Ricardo Morales played a new Clarinet Concerto by Aldo López-Gavilán

By Peter Alexander Jan 8 at 12:15 a.m.

The Boulder Philharmonic Orchestra and renowned clarinetist Ricardo Morales presented the world premiere of a concerto by Cuban composer Aldo López-Gavilán yesterday afternoon (Jan. 7) in Macky Auditorium. Michael Butterman conducted.

Ricardo Morales

Principal clarinet of the Philadelphia Orchestra, Morales is one of the most distinguished clarinet soloists today. His performance of López-Gavilán’s concerto—a work at times dreamy, quirky, playful and jazzy—had all the hallmarks of a top-rate performance. His fluid, resonant tone was captivating, and he was fully equal to the fiercely virtuosic passages of the scampering final movement. The Boulder Phil has a record of bringing notable soloists to Macky Auditorium, but none will exceed Morales for flair and artistry. (Disclosure: as a clarinetist I was delighted to hear Morales in person.)

The concerto unfolds in a traditional three-movement format. The first starts with pensive lines floating above the orchestra before settling into oddly off-beat rhythms in the orchestra. The movement proceeded energetically, even when the tumbling lines of the solo part were not clearly audible above the orchestra. These roulades colored the music without leaving a memorable imprint.

The second movement began as a mildly jazzy lullaby in which Morales’s velvety sound perfectly fit the music’s mood. Later, the soloist offered flitting, bird-like decoration over a gentle ebb and flow in the orchestral strings.

The final movement emerged suddenly with playful, romping rhythms that featured the clarinet at its best: brilliant, jaunty, scampering here and there with abandon. This frisky material was interrupted by a contrasting passage with a lazy clarinet line accompanied by pinging mallet percussion. As soon as the listener got into that calmer mood, the scampers began again, skipping to a breakneck finish.

Under Butterman’s firm direction, the Phil made a strong case for López-Gavilán’s music. This is a concerto that should be welcomed by all clarinetists. It will please audiences with its varied moods and overall good nature, while the soloist has opportunities for both gentle expression and virtuoso flourishes.

Also López-Gavilán

The concerto was paired on the first half of the program with López-Gavilán’s three-movement piano concerto, titled Emporium, with the composer as soloist. A work that López-Gavilán and the Phil presented here in 2019, it was nevertheless welcome again. First begun as a birthday gift for López-Gavilán’s twin daughters’ ninth birthday, it is a gently ingratiating piece rather than a heroic concerto in the Romantic mold.

López-Gavilán was an ideal soloist, both in his command of the various classical, Afro-Cuban, jazz  and even church-hymn elements of the score, and in his evident devotion to the music. I particularly enjoyed the middle movement, which featured ominous drum rolls and eerie chords—a scary story for López-Gavilán’s girls?—that resolves safely into a hymn that almost sounds familiar before settling into sweet and comforting material. That benediction suddenly sweeps into full chords as the boisterous finale busts forth. Here I imagine that the children have awakened with energy.

It was in this movement that López-Gavilán showed his formidable technique. A cadenza-like passage leads to a grandiose finish. Once again the orchestra performed admirably, especially the solid, punctuating chords of the finale. Butterman apologized for bringing Emporium back to Macky again so soon, but the audience embraced the return enthusiastically.

The concert concluded with a somewhat subdued performance of Mussorgsky’s much-loved Pictures at an Exhibition in the familiar Ravel orchestration. After a brisk opening promenade in the solo trumpet, the character and mood of each picture—from the “Old Castle” with its saxophone minstrel, to the romping children of the “Tuileries,” to the lumbering oxcart “Bydlo, and on to the concluding “Great Gate of Kiev”—was carefully attended to.

Too carefully? The performance seemed restrained. The individual solos were generally well played by the Phil’s first-rate players, especially the woodwinds, and the contrasts between pictures were well delineated. I would single out the saxophone solo, and the flittering woodwinds in the “Tuileries” and “Unhatched Chicks” for special praise.

But the Macky stage cannot hold an orchestra large enough to provide the full impact of the “Great Gate,” even with strong brass and staunch percussion sections. “Baba Yaga’s Hut,” with its percussion blows and emphatic chords, was a fierce highpoint of the performance, but elsewhere more was wanted.


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