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Published: Thursday, 2/28/2008

Orchestra of Mexico heats up frosty night

BY SALLY VALLONGO
BLADE STAFF WRITER

One of the frostiest nights of this cold, cold winter seemed a lot warmer for an hour or so last night in the Toledo Museum of Art when the State Symphony Orchestra of Mexico turned its attention to music by Latin composers.

Led by founder Enrique Batiz, the large ensemble midway through its first North American tour tore into works by Spanish and Mexican composers, leaving the audience calling for more, more, two encores more.

Most of the music performed wasn't on the program given to the audience - which included a lot of noticeable first-time visitors to the Peristyle. Sponsored by the Chrysler Foundation and UAW Region 2-B, this Visiting Artists Special Event drew an eclectic and enthusiastic crowd.

But an apparent communication glitch between the touring group (and its Columbia Artists Management tenders) and the Toledo Symphony, which was presenting, led to a last-minute announcement from the stage of an almost total program change. There was no explanation and, alas, no program notes or composer's names.

Gone was the Rachmaninoff Piano Concerto No. 2 and an orchestrated version of German organist Dietrich Buxtehude's early Baroque work by Carlos Chavez. Instead, the orchestra and pianist Leonel Morales started the program with Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto No. 1.

It was an odd start for a program that had seemed to promise Latino sizzle, not brooding Russian drama. After intermission, a sizable part of the smallish audience had departed.

Undoubtedly that was because of the evening's reversal of program and not the quality of Morales and company's performance. Morales has technique to spare and showed it in the Tchaikovsky, backed by Batiz and the symphony in a solid if uninspired performance.

More fancy finger work was displayed in two short solo encores by Morales: the Malaguena from a suite by Ernesto Lecuona, plus a lesser-known piece, Gitanerias, named for the Gypsy melodies that inspired it and so much Spanish music.

Those who stuck around were rewarded by engaging performances of Mexican and Spanish composers' works.

First came Manuel de Falla's suite for the ballet, The Three-Cornered Hat, a suite of brief movements inspired by bullfighting. Batiz and the orchestra pulled it off smoothly.

The highlight was Mexican composer Carlos Chavez's Symphony No. 2 ("India"). Filled with lilting folk airs and irresistible syncopated dance rhythms, the symphony is a sole movement shifting between moods and scenes and with verve.

Another lively Mexican work, the 1938 Sensemaya by Silvestre Revueltas, began softly with edgy percussion and strings pierced by solos passed among the orchestra's excellent brass and woodwind sections.

By this point in the evening the audience realized its power: applaud long and loud and stand up to keep the orchestra playing.

The first encore was "Huapango," by Jose Pablo Moncayo, another Mexican composer. Then back went Batiz to lead the Intermezzo from "LaBoda de Luis Alonso," a zarzuela by Spanish composer Geronimo Gimenez.

Contact Sally Vallongo at: svallongo@theblade.com.



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