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Grand Rapids Symphony Unearths Hidden Gems of 20th Century Scores

The Grand Rapids Symphony at Carnegie Hall. Photo by Terry Johnston
A strong season of orchestral music in New York continued impressively at Carnegie Hall on the evening of Friday, April 20th, with the appearance of the fine musicians of the Grand Rapids Symphony under the admirable direction of Marcelo Lehninger.
The program began brilliantly with a stirring account of the invariably thrilling and immensely popular Bolero of Maurice Ravel. The extraordinary Brazilian soloist Nelson Freire then took the stage for an engaging performance of a work he has recently championed, the sparkling and eclectic, single-movement piano concerto Momoprecoce of Heitor Villa-Lobos—an example of the unfamiliar repertory that made this event especially memorable.
The second half of the evening was at least equally remarkable, with another rewarding presentation of an underrated piano concerto played by Freire, Nights in the Gardens of Spain by Manuel de Falla, which opens with the evocative and impressionistic “En el Generalife”, followed by the more dramatic, ensuing movements, “Danza lejana” and “En los jardines de la Sierra de Córdoba”. After an enthusiastic ovation, the soloist delighted the audience with an encore: the charming “Golliwog’s Cakewalk” from the Children’s Corner Suite of Claude Debussy.
The concert concluded stunningly with another rare opus: the powerful, exotic and enthralling Chôros No. 10, “Rasga o Coração”, of Villa-Lobos, which featured the superb Grand Rapids Symphony Chorus led by Pearl Shangkuan. Ardent applause was reciprocated by another encore, this time including the entire ensemble: the inexpressibly beautiful and seldom heard choral version of Gabriel Fauré’s Pavane, set to a text by Robert de Montesquiou, a figure that inspired such artists as Marcel Proust, J. K. Huysmans, and James Whistler. I hope these musicians return to New York before long, bringing more splendid discoveries.

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