Kalmar takes a different path with Latin works

June 25, 2011

by Alan G. Artner, Special to the Tribune

Many programs of Latin orchestral works cover well-traveled ground by presenting the same handful of popular pieces by the same celebrated composers. Carlos Kalmar's program with the Grant Park Orchestra Friday night went further.

Some of the names – Heitor Villa-Lobos, Carlos Chavez, Alberto Ginastera – were, of course, familiar, but the selections by them were not. And to the works of such past masters Kalmar added even lesser-known music by living composers – Elbio Barilari, Inocente Carreno - which gave listeners at the Jay Pritzker Pavilion more than a collection of museum pieces.

Geographical distribution was broader, too. Each of five compositions represented a different country: Uruguay, Venezuela, Brazil, Mexico and Argentina. Kalmar supplemented the printed program notes with spoken introductions providing picturesque descriptions.

Overall, the music was strong in dance rhythms and high in color. This soon becomes wearying. So among Barilari's evocation of tango ("Canyengue"), selections from Chavez's mechanistic "ballet symphony" ("Horse-Power") and Ginastera's modernistic treatments of the sardana ("Commentaries on Themes of Pablo Casals"), Kalmar interspersed two quieter, more widely ranging compositions, both heard in Grant Park premieres.

Carreno's "Margaritena" is a set of symphonic variations on a Venezuelan song that also functions as an aural travelogue by suggesting scenery of the island on which the composer was born. The steamy, exotic "Uirapuru," by Villa-Lobos, is a substantial symphonic poem that includes material the composer collected from the Amazonian rain forest.

"Uirapuru" really needed the lushness of tone that Leopold Stokowski once brought to it. But Kalmar caught its languor as well as forward-moving energy, achieving special poetry in the calm closing pages. It proved an excellent foil for the Ginastera, which brilliantly honors a great musician through means that were alien to him.

After so much easy-to-take atmosphere, closing the evening with such Charles Ives-like prickliness was a masterstroke.

The program will be repeated at 7:30 p.m. Saturday and broadcast on radio station WFMT (98.7 FM).