On Saturday the seventh and last concert of the Casals Festival 2023, in the homonymous room of the Luis A. Ferré Fine Arts Center. The collective of Puerto Rico Symphony Orchestraunder the direction of guest teacher Fabio Mechettiwas in charge of a spectacular closing concert.
Mechetti began the program with one of the fundamental orchestral works of his native Brazil, the Choros no. 6, of the 14 composed from 1920 onwards by the prolific composer, cellist, guitarist and conductor, Heitor Villa-Lobos (1887-1959). Inspired by the popular genre of the same name, some specialists estimate that it was revised close to its premiere in 1942.
This grandiose orchestral music began with an improvisational solo by principal flutist Josué Casillas, accompanied by a subtle percussive base. It then transitions to a contrapuntal passage on Professor George R. Morales’s soprano saxophone, to grow into a rustic orchestral expression, representative of the Amazon jungle.
The 25-minute long score, described by the composer as a romance with the nature of the jungle in northwestern Brazil, unfolds alternating delicate passages -where the main chairs of all the sections of the Symphony stood out-, with sections where the enlarged orchestral mass with 8 percussionists, 2 harps, and a considerable number of additional musicians, resounded shiveringly.
The interpretation of the guest artist Fabio Mechetti was enthusiastically received by a large audience that gathered for the celebration. A wonderful recording from 2016 with his Minas Gerais Philharmonic Orchestra is available on You Tube at the link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yu1XOqN6A-s
In the second part they stood out together with the orchestral group, Puerto Rican soprano Melba Ramos, American baritone Eric McKeeverand the wonderful San Juan Philharmonic Choirwhich was founded and directed by teacher Carmen Acevedo Lucío, assisted by her associate director, Francisco Luis Ortiz.
The classic Caribbean anniversary of the Casals Festival in its 67th season concludes with the inclusion of two great scores from the American continent. A glorious reading of “Summertime”, where Melba Ramos’ vocal ability and musicianship shone, kicked off “Porgy and Bess: A Concert of Songs”.
This is an arrangement by Robert Russell Bennett of the opera by the American composer George Gershwin (1898-1937), one of his masterpieces, conceived from the libretto by his brother Ira Gershwin, based on the novel “Porgy” by the writer DuBose Heyward .
In the second aria-song, “A Woman Is A Sometime Thing” African-American baritone Eric McKeever stood out, with his graceful stage presence and mastery of phrasing in the style of blues and authentic jazz. The third, “Gone, Gone, Gone” featured two unidentified soloists from the Philharmonic Choir, as well as the rest of the choral ensemble, backed by a shimmering orchestration.
The director Fabio Mechetti knew how to sustain the accelerated rhythm of the dramatic action, alternating passages where the soloists Ramos and McKeever carried the melody, with the choral sections -sometimes accompanied by the visual effect of the emblematic dance movements of the “gospel” choirs-, with other parts where there is a waste of orchestral colors.
The subsequent numbers: “Overflow”, the heartbreaking “My Man’s Gone Now” in the monumental voice of the soprano Ramos and “The Promise’ Lan’ “, were followed by a masterful interpretation of the singer-actor Eric McKeever of the well-known hit “I Got Plenty o’ Nuttin”. “Bess, You Is My Woman Now” was a heartfelt duet of soprano and baritone backed by the instrumental ensemble.
To close, choir, soloists and orchestra -professor Carlos J. Ávila standing out on the marimba-, under the wise and fluid leadership of maestro Mechetti, delighted the audience with “It Ain’t Necessarily So”, “There’s A Boat Dat’s Leavin ‘” and “Lawd, I’m On My Way.”
They had to go out four times to greet their happy spectators.