‘A Life-affirming way to say goodbye’: CSO premieres Colina’s ‘Three Dances’ in season’s final performance

Guest review by John Chacona

Brian Smith | Staff Photographer
Guest conductor Jamie Laredo congratulates cellist (and wife) Sharon Robinson for her performance on the world premiere of Michael Colina’s “Three Dances for Cello and Orchestra” with the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra Tuesday evening in the Amphitheater. The performance was the CSO’s last of 2013.

Bestor Plaza had a melancholy air on the evening of the final concert of the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra’s 2013 Season. Just a few children were playing, and quietly.  There were good-byes to compose and memories to secure before the leave taking could start.

That sense of nostalgia for something not yet completely gone was the most affecting impression left by Michael Colina’s “Three Dances for Cello and Orchestra,” the world-premiere centerpiece of the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra’s valedictory concert of the 2103 Season.

“It’s Snowing in Cuba,” the second of the dances, was an elegy for Colina’s birthplace, and a Garden of Eden for many musical styles of the New World.  Cellist Sharon Robinson sang a mournful bolero over the clavé, the heartbeat of Cuban music.

Colina seems to be Chautauqua’s composer of the moment.  His fantasia for violin and orchestra, “Baba Yaga,” was premiered by the CSO and violinist Anastasia Khitruk last July, and parts of that piece were heard again in “Slavic Sisters,” the last of the three dances.  This had the showiest music for the soloist, a danse macabre, albeit from the sort of devil who wouldn’t have called attention to himself at a tea dance. Satanic abandon was not on the program.

And that was the impression left by Colina’s “Dances.”  With a long resume of film and television work, the composer has a sure hand for scene painting.  The misty violin figures that opened “It’s Snowing” was an approach by air to an island of dreams, the most effective music of the suite.  But elsewhere, Colina telegraphed his musical punches, and while his orchestral colors were pleasant, his structures varied little.  Robinson did what she could to generate the character and drama that the score lacked.

In conductor Jaime Laredo, she had the most sympathetic collaborator imaginable.  Robinson’s partner in life as well as music, Laredo carries the torch for a kind of New York music making characterized by Old World grace, warmth and an affectionate way with melody, the musical equivalent of a companionable Sunday dinner at grandma’s house.

There were glimpses of it in the efficient performance of Rossini’s Overture to “L’Italiana in Algeri” that opened the concert, but the full effect was realized in Mendelssohn’s A-minor Symphony, Op. 56.  Laredo shaped phrases lovingly and got a glowing, mitteleuropisch tone from the CSO.  The Adagio was a high point and the heart of Laredo’s conception, a graceful song without words with the cantabile marking generously observed.

This wasn’t hot-blooded Mendelssohn.  The turbulence and drama that some conductors (hello Charles Munch, Dimitri Mitropoulos and the HIP crowd!) found in this music was largely absent.  In its place were classical balance, cultivation and affection. Laredo neither pressed the tempos nor his rhetorical points. Climaxes unfolded naturally and with grace, and when the great A-major maestoso chorale tune arrived in the finale, it was a dignified and life-affirming way to say goodbye to the season.

John Chacona is a freelance writer for the Erie-Times News.

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