RALEIGH — With the tangos continued popularity as social dance and TV entertainment, its logical that the N. C. Symphony would organize an evening of tango and Argentinian music. Although more pops-style than usual, the program Friday in Meymandi Concert Hall under conductor Grant Llewellyn showcased the orchestra splendidly, offering the unusual and the unexpected.
The unexpected started right away, the stage set with music stands but no chairs. Composer Osvaldo Golijov asks the strings to stand during his 1996 Last Round, a short piece in memory of the great tango composer-performer, Astor Piazzolla, who died in 1992.
The standing added solemnity to the first movements foreboding rumble and the seconds emotional keening, the strings producing gorgeous, lush tone. The players mirror-image arrangement mimicked the structure of the bandoneón, the accordion-like instrument permanently associated with the tango.
Things brightened with Piazzollas Concerto for Bandoneón, featuring soloist Coco Trivisonno. His self-effacing style belied his mastery of this difficult instrument that has buttons on each side instead of a keyboard. The sharp chords and spiky melodies of the solos were beautifully intertwined with piano, harp and plucked strings, often dramatically underlined with timpani.
Russian native and Australian resident Elena Kats-Chernin wrote her 2009 Re-collecting ASTORoids in homage to Piazzolla, its five movements ostensibly reflecting his style. Unfortunately, the piece is bland and facile, with monotonous repetition and crude percussion. Even the musicians seemed uninspired as they worked their way through it.
In dramatic contrast, the final selections, four dances from Alberto Ginasteras 1941 ballet, Estancia, demonstrated what a skilled composer can do. These colorful episodes blazed with images of Argentinian ranch life, energized with an array of percussion that took seven players to execute.
Before the Ginastera, Trivisonno and the strings played Piazzollas lovely Adiós Nonino while Daniel Arredondo and Karen Jaffe danced a slow tango down front. Their movements seemed too tentative and correct to be considered a performance, although their encore ending the evening, to Piazzollas Milanga del Angel, showed a bit more flair.
The evening never quite caught fire but the orchestra provided enough hot spots to demonstrate again why live orchestral music can be so satisfying and engaging.