Esteemed faculty and students of the University of North Carolina School of the Arts presented a brilliant array of chamber music from 20th-century composers, a couple well-known, but the rest new discoveries, spanning the Latin world from Brazil to Puerto Rico, by way of Venezuela, Argentina and Mexico. The concert took place in the acoustical jewel of Watson Hall on the campus of UNCSA.
The concert started with a charming lilting work, "Arrulla," of Eduardo Gamboa (b.1960), a Cuban-born composer with close ties to Mexico where he has composed many film scores. Written for alto flute, violin (Sarah Johnson), viola (Sheila Brown) and cello (Grace Lin Anderson), the warm dark flute color of faculty member Tadeu Coelho was matched by the muted strings who swayed to the gentle rhythms. "Arrulla" ("Lullaby") is the second movement of a four-movement work, Transparencias, dedicated to Coelho.
The next work on the program was written by Jack Delano (1914-97), an amateur musician and professional photographer who was born in the Ukraine (né Ovcharovv), but emigrated to the U.S. at age 11. A visit to Puerto Rico in 1941 influenced him to move there permanently after World War II, where he was very active in musical and cultural circles. Introduced by faculty bassoonist, Saxton Rose, formerly the principal bassoon of the Puerto Rico Symphony Orchestra, and joined by new faculty clarinetist, Alexander Fiterstein, Tres Payasadas (1985) translates as three stunts or buffooneries and was a delightful mix of moods exquisitely played these faculty virtuosi!
The well-known Argentine composer, Astor Piazzolla (1921-92), closed the first half of the concert with his often-played duo for flute and guitar, L’histoire du tango, a work in four movements: "Bordel," "Café 1930," "Night-Club 1960," and "Concert d’aujourd’hui" ("Concert of today"), tracing the history of the tango from bordello to the present. Flutist Coelho was joined by Joseph Pecoraro for a precise yet supple performance which grew more exciting as the work progressed and the tango evolved, ending with virtuosic effects which brought cheers from the large crowd.
The other familiar work of the evening, "Bachiana Brasileira No. 5" (1938) of Heitor Villa-Lobos (1887-1959), brought a tear to the eye and a lump to the throat, despite small imperfections in the performance. The beautiful soprano voice of Elizabeth Pacheco Rose was supported by a cellorama of eight cellos and a double bass, directed by music history faculty member Michael Dodds. The cello is a gorgeous instrument, the nearest sound to the human voice, and eight interweaving cellos approach divinity; unfortunately, they often played too loudly, causing Ms. Rose to force herself, particularly in the passages where she was actually singing the Portuguese text. The result was that, in the words of Randy Jackson (American Idol judge), she occasionally became “pitchy.” More’s the pity, because her voice is gorgeous and well-suited to the work.
The last two works on the concert were for woodwind quintet, where Coelho, Fiterstein and Rose were joined by faculty members Joseph Robinson, former principal oboe of the NY Philharmonic, and David Jolley, an emeritus member of the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra and frequent horn soloist. This distinguished group of musicians played excerpts from two quintets, the first by Uruguayan-born American composer, Miguel del Aguila (b.1957), the first movement of his Quintet No. 2 (1994), entitled “Back in Time,” an intriguing work which asks the musicians to hum while others are playing. The movement is based on a pentatonic tune which evoked Copland’s treatment of the Shaker hymn, "Simple Gifts."
The quintet then addressed AiresTropicales (1994) by Cuban-born jazz saxophonist and clarinetist, Paquito D’Rivera. "Alborada" ("Dawn") opened gently enough, with the oboist trading his oboe for the darker exotic sound of the English horn. The second movement began with a much repeated and catchy low ostinato in the bassoon which soon infected all the other instruments. The paucity of material, however catchy, didn’t justify the length of the movement which seemed interminable. Picking up the oboe for the third movement, a Venezuelan waltz, Robinson led his band of merry troupers in lilting two-bar phrases. Coelho exchanged his flute for the brilliant and sassy piccolo in the finale, “Contradanza,” a samba by any other name, which ended a very satisfying evening of Latin Love.
In the total absence of program notes, a couple of the musicians introduced pieces in the first half of the concert, but their words were unintelligible over the din of the large audience, even in such a small hall. Perhaps a microphone (or training in oratory) would solve this problem.
Note: Bios of most of these artists may be found at http://www.uncsa.edu/music/faculty.htm.