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New Jersey Symphony Orchestra Presents Guitar Soloist in New Concerto

Nancy Plum

Music for classical guitar has a special fascination for audiences. Many more people than will probably admit have tried their hand at playing guitar at some point (especially during the 1960s) and hearing someone with the dexterity and artistry to play the instrument really well conjures up amazement and awe. Such an individual was Cuban guitarist Manuel Barrueco, featured this past weekend with the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra. Friday night’s concert at Richardson Auditorium, led by guest conductor Lawrence Foster, included the U.S. premiere of Robert Sierra’s Danzas Concertantes, a four-movement lively work for guitar and orchestra (the work was premiered by Mr. Barrueco and the Orchestra of Castilla and Leon in Spain). Mr. Barrueco’s background includes training at the Peabody Conservatory, as well as in his native Cuba, and collaborations with guitarists from all genres of music, including rock.

Danzas Concertantes demonstrated Sierra’s interest in Caribbean influences, especially in his use of percussion and the quintuple meter of the first and last movements. New Jersey Symphony significantly augmented its percussion section to include xylophone, marimba, suspended cymbal, tam-tam, gong, snare drum, bongos, congas, maracas, the gourd-like guiro, claves and a Basque tambourine. The precision of the orchestra’s percussion section complemented well the lightning quick deftness of guitarist Barrueco.

The New Jersey Symphony’s next performance on March 14 will feature Dvorak’s Symphony No. 8 and solo violinist Leila Josefowicz playing Bartok’s Violin Concerto No. 2. For information call (609) 258-5000.

The 5/8 movements of the concerto were Stravinsky-like, with instrumental bits and pieces contrasting the continual flow of the guitar. Aided by a microphone, the low and high “E” strings of the guitar were easiest to hear, with the playing on the middle strings sometimes lost in the orchestral fabric. Extended solo cadenzas at the end of the first and third movements enabled the audience to fully hear Mr. Barrueco’s playing, with a very light vibrato on the highest notes of the instrument.

The second movement was marked by a very Latin flavor, as well as wind solos from clarinetist Karl Herman, flutist Bart Feller and bassoonist Robert Wagner, and effectively muted trumpets played by Garth Greenup and David Larson. As conductor, Mr. Foster had the piece well in hand, especially bringing the movements to close through some very tricky endings.

New Jersey Symphony Orchestra bracketed Danzas Concertantes with two works representing the 18th century. Mozart’s Symphony No. 31 in D Major, known as the Paris Symphony, has likely been performed by both NJSO conductor and players many times. Mr. Foster tended to conduct the spirit of the music at times, rather than technically conducting the musical gestures, but the work seemed to play itself. The strings were especially clean and well-phrased in unison detacheé sections, but the performance seemed to lack drama at times, especially since this symphony combines elements from a number of different European regions.

Richard Strauss composed Suite from Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme much in the style of Jean-Baptiste Lully, with courtly dance effects and a very light overall chamber flavor. The orchestra conveyed this style well, aided by clean wind solos from flutists Feller and Kathleen Nester and oboists Robert Ingliss and Andrew Adelson (also playing English horn). The orchestra was very crisp when playing together, aided by the precise piano accompaniment of Steven Ryan. A rich ensemble sound punctuated by lower brass reminded the audience that this was actually a work of the early twentieth-century.

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