Cellist Yehuda HananiSymphony of the Americas Orchestra and Cellist Yehuda Hanani - Photo credit Wade Caldwell Photography

The return of a beloved artist and the Czech infused melodies and rhythms of Antonín Dvorák resounded in the Broward Center's Amaturo Theater on Tuesday as the Symphony of the Americas presented Dvorák Totems, a celebration of the master's fusion of native Bohemian dance and nostalgia with the cultural vistas of the New World. Israeli born cellist Yehuda Hanani, remembered by many South Florida music lovers for his Close Encounters with Music concert-lecture series, played Dvorák's monumental Cello Concerto in B minor, his first appearance with the orchestra in three decades.

There are cello concertos and then there is the Dvorak, truly the king of concertos for the instrument. Written in New York in 1894 during the composer's nearly three year American sojourn, the score is not a conventional bravura display piece but a deeply passionate, intense musical rumination. Melodically rich and orchestrally luminous, Dvorak's concerto challenges the depth of the soloist's artistry as well as technical acuity. Hanani, who counts such legends as Leonard Rose and Pablo Casals among his teachers and mentors, was a superb soloist, bringing a deep well of dark, rich tone and clean and precise articulation of rapid passage work. He phrased the second theme of the opening Allegro con brio with nobility, capturing the yearning and emotional fervor in broadly shaped strophes.

The concerto's second movement is one of Dvorák's most wonderful creations. While writing the score, he learned that a woman he once loved but did not return his attachment (who later became his sister in law)was gravely ill. He incorporated the melody of one of his early songs that she particularly admired into this Adagio. Replete with nostalgia and lyrical fervor, the music is heart breakingly beautiful. Hanani's burnished tone and fluid cantabile line strongly encompassed the nostalgia and warmth of the melodic writing. The orchestra's sudden eruptions registered with strong impact, Hanani and artistic director James Brooks-Bruzzese collaborating on a passionately felt, memorable performance.

Hanani's vigorous attack brought vivacity to the folk like theme of the finale, the passages in the instrument's highest register a model of flawless intonation, and his molten tone and sense of musical line infused the lyrical second subject with aristocratic grace. When Dvorák returned to Prague prior to the concerto's first performance, he learned that his onetime love had died. He changed the ending of the concerto from brilliant virtuosic flourishes to a quiet fading away of the cello solo, leaving the orchestra to conclude the score. Hanani assayed this glorious conclusion exquisitely, the tonal polish and instrumental mastery exceptional. Brooks-Bruzzese and the ensemble offered full blooded support, the lovely clarinet solo and spot on horn articulation particularly fine.

The traversal of Dvorák's Symphony No. 8 in G Majorthat concluded the concert proved one of the Symphony of the Americas' finest performances. The opening melody by unison cellos was gorgeous and Brooks-Bruzzese briskly molded the movement's contrasting thematic material. The strings took the spotlight in crisp, vigorous fashion and inner voices often obscured were clear and transparent. The Adagio was broadly shaped, the melodic warmth threatened by dark clouds. Concertmaster Bogdan Chruszcz's solo was stylish and finely etched and the big, full force orchestral climaxes were impressive. Charming and waltz like, the Allegretto grazioso had just the right measure of romance and the brisk coda proved exhilarating. A clarion trumpet call introduced the finale.A flowing reading of the principal theme by lower stringsh turned into a vigorous romp in the full orchestra. Splendid wind, string and brass playing highlighted the performance with Marilyn Maingart's nimble flute solo taking special honors. Brooks-Bruzzese cut to the heart of Dvorak's boldly stroked symphonic peroration of Czech nationalism. A memorable performance!

As an encore a medley of songs from Gypsy, Funny Girl, Sound of Music and The Fantastics, beautifully played and stylishly led by Brooks-Bruzzese, sent the audience home with a joyous smile.

The Symphony of the Americas season continues with Symphony Classics and The Best of Broadway 8:15 p.m. March 10 at the Amaturo Theater in Ft. Lauderdale. For information and tickets, www.symphonyoftheamericas.org 954-335-7002

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