Kalmar and Grant Park Orchestra deliver fizzing Latin program

Sat Aug 04, 2012 at 1:59 pm

By Gerald Fisher

Retreating from the chaos of Lollapalooza into the air-conditioned comfort of the Harris Theater, Friday’s audience for the Grant Park Orchestra was regaled with three of the hottest Latin classical showpieces for orchestra, served up with all the spice that could be desired by Carlos Kalmar and Korean violinist Chee-Yun.

The program led off with the relentless bravura of Ginastera’s four-movement dance suite from the ballet Estancia (composed in 1941). Kalmar unleashed his forces in a strong and idiomatic performance that prominently showcased brass and percussion as well as gorgeous flute and violin solos in the sensuous second movement. The final dance is the most familiar piece from the work and takes the traditional malambo to a new level of aggression. Starting with flute and piccolo flourishes, it settles into an increasingly rhythmic brass and xylophone-driven spectacle, rounded off with whoops and braying brass calculated to bring an audience to its feet.

Astor Piazzolla’s Four Seasons of Buenos Aires is a hybrid work of many sources. The original pieces (dating from the 1960s) for solo piano or bandoneon quintet were not published together and contained no references to Vivaldi’s Four Seasons

Extensively reworked in 1999 by Russian composer Leonid Desyatnikov into a showpiece for violin and string orchestra, the crowd-pleasing result is a real test of a violinist’s mastery, calling for such techniques as col legno (using the wood of the bow) and spiccato (bouncing of the bow on the strings) not to mention glissando, portamento and pizzicato.

Chee-Yun’s performance was exemplary in every way.  She warmed up as the work unfolded and, in her bright red fishtail dress, was a visual as well as musical delight. Kalmar and his string players caught the work’s edgy syncopation and humor, providing a stylish backdrop to the violinist’s impersonation of the bandoneon. Also notable was the cello solo and violin cadenza in Autumn, which slow down the proceedings before once again joining the ensemble in the inevitable tango dynamism.

De Falla’s ballet The Three-Cornered Hat was the major piece on the program. Kalmar opted for the complete ballet rather than either of the Suites and the texturally sophisticated score justified the choice even though ballet music is frequently tied more to particular dance events than to pure musical inspiration.

There was perhaps some lessening of tension in the inner movements but the orchestral highlights lit up the stage with their brilliance and the performance succeeded as a continuous whole. There are plenty of effects related to the action of the ballet, from the clapping and musicians’ game cries of “Ole!” to the introduction of the cuckoo and the assignation of certain instruments to specific characters (the befuddled Corregidor is portrayed by the bassoon).

It’s all great fun with or without knowledge of the ballet plot. Mezzo Sarah Ponder gave dramatic voice to the two brief vocal sections from offstage. The proceedings were neatly wrapped up in a brilliant finale featuring the ensemble in a forte rendition of the principal theme with the layering in of castanets and resounding timpani. An invigorating close to a satisfying evening’s work.

The program will be repeated 7:30 p.m. Saturday evening at the Harris Theater. grantparkmusicfestival.com

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One Response to “Kalmar and Grant Park Orchestra deliver fizzing Latin program”

  1. Posted Aug 04, 2012 at 7:14 pm by Peter DG

    Yes, the performance by the orchestra and the soloists was fabulous; but, that hall is a disaster! There was almost as much brass and percussion sound echoing from the walls and ceiling as coming from the stage. At least now I know what to expect from this (Harris) venue. Any one else have any reaction to the “acoustics”? Also, the place is really ugly and difficult to get around. Who was the architect anyway?

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