Wake Forest’s Department of Music joined forces with IPLACe (the new Interdisciplinary Performance and the Liberal Arts Center), Latin American and Latino Studies, and the Department of Romance Languages to sponsor a broad-ranging program of music from Latin America in the world-class acoustics of Brendle Recital Hall. The first three items repeated material from a similar program offered by the quartet of Jacqui Carrasco, Fabián López, violins, Scott Rawls, viola, and Alexander Ezerman, violoncello last summer at Krankies Coffee in Winston-Salem (and reviewed  by CVNC), three relatively brief offerings for string quartet.

The first was the attractive Wapango by Grammy-winner Paquito D’Rivera, immediately appealing with its mix of Latin rhythms. This was followed by “Medley from A Future of Tango” by Alejandro Rutty (professor of composition at UNC Greensboro), excerpted from a concertante work for sax quartet and orchestra, full of tango motives and about which my only complaint might be that I wish it were longer. I hope that circumstances will bring Rutty to produce a full-fledged and full-length quartet to compete with the masters in the genre. Finally the quartet played the Leyendas: An Andean Walkabout by Gabriela Lena Frank, the sort of multi-cultural excursion brought to the string quartet genre and made popular by the Kronos Quartet, with indigenous sounds reinterpreted in a new-music context. All the readings were warm and fluent, with the playing at a very high level.

The rest of the program was entirely devoted to tango, featuring tanguera Lorena Guillen (Guillen and Rutty are both expatriates from Buenos Aires). “Nostalgias” and “Garufa” were heard in arrangements for voice and string quartet, with the characteristic rhythmic gestures of the genre notated in detail in Rutty’s arrangements (otherwise, he explained in the Q&A which followed, it might take ten years for Americans to learn the performance tradition). Guillen is a petite but commanding figure on stage, with a presence that calls attention. When she shapes a phrase, you can’t imagine that the song could go any other way. Rutty’s writing for string quartet manages to be both completely idiomatic for tango and for the ensemble (I particularly enjoyed the sliding downward chromatic scales in the strings).

Next were three tangos for the duo of Guillen and Rutty at the piano; “Los Mareados”, “Chiquilin de Bachin”, by Piazzolla, and “La ultima curda”, by Anibal Troilo. Rutty, in addition to being an exceptional composer, is a masterful performer at the piano, with an amazingly expressive touch, simply perfect time in executing a gesture, and highly original realizations of the harmonies of the compositions. He is able to elicit a beautiful ppp from the 9-foot Steinway at Brendle, and yet make it speak in the large hall. And of course, the connection between Guillen’s delivery of the song, and his accompaniment is telepathic.

The program concluded with three more tangos, “La Casita de mis Viejos,” “Niebla del Riachuelo,” and “Tempos Viejos”, with the second, which depicts the fog along the river Plata, fully of foggy, almost French harmonies, with Debussyan parallelisms. These were scored for Guillen plus quartet and piano, and there was a wonderful swing to the rhythms, creating a sense of play that was infectious. An added bonus was the Q&A after the final bow with Guillen, Rutty and Carrasco for those members of the audience that were interested. It was a memorable evening.