Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Horacio Franco, a mainstay of contemporary Baroque performance practice in Mexico, energized a hometown crowd in Mexico City

For a couple of Festival Music Society  seasons, Indianapolis fans of early music got to hear a group
Looking uncharacteristically grim, Horacio Franco is in fact full of graciousness and smiles on the concert stage.
from Mexico City whose young recorder player, Horacio Franco, wowed the city's three music critics of the time as well as the audience. For the Indianapolis Star, I mentioned Franco's "well-supported, impassioned performance."

Last weekend, Franco was treated to an ecstatic reception by a full house at the Mexican capital's Palacio de Bellas Artes for his 40th-anniversary concert. The four decades mark his professional career, which started in his early teens. In July 1990, he was a young man in a group called Trio Renacimiento Hotteterre (named for  a prominent 18th-century flutist-composer), which was on the schedule of a couple of Indianapolis Early Music Festivals.

The program I heard April 14 with my son, William, his good friend Areli Monter, and my wife, Susan Raccoli, was focused exclusively on Vivaldi flute concertos. The 18th-century Italian composer wrote for both the transverse flute (the instrument whose modern descendant is the flute that everyone knows) and the end-blown flute known as the recorder. Naturally, Franco shows the suitability of the recorder for all the concertos.

He was accompanied by the adept Capella Barroca de Mexico, an ensemble of four violins, viola, cello, contrabass and harpsichord/organ.  His playing is still well-supported, as I said 28 years ago, with breath control that complements his digital dexterity. This was evident particularly in the first movement of the Concerto in A minor, RV 445, where he played the high-treble (sopranino) recorder he generally favored in this concert.

He was both tasteful and flamboyant in his ornamentation and cadenzas. That was demonstrated extensively in the Concerto in D major, RV 428, with its evocation of the melodious goldfinch that gives the work its title, Il Gardellino. In the slow movement, he effectively opted to reduce the accompaniment to Victor Flores on the double-bass line; the harpsichord can seem a frill in this kind of Largo, especially when the outer movements are so richly decorated.

Harpsichordist Daniel Ortega switched to a small organ to make the tone-painting more vivid in another titled concerto, La Notte (The Night — in G minor, RV 439). This nocturnal mood was also served by Franco's sensuous, lonely tone on the alto recorder. The passionate nature of Franco's playing was never in abeyance, and slow movements permitted him to give it full expression. When the mood struck him he could display great flexibility of tempo, as he did in Il sonno ("The Dream") the third of the concerto's Largo movements.

With fingers moving at a dizzying pace to articulate the music's rapid passagework, Franco rarely seemed to be all about how well he could display his virtuosity. It was constantly evident, by both head and body movements, he clearly was at pains to stay in close contact with his colleagues and deliver as convincing an ensemble experience with them as he could.

The audience was unmistakably there for Horacio Franco, however, yelling his name and even singing to him at one point. The recurring applause, shouts and whistles raised the rafters of the splendid Bellas Artes. If the term "rock star" didn't connote negative behavior, like trashing hotel rooms and overindulgence in controlled substances, it would be most apt in its current extended usage to identify the position Franco holds in the early-music world and in the hearts of his music-loving countrymen.