By Scott MacClelland
THE FIRST THING Sunday’s audience for Chris Pratorius Gómez’ “Legends of Granada” program of Andalucia-inspired chamber music observed was his showmanship. The artistic director for the program instantly ‘worked’ the sold-out house at Christ Lutheran in southern Aptos. By this he raised it to a higher level than the printed program alone promised, an important lesson some other presenters—besides the sponsoring Santa Cruz Chamber Players—have yet to learn.
In truth, there’s an art to it, and Pratorius applied it well in this case since much of the music was very familiar, thanks largely—rather no thanks—to classical radio turning great music into background Musak. Arranged for cello—Kristin Garbeff in this case—and piano—Pratorius—from solo piano originals were three Andalusian (Tango was actually an import from the New World) salon postcards by Spanish pianist Isaac Albéniz.
These were followed by five of the seven Canciones Populares Españolas of 1914 by Manuel de Falla, beautifully sung by soprano CA Jordan (pictured), with David Long at the piano. In turn guitar composer Francisco Tárrega was represented by three of his popular works, Capricho Árabe, Lágrima and Recuerdos de la Alhambra, played with swaying grace by guitarist Rob Watson.
Then came a surprise, the brief Soneto a Córdoba, a 1927 setting by de Falla of a 16th century poem by Luis de Góngora that celebrates the beauty of Córdoba, home of the world-famous, eye-tricking Great Mosque, now cathedral. Garbeff and harpist Jennifer Cass supported tenor Andrew Carter. De Falla gave it a charming antique character. (Carter studied at UC Santa Cruz, appeared in a Hidden Valley production of La bohème in 2002, and has a considerable career as a concert and opera artist.)
Watson opened the short second half of the program with Diferencias (variations) on Guárdame las vacas (Mind the Cows) by 16th century vihuelist Luis de Narváez, then accompanied Jordan in a Narváez arrangement of the well-known chanson Mille regretz by the earlier Josquin des Prez: the deeply atoning “Thousand regrets at deserting you and leaving behind your loving face.”
Crowning the program was Pratorius’ Contraponientes, an arrangement for soprano and tenor from his original choral version (2011) of six settings of poems by Federico García Lorca. The instrumental complement included harp, cello and—replacing the original three flutes—marimba. Pratorius noted that he was urged by Michael McGushin—then-conductor of Ariose Singers—to take a look at the simple but sensitive verses by García Lorca. “I quickly fell in love with the starkness and frailty of the imagery and was further drawn in by the themes of love, joy, loss, memory and the cyclical nature of passing time.” Some also referred to apples, peaches, maize, pomegranates and months of the year.
Lasting 20 minutes, most of the songs were sung as duets. The verses of Los cuatro muleros were separated by instrumental prelude, interludes and postlude. In Madrigalillo Pratorius added a triangle.
As with his presence from the outset, this piece displayed an artistic confidence as well as an exquisite delicacy.