegro finale full force, producing speed and volume that astounded the senses, offering finesse as well as velocity in a stellar reading of Shostakovich’s appealing 1957 score. 

Symphony of the Americas artistic director James Brooks-Bruzzese proved an agile partner and collaborator, obtaining vivacious, richly hued playing from the ensemble. Indeed the orchestra shone impressively throughout the evening, particularly the red hot brass and elegant winds. 

In three pieces (Lamento Esclavo, Las Perlas de tu Boca, and Bariolage) by Eliseo Grenet (1893-1950), Brooks-Bruzzese and the orchestra evoked the sound of the Cuban big bands of the 1940’s and 50’s. Grenet’s Afro-Cuban tinged melodies recalled the work of his contemporary Gonzalo Roig, particularly in the sumptuous arrangements of Alfredo Munar (who doubled on piano). 

In Gershwin’s Cuban Overture, Brooks-Bruzzese astutely pinpointed instrumental felicities amid the orchestral bustle. Marilyn Maingart’s silvery, pure toned flute solo was a stand out. The conductor elicited lightness of touch from the strings and rousing brass outbursts in Chabrier’s grandly aristocratic Fete Polonaise (from the opera Le Roi Malgre Lui). In the rollicking Huapango by Mexican composer Jose Pablo Moncayo, Brooks-Bruzzese maintained the score’s driving rhythm while displaying a rainbow of orchestral colors. The ensemble’s terrific percussion section had a field day in these Latin inspired pieces.

Prats turned to the music of Ernesto Lecuona (the Cuban Gershwin) for encores, playing four works – including You Are Always in My Heart and La Comparsa. His incredible technical facility, idiomatic musicality, and wit enlivened every note of these charming vignettes. The adoring audience (which awarded Prats repeated standing ovations) only dispersed after the orchestra left the stage. Prats’ exciting artistry and strong orchestral performance combined to make the Symphony of the Americas’ season opener a real winner!

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