incident light

Musical Bridges/Mei Rui, Octavio Moreno

In San Fernando, thunder and song

October 28, 2013

An oddly bifurcated program, worthily performed, opened the 2013-14 season of the concert series with the very long name.

OK. Take a deep breath. Here it is: The Musical Bridges Around the World Judy and Jefferson Crabb Musical Evenings at San Fernando Cathedral.

The pianist Mei Rui was on her own for the first half, comprising two towering, often thundering works from the 19th century, Franz Liszt’s Sonata in B Minor and Ferruccio Dante Michelangelo Benvenuto Busoni’s (speaking of long names) transcription of the Chaconne from JS Bach’s Partita No. 2 in D Minor for Violin. Then she supported the Mexican baritone Octavio Moreno in songs by the Argentinian composer Carlos Guastavino and the Mexicans Maria Grever and Lorenzo Barcelata.

Last year Ms. Rui was selected to compete in the final round of the San Antonio International Piano Competition, but a family emergency forced her to withdraw.  A native of Shanghai, China, she holds degrees in both music and molecular biochemistry from Yale.

She essayed both the Chaconne and the Liszt Sonata with impressive technical chops, sometimes breathtaking velocity, huge power from the left hand, and an admirable command of color.  There was nothing timid about these performances, and at appropriate times in the Liszt Sonata Ms. Rui’s ferocity could be terrifying.

The only deficit was in structural coherence: Neither work held together quite as it should. Granted, the Liszt is a particular challenge in that regard, because its structure is so complex and in some ways ambiguous, but it sounded more than usually episodic in this performance.

Nonetheless, there was much to like in Ms. Rui’s no-holds-barred musicianship.

Mr. Moreno is a former member of the Houston Grand Opera Studio, where he created the leading role of Laurentino in the mariachi opera “Cruzar la Cara de la Luna” in 2010.
His instrument — honeyed or steely, dramatic or crooning —  adapted easily to his material’s expressive demands. He showed that he knows how to turn a phrase, shade a line and bring a thrill at full voice.

The most rewarding songs came from Guastavino, “the Schubert of the Pampas”  — “Milonga de dos hermanos,” to a poem by Jorge Luis Borges; and “La Tempranera” and “Vidala del secadal,” both to lyrics by León Benarós. In the last of these, Mr. Moreno was especially engaging as a storyteller in song. He closed with Barcelata’s popular “Maria Elena,” appealingly sung.

Mike Greenberg