This year’s Summerfest, the 25th edition thereof, wrapped up this week in Broward County after a July of concerts here and in Panama, and this past Sunday night, Brooks-Bruzzese’s group made a Palm Beach County appearance at Florida Atlantic University. The orchestra that came to the University Theatre was largely composed of players from a variety of nations: Switzerland, Peru, Hungary, Russia, Uzbekistan, Ukraine and Cuba, among others, some of them regular members of the orchestra, and others guests.
This was a string orchestra (with flute and keyboard added later) of some distinction, playing a mix of Baroque and 20th-century music, along with Latin pop and two premieres of works commissioned specifically for the orchestra. The pieces were mostly short, the audience was large and enthusiastic, and there was substantial variety, which all told seems like a good idea for a summer program.
One of the two new works was Aspettando anninnora, a theme and variations for piano and strings by the Italian composer and pianist Lorenzo Turchi-Floris, who was the soloist here. Turchi-Floris is a skilled and inventive composer, and this piece took a Sardinian lullaby through five clever reworkings, and leaving the actual statement of the theme for the ending. Clearly influenced by Rachmaninov’s Paganini Rhapsody if not in specific music but overall variation layout, it began with modernist clusters and then fanned out into an energetic tarantella and an elegant little waltz, ending in a simple coda that was lovely if a little bit too short.
This is good if unexceptional contemporary music that might do well on an ambitious concert; Turchi-Floris has written six years’ worth of pieces for Brooks-Bruzzese and by this point deserves a retrospective program of his own.
The other premiere was Intensamente Romantico, a suite of Latin pop song arrangements by the Mexican composer Eduardo Magallanes, who was in the audience Sunday night for the performance. The five songs in the suite, by Mexican and Venezuelan composers, included durable standards such as “El Reloj” and “Quien sera?” and were richly scored by Magallanes.
He is a fine craftsman who knows how to get maximum sound from small forces (there were 17 or 18 people in the ensemble); his thick divisi writing in places made the orchestra sound twice as big. These pleasant tunes were well-presented and well-played, and the overall effect was of something like a generous helping of Latin comfort food.
Music by Vivaldi also figured on the program, with readings of the “Winter” concerto from The Four Seasons, and a double concerto from L’Estro Armonico (in A minor, Op. 3, No. 8).
The soloist for “Winter” was the Georgian violinist Sandro Tigishvili, also a member of the orchestra. Tigishivili has a large and impressive technique, and a penetrating, intense tone. He tore through all the virtuoso fireworks with ease, and in the second movement, he brought to the music a much broader singing tone that was very effective.
Concertmaster Orlando Forte and his wife, Svetlana, were the soloists for the Vivaldi double concerto. This difficult piece also was well-handled by soloists and orchestra. Orlando Forte has a powerful sound with a forceful presence, while Svetlana Forte’s playing is no less skillful but much more intimate; together, the very different styles made for two distinct voices, which is not always the case with this very familiar concerto.
Sunday’s concert also featured a performance by flutist Marilyn Maingart, long a member of the orchestra and a frequent soloist in her own arrangements. Her version of Giuseppe Tartini’s deathless “Devil’s Trill” sonata was quite handsome; she has a cool, weighty sound that fits the somber opening of this piece, and its bustling Baroque passagework thereafter.
There were four other orchestral works on the program, opening with the first movement of Ernest Bloch’s Concerto Grosso No. 1. Brooks-Bruzzese conducted with a virile approach, something that carried over to three movements from Peter Warlock’s Capriol Suite. The violins had some intonation problems with the highest notes in the second movement of the suite, “Bransles,” but most of this performance was sturdy and forthright, which was fine but lacking in some needed lightness.
Two other Baroque works, a concerto grosso by Francesco Manfredini, and a transcription of a keyboard work by Benedetto Marcello, were solidly played, as was an arrangement of Moises Simon’s well-known Cuban rumba about a peanut vendor, “El Manisero.”
The Symphony of the Americas programs hark back to an older style of programming — many short works, frequent solo numbers — akin to the concert band lineups that used to be the center of live symphonic entertainment in a pre-electronic America. These concerts showcase good players from several parts of the world, and this year, Brooks-Bruzzese had a very capable string ensemble on hand, one that helped pass a hot summer evening most agreeably.