November 14, 2018

Richardson Chamber Players Presents “From Buenos Aires to Brooklyn”

By Nancy Plum

Anyone who came to the Richardson Chamber Players performance on Sunday afternoon at Richardson Auditorium learned a great deal about unusual instruments and composers. The ensemble took the audience on a musical journey from throughout the Americas to Brooklyn, New York Sunday afternoon with a concert of 20th-century works of composers both known and unknown from Argentina, Brazil, Cuba, Paraguay, and Mexico, and of course, Brooklyn.  The concert, which included a large number of players, was designed to explore music from South and Central America and the Caribbean from composers who in some cases had huge repertories of pieces which were largely unknown.

Argentina was represented by the very well-known Astor Piazzolla, as well as the more obscure Carlos Guastavino and the contemporary Daniel Binelli, who performed his own music. Guastavino, one of the most successful Argentine composers of the 20th century, incorporated the country’s folksong tradition into his works. The “pampas,” the fertile lowlands prevalent in the Buenos Aires region of South America, provided the inspiration for Guastavino’s strophic “Pampamapa” (“Map of the Pampas”). Mezzo-soprano Barbara Rearick, accompanied by pianist Ronald Cappon, performed the poignant words sensitively, with Cappon’s flowing piano part replicating a guitar. Rearick’s rich top register was evident in the second Guastavino song, “La Rosa y el Sauce,” which ended effectively with a vocalise similar to the Rachmaninoff song which inspired its composition.  

Astor Piazzolla is most renowned for his composition of tango music and music for the bandoneón, the tango’s signature instrument. Rooted in the German concertina musical tradition, the bandoneón was well known in 19th-century German religious and popular music, and when brought to Argentina in the late 1800s, was incorporated into the tango genre. The bandoneón is still very popular in Argentina, most notably through the music of Daniel Binelli, who has composed extensively for the instrument and performs worldwide.  Binelli was also featured in Sunday afternoon’s concert, playing both his music and the Concierto para Quinteto of Piazzolla. Prior to performing his own “Metropolis,” Binelli performed a short demonstration of the bandoneón in which the audience could hear the instrument’s connection to the organ in its ability to swell dynamically and play multiple melodic lines simultaneously.  Binelli demonstrated quick fingering in both the pieces, emphasizing the Romantic capabilities of the instrument. Both his and the Piazzolla works were accompanied by double bass, piano, violin, and guitar, fusing South American musical style with instruments from the Western European tradition.

One of the more fascinating composers presented Sunday afternoon was contemporary Cuban composer Leo Brouwer.  A founder of the 1960s Cuban avant-garde music movement — likely inaccessible to the United States until recently — Brouwer has composed scores for more than 50 films, as well as works for guitar.  Brouwer’s 1978 Música Incidental Campesinas, a set of four musical miniatures, brought together guitarists Laura Oltman and Michael Newman in a showing of crisp and florid playing. The four movements of this work were each barely a minute long, but demanded the highest technical versatility from each player. The third movement “Danza” in particular showed light and accurate fingering from Newman. Oltman was later featured in a three-movement work by Paraguayan guitarist and composer Agustín Barrios Mangoré. Most charming of Mangoré’s short pieces was the opening “Gavota al Estilo Antiguo,” rooted in the Baroque Gavotte dance form and inspired by the music of Bach. Oltman played this piece especially cleanly, with the acoustic classical guitar speaking well in the hall.  

The Richardson Chamber Players turned away from Latin America only for a set of four songs of George Gershwin, featuring mezzo-soprano Rearick. No one captured Brooklyn musically like Gershwin, who composed some of the most memorable American music of the 20th century. English composer and arranger Sir Richard Rodney-Bennett set of a suite of four Gershwin songs for England’s 1991 Aldeburgh Festival, at which Rearick premiered the songs. These songs drew on the Richardson stage the most number of players for the afternoon, with Rearick accompanied by strings, harp, clarinet, and flute. Flutist Nicholas Ioffreda elegantly provided an echo to Rearick’s rich voice in the opening “Maybe — Soon,” and clarinetist Jo-Ann Sternberg played smooth and graceful solos in two other numbers. These arrangements were clearly well within Rearick’s vocal wheelhouse, and the Richardson Players ended the afternoon with an appealing taste of Americana.

The Richardson Chamber Players will present its next performance on Sunday, February 10, 2019 at 3 p.m. at Richardson Auditorium.  Featured in this concert, celebrating Princeton University Concert’s 125th anniversary, will be music composed during the University Concert’s inaugural season, as well as music of today. Ticket information can be obtained by visiting the Princeton University ticketing website at  or by calling the University Central Box Office at (609) 258-9220.