One of the great champions of Latin American choral music, Venezuelan conductor Maria Guinand, led the La Jolla Symphony and Chorus in a program drawn from that tradition Saturday (March 15) at UC San Diego’s Mandeville Auditorium. With its characteristic rhythms and textures as well as its ties to indigenous music, this repertory offers a refreshing contrast to the more familiar western choral tradition.
Although this concert had the potential of deepening local audiences’ appreciation of Latin American music, its success ran aground on Osvaldo Golijov’s cantata “Oceana,” the centerpiece of Guinand’s program. Composed for the Oregon Bach Festival in 1996, this stolid, lumbering setting of Pablo Neruda’s poetry becalmed and diminshed every expansive metaphor for the majesty and power of the sea.
Guinand’s evident enthusiasm for the work—she premiered it in Oregon—could not overcome either the lack of preparation by the La Jolla Chorus or the work’s rambling structure and paucity of melodic invention. In 2000, Golijov’s vivid and inventive La Pasión según San Marcos (The Passion according to St. Mark) took the classical music world by storm, so perhaps “Oceana” was simply an awkward trial run for La Pasión.[php snippet=1]
Fortunately, the other shorter pieces on the program showed the stronger side of 20th-century Latin American choral music. Heitor Villa-Lobos’ “Chôros No. 10” from 1925, a cornucopia of vivid, contrasting musical ideas that playfully clamored for our attention, gave both orchestra and chorus ample opportunity to show their prowess. Guinand coaxed the most pleasing sonority from the La Jolla Chorus in Antonio Lauro’s “Allá va un encobija’o,” an amorous piece that allowed the sopranos to float supple phraes over gentle harmonies in the lower voices.
In Carlos Guastavino’s “Se equivocó la paloma,” a popular work among North American choirs, the La Jolla singers offered a precisely balanced account of this wistful love song. It only lacked the relaxed, supple phrasing they lavished on the Lauro piece.
Under David Chase’s baton, the orchestra gave a spirited account of Alberto Ginastera’s “Malambo,” from his Dances from Estancia. Chase opened the program with “Intrada 1631” by the North American composer Stephen Montague. Although not Latino, Montague based his stately processional, which he completed in 2003, on a hymn written by a 17th-century Franciscan missionary to Peru, so it had a tengental Latin American connection. Scored for winds and antiphonal drums, “Intrada 1631” toyed with Renaissance modal harmonies and eventually brought in strings and other hand percussion instruments lined up along the side walls of Mandeville Auditorium for an exciting “surround sound” experience. Principal trumpet Ken Fitzgerald carried out his lead role in this brass-dependent piece with strength and confidence.
Tickets at 858.534.4637 or www.lajollasymphony.com