Scheherazade – Symphonic Suite, Op.35
Bachianas Brasileiras No.4 – Preludio
Chôros No.10 (Rasga o Coração)
José Staneck (harmonica)
São Paulo Symphony Choir & Orchestra
Reviewed by: Susan Stempleski
Reviewed: 14 October, 2022
Venue: Stern Auditorium, Carnegie Hall, New York City
On the last stop of its three-city US tour commemorating the 200th-anniversary of Brazil’s independence the São Paulo Symphony Orchestra reunited with its Conductor of Honour, Marin Alsop, to make its Carnegie Hall debut with a sparkling and exotic program, opening with an energetic account of Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade. Alsop firmly focused on controlling dynamic details and the transitional passages to and from the recurring solo violin themes, which were deftly rendered by concertmaster Emmanuele Baldini, as were the numerous solo passages for other instruments, notably the winds. The sensuous melody of the Young Prince in the third movement was wonderfully expressive, and the moments leading up to the crashing climax of the final movement were especially thrilling.
But the orchestra was at its brightest and best with the music of Villa-Lobos, opening with the Prelude from Bachianas Brasileiras No.4. The OSESP musicians gave a powerful and passionate rendering of the brief but exquisitely beautiful piece.
Next came the Harmonica Concerto, an uncommon work showcasing José Staneck, a Brazilian master of this repertoire. The soloist exhibited extraordinary sound-control and virtuosity in the delicately inventive phrases of the first movement as he smoothly moved his tiny instrument into the highest registers. The Andante second movement was hugely impressive, with harmonica and orchestra displaying a wide range of unexpected and richly colored harmonies, but most memorable of all was Stanek’s playing of the breathtaking final cadenza. Amid the ensuing applause, the charismatic soloist started a crowd-pleasing encore: a wide-ranging improvisation that began with the violin theme from Scheherazade and ended with a refrain from ‘The Girl from Ipanema’.
For the final item the São Paulo Symphony Choir joined the orchestra for a joyfully exuberant rendition of Villa-Lobos’s blazingly original Chôros No.10. Inspired by the forests of the composer’s native country, the score’s most distinctive features include Amazonian jungle sounds and ceremonial chants of the indigenous people. Following a dramatic opening evoking a tropical landscape with brass flourishes and bird-calls from the winds, the chorus entered, rhythmically chanting an untranslatable text over which glorious, wordless soprano voices emerged and started to sing verses from ‘Rasga o Coração’ (Tear the Heart Apart), a popular Brazilian song by Catulo da Paixão Cearense, while the rest of the choir shouted, chattered, and whispered until all forces exploded in an electrifying ending, both forceful and enigmatic.
As an encore, Alsop danced along as she joyfully directed a vibrant series of sambas.