alejandro drago

Italian and Hispanic Heritage Month formed the celebratory theme of the Symphony of the Americas' rousing season opener at the Broward Center's Amaturo Theater on Tuesday night. The music of Italian opera master Giacomo Puccini was featured on the program's first half. With the exception of the Intermezzo from Manon Lescaut, this was not the familiar Puccini of La Boheme, Tosca, Madama Butterfly or Turandot but the music of a young composer finding his way into the Italian musico-dramatic tradition..

The concert opened with the Preludes to Acts I and III of Puccini's second opera Edgar. Although the opera's 1889 premiere was a failure, the two preludes reveal the young Puccini as a master of romantic melodic invention and lush orchestration. The initial prelude's swirling pastoral opening and the more dramatic and passion strains that follow were given full, soaring orchestral sonority by Maestro James Brooks-Bruzzese and the ensemble. Rich thematic fragments accompany the funeral cortege that opens the opera's final act. If Puccini had not penned his later masterpieces, this score would be held in much greater esteem.

The darkly romantic opening of the Symphonic Prelude in A Major, Puccini's first published composition, confirmed that this Italian giant emerged at his zenith, even at in his early twenties. Brooks-Bruzzese and the full bodied unanimity of his string contingent brought both lyricism and drama to the familiar excerpt from Manon Lescaut, Puccini's first great success.

After intermission, Brooks-Bruzzese led the rousing Alma Llanera by march king Pedro Elías Gutiérrez., considered Venezuela's second national anthem. This familiar Latin melody has become a mainstay encore for famed Venezuelan conductor Gustavo Dudamel.

The remainder of the evening commemorated the 200th anniversary of Argentina with music by two of that nation's most famous composers - Alberto Ginastera and Astor Piazzolla. Ginastera's Pampeana - Rhapsody on Folk Themes No. 1 (1947) might be termed "Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso on the Pampas." Like that famous violin showpiece by Camille Saint-Saens, Ginastera's score is in two distinct parts -the first slow and almost impressionistic; the second brilliantly virtuosic. With its modernist harmonies and rapid fire flourishes, Ginastera's score was a fine showcase for Argentine born violinist Alejandro Drago. His warmth of tone, dexterity in the instrument's upper reaches and fearless technical acuity marked him as a true bravura artist. His own orchestration of the original piano-vocal score effectively captured the instrumental patina and sonority of Estancia, Ginastera's most famous orchestral work.

Drago followed with two of the most famous vignettes by "nuevo tango" master Astor Piazzolla - Adios Nonino and Oblivion in his arrangements for violin and string orchestra. He captured both the sentiment and sadness of the music and the Stravinskyan dissonance of Piazzolla's tango reinvention, at times scraping the bow below the instrument's bridge. The muted lightness of Oblivion was particularly poignant under Drago's fingers.

Drago concluded with his own Fantasia on "El Dia que me quieras," one of the most famous tangos by popular Argentine tango singer-songwriter Carlos Gardel. This was Paganini meets Gardel as Drago played the familiar melody with great affection before throwing off fiery pyrotechnics. He combines the idiomatic affinity of a cafe player with flawless classical technique.

As an encore, Drago offered an unaccompanied fantasy on La Cumparsita by Geraldo Matos Rodriguez which he noted hails from Uraguay rather than Argentina. In this solo turn, he offered yet another dazzling display of violin wizardry.

The Symphony of the Americas season continues with Gershwin and the American Journey featuring music by Leroy Anderson, Cole Porter, John Williams and George Gershwin's Concerto in F for Piano and Orchestra with soloist Ted Rosenthal on November 15 at 7:45 p.m. at the Amaturo Theater, Broward Center in Ft. Lauderdale.

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