The Music Director of Maverick Concerts is an orchestra conductor in the rest of his working life. Going back to early Maverick tradition, he has reintroduced an annual chamber orchestra concert, which he leads. Alexander Platt is a fine conductor, and having him conduct at Maverick is an asset. He’s also usually a fine programmer. This year he may have gone a little too far. Is he getting ideas from the extravagant programs of the nearby Bard Music Festival?
The concert was entitled “In the House of Don Manuel: An Extravaganza Celebrating the Friendship of Manuel de Falla dn Federico Garcia Lorca.” It was certainly an extravaganza, lasting 3 hours and 15 minutes with two intermissions, the second one not really necessary (coming after only 25 minutes of Falla). We also had extensive spoken comments from the Spanish journalist and writer Guillermo Fesser, now a resident of nearby Rhinebeck. Everything Fesser had to say was interesting, but I felt it was too much information for its purpose, especially on so long a program. Still, I was fascinated to hear that the photo which has been circulating recently, supposedly of Lorca sitting on a porch in the Ulster County town of Shandaken, is authentic. He was really here in 1929, when he was living in New York.
Nearly all of the music had relevance to Lorca, beginning with Silvestre Revueltas’s “Homage to Federico Garcia Lorca.” I’ve known this music for years, since first hearing it on an old MGM mono LP conducted by Carlos Surinach. But I honestly cannot recall ever having heard it in live performance before. The expert instrumentalists, some from the local area, some from the Providence-based ensemble Aurea, tore into the piece with great gusto, and Platt kept the complex rhythms and interplay clear. The great humor of this piece also came across well.
Platt said he has been wanting for a long time to bring Simon Holt’s “Canciones” to Maverick. The piece, composed in 1986, was billed as a U.S. premiere. Platt also said it was probably the most difficult music ever performed at Maverick, which I suppose might be true although we’ve also heard all of the late Beethoven Quartets.
Holt is a timbre freak; he uses a great variety of sound. The flutist had four different instruments to play at various times during the piece. The poetic settings included one by Lorca and two anonymous Spanish poems Lorca had written about. The British mezzo-soprano Lucy Schaufer was imported for this occasion, for understandable reasons. She dealt with Holt’s demanding writing so convincingly that she won an ovation from the audience. I’m not sure I’ll be in a great hurry to hear this 23 minute piece again, but within its highly dissonant idiom it did make sense and held the attention. I wouldn’t know how good the performance was, but everyone sounded as if they knew what they were doing.
Part 1 concluded with Ginastera’s “Punena No. 2″ for solo cello, played by Emmanuel Feldman of Aurea. I don’t know what the connection to Lorca was, except that both he and Ginastera spoke Spanish. (Incidentally, the name Ginastera is pronounced with a hard “g,” as in “gadzooks.” I heard this from the composer himself, who explained that it’s a Catalan name.) I love Ginastera’s music, and Feldman did a remarkable job with this very difficult piece. I suppose it could have been eliminated, making the program 10 minutes shorter, but I certainly enjoyed it.
The remainder of the program was all music by Falla. To begin Part 2, Fesser explained at some length (TMI for me) that Lorca and Falla were very close friends and there is even some suspicion they may have been lovers. Platt has put together his own suite from Falla’s “The Magistrate and the Miller’s Wife,” the original chamber version of “The Three-Cornered Hat.” The chamber scoring sounded very effective in this 200-seat hall. Platt led an idiomatic and very entertaining performance. I knew that mezzo-soprano Maria Todaro was going to be part of this concert but it was still a shock hearing that rich throaty sound coming, cleverly, from the back of the hall as the “Song of the Cuckoo” began.” Todaro sang the solo in the chamber version of “El Amor Brujo” three weeks ago at the nearby Phoenicia Festival of the Voice,” so I know she has it in her to do that semi-gypsy style of singing Falla requires in his ballets. Without pause, the conclusion of “The Magistrate” seguéd straight into Falla’s “Psyché,” very different music which Todaro sang with sophistication and a different kind of beautiful sound.
Part 2 lasted only 25 minutes but it was followed by another intermission. Part 3, also all Falla, belonged to pianist Jenny Lin, who had participated in the earlier ensemble works of Revueltas and Falla. She played two Falla solo piano works, the early “Serenata Andaluza” and his most substantial piano solo, “Fantasia Bética,” with virtuosity, an idiomatic approach, and beautiful, rich sound.
Lin remained for the concluding work, Falla’s Harpsichord Concerto, in the composer-sanctioned alternate for piano. Platt claimed that Falla himself played this piece on the piano, which may be true, but he recorded it on the harpsichord. It would be hard to get hold of the instrument this music was written for, Landowska’s huge clangy Pleyel, but that would balance better with the other instruments than a baroque-style harpsichord. I do feel that the harpsichord serves the austerity of this magnificent music, perhaps Falla’s greatest work, better than the piano. But Lin and Platt and the five other players collaborated on a performance which was probably as effective as that scoring could be, with very crisp ensemble and sharp execution of Falla’s rhythms. I ended the evening both exhausted and exhilarated.