Chicago Tribune reviews Giancarlo's debut with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra
CSO review: A joyous and all-too-rare evening of Spanish and Latin American music
Howard Reich Chicago Tribune
Music of Spain and Latin America doesn’t often dominate Chicago Symphony Orchestra programs. Rarer still is such an evening featuring two works new to the CSO subscription concerts.
So anyone who values this music had a great deal to look forward to Thursday evening, when conductor Giancarlo Guerrero and guitarist Pablo Sainz Villegas made their CSO debuts. They did not disappoint.
Conductor Guerrero opened with the first CSO subscription performance of Alberto Ginastera’s Four Dances from “Estancia,” a suite drawn from the composer’s ballet score. The fierce drive and ferocious syncopation of the opening vignette, “The Land Workers,” made at least one listener wonder anew why Ginastera doesn’t occupy a larger space in the public imagination. The sheer propulsion of this music, as well as its slashing dissonance and brilliant bursts of color, proved instantly arresting.
Yet for all the power and fury of its opening pages, “Estancia” also yielded gorgeous melodic writing in the “Wheat Dance” movement, with CSO concertmaster Robert Chen unfurling tender, sweet lines over gentle orchestral pizzicato. The piquant harmonies and riotous climax of the “Final Dance: Malambo” movement attested both to Ginastera’s craft and conductor Guerrero’s ability to manage multiple layers of sound.
To call Spaniard Joaquin Rodrigo’s “Concierto de Aranjuez” a familiar work would be an understatement, its famous middle movement instantly recognizable from age-old TV and radio ads and, more meaningfully, from Miles Davis and Gil Evans’ “Sketches of Spain.” Guitarist Villegas immediately dusted away the clichés, thanks to the sheen of his tone and the nobility of his rhythms.
In the opening movement and elsewhere, Villegas finessed technically gnarly passages with apparent ease and pervasive musicality. The melodic embellishments he articulated in the adagio middle movement pointed to a reverence for details lost in less caring performances. And the poetry and lyric ardor Villegas conjured in the final movement cadenzas attested to the profundities of his art.
Conductor Guerrero presided over a sensitive orchestral accompaniment, allowing the music to breathe and dialogues between soloist and ensemble to bloom. Standing ovations persuaded the guitarist to play an encore, Francisco Tarrega’s “Gran Jota,” a Villegas signature.
Toward the end of his life, Argentine bandoneon virtuoso and composer Astor Piazzolla (who died in 1992) enjoyed long overdue acclaim for expanding and enriching the art of tango music. His “Sinfonia Buenos Aires,” which had its first performance in 1953 in its namesake city, represented an early salvo in his quest to find his voice in tango concert music.
The three-movement work, played on this evening for the first time by the CSO, stands as an ambitious statement for enormous orchestral forces. At its core, though, it’s an argument for tango rhythm and Argentine-inspired melody as a worthy source of serious orchestral discourse. Beneath its oft-lush orchestration and harmonic turbulence is the irrepressible pulse of tango, pushing the piece ever forward.
Conductor Guerrero – who recorded the work with the Nashville Symphony, where he’s music director – made a mostly compelling case for Piazzolla’s epic. He did not shy from the astringent harmonies or grand rhetorical gestures of the first movement, and he gave assistant principal oboe Michael Henoch ample room to tap the second movement’s whispering lyricism. Also appealing: The regal bandoneon solos of Daniel Binelli, in his CSO debut.
Though that middle movement ended unpersuasively, the orgiastic finale made up for it. In the end, Guerrero cast this piece as exactly as what it is: a work on the precipice where populism and serious symphonic writing meet.
The evening also included Emmanuel Chabrier’s “Espana,” a Frenchman’s idealistic view of Spain rendered graceful of line and buoyant of rhythm in Guerrero’s nimble interpretation.
The program will be repeated through May 26 in Orchestra Hall at Symphony Center, 220 S. Michigan Ave.; ticket prices vary; 312-294-3000 or www.cso.org.
Howard Reich is a Tribune critic.