Tuesday, March 16, 2004

Pops swirls to festive Latin beat

Concert review

By John K. Toedtman
Enquirer contributor

The Cincinnati Pops Orchestra and Maestro Erich Kunzel joined forces with Mariachi Cobre at Music Hall Sunday evening and transported the audience to Mexico for two fun-filled hours. Founded by Randy Carrillo in 1972 in Arizona, this Latin ensemble includes six violins, two trumpets, four guitars and some powerful and elastic voices.

The four pieces that began the concert were performed by the Pops alone. "Espana" by Chabrier is a well-known Latin standard and was given a crisp but lush performance. The prominent brass parts were clear, accurate and full of energy. The tune bounced from one group of instruments to another and Kunzel kept it all well under control. "South of the Border" by Jimmy Kennedy and Michael Carr sounds Latin even though it was not composed by a native Mexican. "Copacabana" by Barry Manilow had a sophisticated big band swing sound.

The Mariachi Cobre then joined the Pops for the rest of the first half of the concert with a selection of authentic Mexican music. "Huapangos de Ruben Fuentes" by Fuentes calls for a good deal of falsetto singing. The long high notes required great vocal control, but added lots of pizazz to the music.

"Estrellita" or "little star" is a fetching song composed by Manuel Ponce while he was a homesick student in Paris. The orchestral arrangements for this song and the others on the program were written by Francisco Grijalva, a guitarist in Mariachi Cobre.

After intermission, the hard-driving Latin jazz number "El Cumbanchero" sounded more jazzy than Latin. "Spain," by the modern jazz composer Chick Corea was given a silky-smooth performance by the Pops. Three selections from Herb Alpert's Tijuana Brass included the urbane tune, "It Was A Very Good Year," made famous by Frank Sinatra.

The famed "Mexican Hat Dance" included clapping and foot stamping by orchestra and audience.

"El Pastor by Cuates Castilla" is the sad lament of a shepherd. Sung mostly in a falsetto voice, the vocal sound emulated the flute of the shepherd.

The rousing piece "Granada" by Augustin Lara brought the program to a vigorous conclusion. After a standing ovation, the Mariachi Cobre finally put on those big Mexican hats to play a brief encore. Kunzel and the Pops gave a quality and luster to this very popular music that ignited the stage and captivated the audience.

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