London-based Venezuelan pianist Clara Rodriguez and friends brought the heady and exotic rhythms and sounds of South America to a windy Southbank in a delightfully relaxed concert of chamber music at the Purcell Room.
Clara opened the concert with a passionate and dramatic performance of Heitor Villa-Lobos’ ‘Impressoes seresteira’ (Impressions of a serenade musician), the second movement of his Ciclo Brasileiro , and a piece which suggests a “latin Rachmaninov” with its sweeping climaxes and soulful melodies. Afterwards, the friends, all fellow Venezuelans, joined Clara on the stage - flautist Efrain Oscher, guitarist Christobal Soto, bass player Gabriel Leon, and percussionist Wilmer Sifontes – and Clara explained that the pieces to be performed would take us on a musical journey “from Cuba to Argentina”. With evocative titles such as ‘A fuego lento’, ‘Mananita pueblerina’, ‘O voo mosca’ (“the flying fly”), and ‘Romance de Barrio’, and emcompassing genres such as Samba, Tango and Merengue, the music was by turns lively and foot-tapping, lilting and dancing, plaintive and haunting, humorous and witty, earthy and energetic. As the musicians, clearly good friends and music partners, settled into the performance, there was a wonderful sense of a shared experience: this was music for friends, performed by friends, amongst friends. The audience responded with enthusiasm, cheering and whistling, clapping loudly after each piece.
From the tragic Argentinian samba ‘Alfonsina y el mar’ (Ariel Ramirez), a tribute to Alfonsina Stormi, who committed suicide in 1938 by jumping into the Mar del Plata, through a spirited ‘Joropo’ (a Venezuelan folk waltz) by Moises Moleiro, ‘Caramba’, a tender and emotional “protest song” by a jilted lover, to Piazzola’s iconic piano tango ‘Adios Nonino’, written as a tribute to his dead grandfather, and a rousing and entertaining closing number ‘Capullito de Aleli’, by Puerto Rican Rafael Hernandez, the music, beautifully and expressively played, vividly brought to life the colours, sights and sounds of South America. At times, we could easily have been enjoying a chilled mint tea in a café in Havana in the 1930s, taking in the potent and emotionally charged atmosphere of a Buenos Aires tango bar, or enjoying a lazy Caipirinha overlooking the beach at Rio. Infectious syncopated rhythms from the percussion, the haunting strains of the flute, the flamenco-like strum of the guitar or mandolin, an elegant and vibrant piano, which, despite being a full-size concert Steinway, never dominated, this was music to savour - smoky and sensual, excitable, racy, heartfelt, hypnotic, buoyant and vibrant. For a few hours, at least, it was as if we were all on holiday together.