The indefatigable James Brooks-Bruzzese mounted the podium of the Symphony of the Americas to open the ensemble's 23rd season with a program honoring Hispanic Heritage Month on October 19, 2010 at the Broward Center's acoustically excellent Amaturo Theater in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, USA. From the languid strains of Ravel's Pavane for a Dead Princess to the incendiary Latin rhythms of Manuel De Falla's Ritual Fire Dance from El Amor Brujo (here presented in the composer's original chamber version with bracing xylophone exclamations instead of heavy brass), the conductor exhibited his sure touch with idiomatic, lively playing and deft musicality. The smoky voiced Australian soprano Dona Balson offered two emotion tinged arias from De Falla's one act opera La Vida Breve, sung with impassioned fervor. Balson's lustrous version of Mon coeur s'ouvre a ta voix from Saint-Saens' Samson and Deliah was a wonderful bonus. Opulent of voice and intensely expressive, Balson was appropriately seductive.
The evening's piece de resistance was a reconstruction of Ernesto Lecuona's 1931 cantata Del Manglar. A fascinating synthesis of Gallic impressionism and Afro-Cuban rhythms, Del Manglar was originally orchestrated by famed Cuban composer and arranger Gonzalo Roig (who wrote the zarzuela Cecilia Valdez). Pianist Thomas Tirino, an inveterate Lecuona specialist and researcher, has spent over a decade working to revive this ambitious score. While some orchestral and piano parts exist, the full score has been lost. A 1970's performance (from apparently then existing parts) was broadcast and recorded by Havana Radio and Tirino was able to get a copy of the archived tape. Working with New York based orchestrator Michael Bartos, Tirino was able to reconstruct the score in close to its original form.
This is a striking work, harmonically adventurous and rhythmically exciting. The soprano solos are sensuous while the third movement La Conga de media noche is a piano solo both elegant and virtuosic. Lecuona pulled out all the stops for a finale of true vocal and instrumental abandon, music of great color and excitement. Balson soared in the heroine's voluptuous arias. Tirino brought stylish evocation to the important piano part and Brooks-Bruzzese drew high octane playing from the orchestra, generating real excitement. This worthy score deserves additional performances. Lecuona is known for a few short pieces. His large scale instrumental works and zarzuelas reveal a composer of dazzling originality who was very much in touch with the musical crosscurrents of his time.
Tirino concluded the program with an often stunning traversal of Grieg's Piano Concerto in A minor, Op.16. Tirino is a pianist of the old school who plays with wide rubato and color. He is not afraid to bend a phrase in a highly personal manner. Never a literalist, Tirino combined superb technical acumen with a rich vein of deeply introspective lyricism. The Adagio glowed with melodic beauty while the fire and speed of the finale were given bravura treatment, ably accompanied by the Symphony of the Americas players.
On November 23 Brooks-Bruzzese offered a Mozart-Haydn program. After a no-nonsense reading of the Overture to Don Giovanni, Italian violinist Roberto Cani took center stage for an aristocratically shaped, vibrant performance of Mozart's Violin Concerto No.5 in A Major, K.219. Grand Prize winner of Genoa's Paganini International Violin Competition, Cani is a formidable player. With a tone spun of silken sounds and flawless technique, he caressed Mozart's musical lines with affection and beauty. After a vigorous reading of the first movement, Cani brought soaring lyricism to the other worldly beauty of the Adagio. This is music of almost spiritual eloquence and Cani's offered angelic hues while phrasing with grace and soulfulness. The minuet of the finale was appropriately ornate but Cani really cut loose in the Turkish episode of this rondo, playing with wild abandon and brilliance. Brooks-Bruzzese conducted incisively, drawing full bodied playing from the ensemble.
For an encore, Cani showed his expertise in the musical world of Paganini. Offering a rarely heard caprice, Cani attacked the showpiece with a ferocious combination of speed, fleet bowing and sheer fire that spelled virtuosso and brought the audience to its feet cheering. Cani is a violinist of exceptional gifts, combining musical insight and breathtaking instrumental technique. This is an artist to watch.
Brooks-Bruzzese happily programmed Haydn's all too rarely heard Symphony No.99 E-flat Major. Of Haydn's monumental final twelve symphonies, the most frequently played bear a nickname - Surprise, Drumroll, Miracle, London. Those without subtitles are not played as frequently. That is unfortunate because the triptych of symphonies 97, 98 and 99 are some of the most innovative and imaginative of Haydn's 104 symphonic essays. Haydn's sense of wit and the musically unexpected is found everywhere in the Symphony No.99. From the main theme of the first movement Allegro that goes in unexpected directions to the mere thematic fragments that open the Adagio to the false ending of the Vivace finale, Haydn's unique ability to astound gets full rein. Haydn's melodic powers were at their height in these final orchestral works. The Symphony No.99 is a joyous font of inspired thematic invention, instrumental magic and high spirited fun. Brooks-Bruzzese understands that Haydn's music should never wear a powdered wig. He brought high spirited élan and drive to every bar of this infectious masterwork. Crisp string articulation and fine flute solos by Marilyn Maingart highlighted a wonderful performance. The conductor added one final bon-bon - a lithe, vibrant string version of the Hoedown from Aaron Copland's ballet score Rodeo.
On January 25, 2011 James Brooks-Bruzzese directs the Symphony of the Americas in Von Suppe's Light Cavalry Overture, Beethoven's Symphony No.4 and Paganini's Violin Concerto No.2 in B minor (with violinist Laszlo Pap) at the Amaturo Theater in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, USA. Cirque de La Symphonie on February 13 and 14 features music by Dvorak, Saint-Saens, Rossini, Brahms, Tchaikovsky, Chabrier, Grieg, Vivaldi, Smetana, Rimsky-Korsakov, Bach and Bizet.
Brooks-Bruzzese conducts Weber's Invitation to the Dance, Bizet's L'Arlesienne Suite No.1, Excerpts from Glazunov's Raymonda and Beethoven's Piano Concerto No.4 in G Major (with soloist Enrique Graf) on March 22. The season concludes on April 12 with a program of excerpts from opera and the Broadway theater with tenors Frank D'Ambrosio and Eduardo Aladren, sopranos Courtney Budd and Kam Cheng and the Dance Alive National Ballet, Kim Tuttle, director. For information, see www.symphonyoftheamericas.org.