After a long season of events that go to the depths of pretty much everything, from Cold Mountain to Mahler's Symphony No. 8, Philadelphia classical concertgoers had sounds for sore ears from Dolce Suono Ensemble, which on Tuesday ended its season with Música en tus Manos (Music in Your Hands)/The Americas Project, a buoyant celebration of the Americas, most notably music of Brazil and Peru. It was the closest thing to summer amid what has been a chilly, rainy week.
Founder/director Mimi Stillman said her ensemble had never gone this far into popular music, with transcriptions of songs by George Gershwin as well as lesser-known South American songwriters such as Carlos Guastavino and David Haro. Though groups like hers sometimes practice outreach to spread classical music to the unconverted, this was more like "inreach" to the core community, which can benefit from fresh discoveries in its own backyard.
As curated in part by percussionist Gabriel Globus-Hoenich, unlikely collaborators included guitarist/vocalist Pablo Reyes, who projected the music's poetic content with such an attractive lack of classical veneer that no English translation was needed.
I could have done without Claude Bolling's breezy Suite for Flute and Jazz Trio, which critics hated and record buyers adored in the 1970s. It now seems inauthentic, with the composer assuming various poses, including moments of quasi-baroque cuteness. Only in the last movement does Bolling find a true voice. But if Bolling had to be there, at least Andrea Clearfield balanced the program with her substantial new Sagitta for flute and guitar, with its reckless flurries of notes (the sort that flute and guitar so easily create) and periods of lush lyricism. The flute-writing was full of extended techniques - though nothing radical - that Stillman used to give the music all manner of exotic colors. An enigmatic leitmotif of quiet, low repeated notes periodically arrested the piece and caused you to take stock of what had come before, and to prepare for the new avenues of music to come. Although inspired by a little-known constellation, the music felt more like a rain forest.
Oddly, the Gershwin songs didn't play well alongside the South American counterparts. Gershwin's appeal lies so much in the lyrics. Charles Abramovic found much expression in the pianistic harmonies, but Stillman's ultrasmooth readings of the vocal lines had a cooling effect on the songs. Besides, the South American songs were less formal, more mercurial, especially with Reyes' vocals and Stillman playing what sounded like a more ethnically apt piccolo. Never did those performances sound like the work of outsiders. So much of this music simply invites you to enjoy life. But that enjoyment starts with the musicians, who were in the right zone.