Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Music for Tourists

Allan Krantz, Robyn Novello and Steve Kramer
perform Handel's Cantata Spagnuola Sunday in Norristown.
The cellist Steve Kramer and friends presented a program in Norristown Sunday titled, somewhat misleadingly, “Sounds of the Symphony."  There was nothing symphonic about it. It was, rather, an eclectic afternoon of short chamber and vocal pieces and Latin dance music. (I wrote the preview a few weeks back, which may be seen here.)  

The first half was more or less classical, starting with Steve playing a single Sarabande from Bach’s Suites for Unaccompanied Cello, and ending with Handel’s Cantata Spagnuola and Villa Lobos’ Bachiana Brasilero No. 5, sung by the lovely, soft-voiced young soprano Robyn Novello. (Steve and guitarist Allan Krantz provided the understated accompaniment.)

In between, we heard bass-baritone Alan Rosenbaum, whom I remember from Delaware Valley Opera Company production of “La Traviata,” in a Ladino folksong and a Donizetti aria, and, in the company of tenor Adam Gilbert, two Hebrew songs by Benjamin Steinberg.  Steve also joined violinist Elina Kalendarova of the Philadelphia Orchestra and her father, pianist and composer Edward Kalendar, in Kalendar’s slight but attractive Elegie and Scherzo, followed by “A Little Jewish Life,” also by Kalendar, for violin and piano. Kalendar received a standing ovation for a piano medley, titled “A Musical Journey Around the World,” that mashed up Gershwin, Tchaikovsky and Beethoven with jazz and pop tunes.  Impressively played, and quickly forgotten.

The mood shifted seismically after intermission, when the group Latin Fiesta took the stage for an extroverted set of music from (or about) Mexico, Brazil, Cuba and Spain. Some of it was strictly for tourists ―the set included “La Bamba,” “Guantanamera,” and Sergio Mendes’ “Mas que Nada ” ― but the accommodations were first-rate, and vocalist Vania Taylor-Watson made a congenial guide. This was music for dancing, rather than listening, and indeed, at one point, the group’s resident dancer, Liliana Ruiz, invited the audience up to the stage for a samba. After a costume change, she ended the set with a stunning demonstration of flamenco, pitting her heels in a duel against the percussion of Cuco Aponte. (He finally left the stage in mock defeat.) 

I should mention the young flutist, Elijah Thomas, and the drummer Tom Lowery, who were all but invisible behind the speakers and the grand piano, but who nonetheless managed to make themselves indispensable. A bravo, too, to 8-year-old Aaron Liu, one of Steve’s pupils, who was brave enough to tackle the Courante from Bach’s Suite No. in G in front of a room full of strangers.

Performances were consistently good , but Steve had the session recorded, and the stage was a tangle of wires constantly got in the performers’ way. Allan Rosenbaum kicked one off his foot as he was trying to sing, and Edward Kalendar bumped his head on a boom mic more than once.  The equipment became a bigger issue in the second half, when the Latin set was marred by over-amplification and, at one point, a dead microphone. 

No comments: