By Lawrence Budmen

 James Brooks-Bruzzese

Maria Laura Failde 
& Ricardo Roel

Arpeggione Chamber Orchestra

The city of Hohenems, Austria has long been a cultural center. The historic Palast serves as an intimate, listener friendly concert venue. This writer remembers attending a delightful performance at the Palast by an unusual trio of flute, viola, and guitar. Among the works on that program were several pieces by the Argentinean master Astor Piazzolla whose music was just beginning to achieve international attention.

Today the Hohenems Palast is the home of the Arpeggione Kammerorchester. Founded in 1990 by the violist Irakli Gogibedaschwili, this chamber orchestra exudes that warmly supple sonority that is the quintessence of Central European musicianship. The ensemble was a standout at the Symphony of the Americas’ annual Summerfest several seasons ago. Joined by several Symphony of the Americas members, the Austrian musicians returned to South Florida for an extended tour followed by residencies in Panama and Argentina. 

At the Summerfest 2007 concert on July 20 at the Broward Center’s acoustically wonderful Amaturo Theater, the music of Piazzolla took center stage with a new score and several repertoire staples for good measure. The indefatigable James Brooks-Bruzzese conducted with breezy élan as well as finesse. 

This past season Brooks-Bruzzese and his Broward based ensemble gave the premiere of Tidal Concerto by Edward Hart, a faculty member at the College of Charleston (with piano virtuoso Enrique Graf). Brooks-Bruzzese opened the Austrian ensemble’s program with Three Gullah Tunes, an ambitious new work by Hart. Based on the West African inspired spirituals of the inhabitants of islands around Charleston, Hart’s score is an inspired mix of contemporary compositional techniques and rigorous musicology. (Hart wrote a doctorial thesis on the music of these remote communities which were founded by former slaves.) The powerful central section (Sinner, Why you will die on the day) is an austere lamentation. A bracing finale introduces harmonic dissonance to spirited thematic material. Hart’s treatment of indigenous music recalls Morton Gould’s Spirituals for Orchestra. Like that American classic, these Gullah variations are irresistible. 

Brooks-Bruzzese and the superb string ensemble gave Hart’s arresting score a sparkling performance. One of the piece’s unique features is a prominent, rhythmically complex piano line. The Symphony of the Americas’ Vice-President Renee LaBonte (a formidable musician and experienced teacher) displayed limpid elegance in this important solo role. This piece is a terrific addition to the chamber orchestra repertoire.

Rossini’s Sonata No.6 in D Major is the work of a 12 year old composer but all the hallmarks of the mature Italian master are present: Mozartean elegance, bubbling wit, brightly crafted instrumental writing. The Austrians musicians exuded high spirited insouciance and finely honed Rococo grace. 

Pablo de Sarasate’s showpiece Gypsy Airs (Zigeunerweisen) needs dazzling technique and virtuosity to burn. The Arpeggione’s Robert Bokor is not a bravura violinist but he brought fervor and fire to this lively bon-bon. Bokor really understands Gypsy fiddling technique.

The heart of the program’s second half centered on the music of Piazzolla. Master of the Tango Nuevo, this genius combined the hot house atmosphere of the music hall with the instrumental brilliance and high modernism of Igor Stravinsky. Piazzolla’s infectious Four Seasons of Buenos Aires was presented in a new transcription for solo violin, strings, and piano by Alejandro Drago. Drago researched Piazzolla’s own performances with his quintet and interviewed many of the musicians the composer worked with. His transcription retains the score’s inspired stream of melodies without neglecting the astringent harmonies and austere instrumentation of Piazzolla’s original chamber versions. 

Drago is a splendid musician. His languorous rendition of Invierno Porteno astutely combined sentimentality with Mozartean beauty. Drago’s bravura violin technique beguiled the listeners. His easy synthesis of aristocratic café suaveness and fiery zest were terrific. With LaBonte’s own brand of incendiary keyboard fireworks, Brooks-Bruzzese and his Austrian ensemble brought Piazzolla’s dazzlingly original vignettes to vivid life.

Duo-Pianists Maria Laura Fagilde and Ricardo Roel joined the orchestra for three Piazzolla tangos in arrangements by Roel. This brilliantly gifted duo fully encompassed the Bach inspired, neo-Baroque ethos of Resurrecion del Angel. Their galloping fireworks in Michelangelo 70 were exciting. Fagilde and Roel bring artistic clarity, musicality, and personality to everything they play.

The duo concluded the evening with Roel’s transcription of two movements from the ballet score Estancia by Alberto Ginastera. With only two pianos and strings, the Impressionistic Nocturno lacks orchestral color and magic (despite the pianists’ artistry). The famous Malambo, however, was a sheer pianistic tour de force (and great entertainment) in this dynamic duo’s inspired reinvention. With their sizzling technique and musical charisma, Fagilde and Roel brought an outstanding musicale to a festive conclusion.

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