Paquito D’Rivera sparks a lively program of Latin music with CCM

Sat Mar 31, 2012 at 4:11 pm

By Gerald Fisher

Paquito D’Rivera performed his own works with the Chicago Chamber Musicians Thursday night at the Harris Theater.

For their 25th anniversary celebration at the Harris Theater Thursday evening, the Chicago Chamber Musicians laid out a substantial program of Latin American works including Alberto Ginastera’s String Quartet No. 1, and music by the irrepressible Cuban Paquito D’Rivera. A longtime CCM friend and collaborator, D’Rivera’s inspired clarinet playing provided the capstone of a high-energy performance.

The program began with D’Rivera’s recent Ladies in White (2010) for clarinet, cello and piano. The work is dedicated to the mothers, wives and sisters of incarcerated Cuban dissidents, who, dressed in white and carrying gladioli, continue to demonstrate against the Cuban government’s harsh crackdown on their families.

This jazz-inflected 10-minute marvel shows off each of the musicians in turn and in combination. The clarinet takes the lead, supported by the piano in rocking rhythms which are followed by the cello. D’Rivera’s clarinet dominated by virtue of the artist’s impeccable playing and infectious spirit, but his able collaborators, cellist Raman Ramakrishnan and pianist Darwin Noguera were up to the challenge of this upbeat work.

The evening’s second guest artist was the young composer and pianist Gabriela Lena Frank, who dwelt on her rich Peruvian-American heritage in her introductory remarks prior to a performance of Hilos (Threads), a sequence of short pieces for varied combinations of clarinet, violin, cello and piano.

Frank’s inspiration was the multihued textiles of Peru’s native artisans, and the extensive work was less a unified piece than a succession of eight short exercises in instrumental virtuosity loosely based on native dances, songs and games.

The clarinetist for Frank’s work was Larry Combs, and he negotiated the playful and rhythmically challenging music with his usual aplomb. The other artists—violinist Jasmine Lin, cellist Ramakrishnan, and pianist Meng-Chieh Liu—plucked, strummed and emoted their way through the catalogue of musical sonorities in a fine display of technique and enthusiasm.

The masterwork of the evening was Ginastera’s String Quartet No. 1, and coming right on the heels of Frank’s diffuse work, demonstrated how a similar musical language could be organized into a unified musical experience. The First Quartet holds a transitional place in the composer’s stylistic development.  Published in 1948, this 20-minute work falls at the end of his “nationalistic” period but has little that can be called folkloric in its impulsive and rhythmic design.

The dynamic first two movements display instrumental subtleties and rhythmic complexities and are followed by a contrasting calm and lyrical interlude, which remains quietly intense.  The final movement returns to the aggressive mode of the beginning and shows off the only traditional harmonies and dance rhythms in the piece albeit in an abstracted context. The ending is quick and triumphant. For this work the artists were first violinist Karina Canellakis, violist Rami Solomonow, Lin and Ramakrishnan, who gave a vivid performance.

D’Rivera dominated the second half of the program as composer with his Aires Tropicales. This charmer of a piece brings in a wealth of melodic traditions and playful invention, reflecting the personality of the composer and displaying the commitment of the CCM musicians including Combs, Mary Stolper on a variety of flutes, hornist Gail Williams, Michael Henoch, oboe and English horn, and Dennis Michel, bassoon—an all-star lineup providing the highest quality of musical virtuosity.

The final piece of the long evening was a conservative work from the Argentinian nationalist composer Angel Lasala, a contemporary of Ginastera, whose Trio No. 1 (Poema de las Serranias) for clarinet, cello and piano was a showpiece for the artistry of D’Rivera with stylish support from Ramakrishnan and Liu.

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