As a lesson in the flavor and the energy of classical Puerto Rican music, the program that the duo piano team of Jose Ramos Santana and Jose Caceres brought to the National Gallery’s West Garden Court on Sunday was vivid. Details may have been swallowed up and textures muddied by the hall’s marble space, but rhythms and harmonies spoke in all their colorful insistence.
The composers were the giants of the Puerto Rican musical canon: Juan Morel Campos, whose “Four Puerto Rican Dances” owed as much to the language of Stephen Foster and his contemporaries as it did to the iconic danza; Jack Delano and his friend Hector Campos-Parsi, whose ballet suites melded folk, Iberian and French influences; and Narciso Figueroa, whose suite of children’s songs superimposed Latin rhythms on simple melodic fragments.
It’s not surprising that, in the context of so much loud and pounding rhythmic activity, the moments that stood out were the quieter and more reflective ones — Campos’s “Noche Deliciosa” with its lingering harmonic movement that oozed longing, “Nana” in Figueroa’s 14-song set, delicate and full of muted colors, and the “Mazurca” in Campos-Parsi’s Suite, which morphed from Chopin-like textures to a full-blown celebratory Puerto Rican dance.
Pianists Santana and Caceres, ideally matched and reveling in the music’s technical challenges, were not thrown off near the end of the concert by a five-minute pause in the action while they hunted for a misplaced page or two of the score. They finished the program with momentum and topped it off with another danza as an encore.
Reinthaler is a freelance writer.