The first offering was Three Latin American Dances by contemporary American composer Gabriela Lena Frank. The first movement (Introduction: Jungle Jaunt) began with a flurry of an exposition that quickly developed into suggestive programmatic elements: one could almost see a trail of army ants as the timpani constantly rambled up and down, and ominous thunder could be heard in the background. The second movement (Highland Harawi) was spellbinding...use of rainsticks and spooky bongos over eerie, ever-present glissandi from the strings painted an evocative picture. As a haunting melody issued from the violas and cellos, occasional plinking from a wood block created a foggy atmospher, a sense of creeping, sinuous menace. The last movement (The Mestizo Waltz) was rambunctious, feeling like spaghetti western music. This piece was a real treat, and kudos must go to the percussion section for a spectacular job with a dizzying array of instruments. It was almost like a percussion concerto at times and it was extremely well done.
Sáinz-Villegas began the Rodrigo with an understated flourish that gave a taste of what was to come...it was marvelous for this quality of sound to be so present at the end of a piano phrase with an orchestra in the background. The booming, glorious rasgueado themes that make the opening so famous were not overdone--they were bold, exclamatory, but not bombastic. An incredible sense of balance was one of the key features of Sáinz-Villegas' playing.
In order for the transportative power of this concerto to be truly felt it must be realized in the hands of a master, and Sáinz-Villegas is just such a maestro. It would be impossible to wring any more emotion from the second movement--pure passion, yet controlled lamentation, if there is such a thing. The intense, tremulous vibrato he employed, the ancient Moorish modes that cry out from the depths of Spanish music like ghosts of a time long past made the end of the movement feel like waking from a half-remembered dream.
By the last movement it was clear that this performance was almost an embarrassment of riches. On display in was Sáinz-Villegas deliberateness of articulation, coupled with a deftness and purity of line such that every chord voicing was crystal clear and balanced--there was nothing missing from the rich, deep tapestry. Rodrigo's Concierto de Aranjuez has become almost inarguably the most beloved guitar concerto in the repertoire for good reason. That fact, coupled with the unequaled expressivity and technical brilliance of Sáinz-Villegas and the consummate skill of the OSO under Carlos Kalmar's all combined to create an unforgettable experience. The applause afterward was tremendous, even for a city like Portland which is not know for being stingy with praise. Every bit of it, and more, was well-deserved. What can one say but thank you, Señor Sáinz-Villegas. Thank you, thank you.