Music picks up echoes of the past

Review: Fine performances bring modern guitar pieces to life at Peabody Conservatory.

January 27, 2001|By Tim Smith | Tim Smith,SUN MUSIC CRITIC

It was a case of back to the future Thursday as the Peabody Conservatory Guitar Department offered a rich sampling of repertoire by 20th century Latin American composers.

The newest piece, "Fantasia Corelliana," written last year by Roberto Sierra, took as its starting point music by Arcangelo Corelli, who died in 1713. His 1987 "Toccata y Lamento" is bathed in elegant baroque idioms, too. And the 1992 "Chronicle of Discovery" flirts with piquant dissonance, but stays mainly in a lushly lyrical mode. More echoes of the baroque and romantic eras could be savored in works by the other composers on the program.

Sierra, currently composer in residence of the Philadelphia Orchestra, was on hand to hear current Peabody students and recent alumni give polished and expressive performances of his pieces at the conservatory's Friedberg Concert Hall.

In two excerpts from "Chronicle of Discovery," a score that seeks to evoke the first contacts between Spanish and native Caribbean cultures, guitarist Risa Carlson and flutist Alison Potter meshed smoothly to make a telling statement. Franco Platino was in eloquent form for the subtly colored "Toccata y Lamento" (and, except for a bit of slippery articulation at the end, shaped Agustin Barrios Mangore's "La Catedral" very stylishly).

Sierra's lush revisiting of Corelli has yielded a mini-concerto for two guitars and string orchestra. The soloists often stake a claim for independence from the ensemble, focusing on their own world of intricate melodic lines, floating above the strings' early 18th-century reminiscences. But Sierra nonetheless binds the two forces together to create a cohesive, gently playful statement; at one point, an off-stage violinist sends out melodic flurries, like a beckoning spirit from an ancient time.

Berta Rojas and Paul Moeller were the fleet-fingered guitarists, with warm support from the student string group, conducted by Lance Friedel. (The amplification in "Fantasia Corelliana," the only work that was miked, could have been a little less aggressive.)

Rojas also took center stage for a bravura account of Alberto Ginastera's 1976 Guitar Sonata, a work that exploits myriad sonic possibilities from the instrument - thick, rolling chords; taps on the body of the instrument; slithering effects across the strings. For all of the spice in the sonata, its songful element makes the strongest impression. Rojas emphasized that masterfully.

Radames Gnattali's subtle Sonata for Guitar and Cello inspired a thoughtfully molded, technically silken performance by Paul Moeller and cellist Kerena Moeller.

There were also two intriguing pieces by Leo Brouwer for guitar quartet. The vivid, motoristic "Toccata" quits just when it really begins to pick up steam, but "Cuban Landscape with Rain" paints a riveting portrait in mostly delicate sounds. A soft, repeated note leads into an enveloping mist, as each of the four instruments gradually answers that note; tremulous tonal waves surge up and carry the music toward a brief drama, before an exquisite, slow fade to black.

Guitarists Christopher Dunn, Raphael Padron, Keishi Sumi and Akiko Sumi played both pieces with firm coordination and, in the "Cuban Landscape," with terrific control and sensitivity.

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