The review below appeared in the Albuquerque Journal of May 4, 2003.
Passion and intelligence were the keynotes Friday night as the New Mexico Symphony Orchestra continued its Berlioz Festival in Popejoy Hall with selections from his contemporaries and excerpts from his opera, ``Les Troyens.''
In writing the opera, Hector Berlioz noted that one must strive to do the most fiery things coolly. His comment could serve as a critique of this evening in which strong emotions were realized with calm command.
It was the union of conductor Guillermo Figueroa and his elder sister, guest pianist Ivonne Figueroa, that lit up the first half of the program.
The ease of their partnership reflected their long musical connection, as duo partners since childhood and members of an extended family of musical aristocrats.
The two works selected, both effusive outpourings of the Romantic period, offered a prime showcase for Ivonne Figueroa's talents. Robert Schumann's Piano concerto in a minor is, in effect, a passionate tribute to his wife Clara, a great keyboard artist of the time. Franz Liszt's Rhapsodie espagnole presents a devilish series of challenges conceived by the man who defined piano virtuosity in the 19th century.
Her dark hair pulled up, wearing a glittery, strapless green gown that left her arms free, Figueroa came purposefully onstage, ready for business. For almost an hour, as soloist in the two pieces, she held the audience transfixed with the clarity and power of her playing.
The first movement of the Schumann glowed as she tenderly captured the composer's intimate outpourings of love to his wife. Phrases were shaped with elegance and finesse, echoed by Figueroa and the orchestra, including expressive solos from oboist Kevin Vigneau. Display passages were handled with ease, her strong fingerwork in the first movement cadenza and the decisive flair of the final movement particularly notable.
With only the break that repeated calls from the standing, cheering audience allowed her, she then went to work on the Liszt. Her command of this brilliant showpiece remained calm and precise.
Marching easily up and down the piano in octaves that grew ever thicker, delivering intricate passages in the higher range with shimmering lightness, she combined an athletic vigor with a winning musical intelligence.
After intermission the focus shifted to Berlioz's opera Les Troyens, the crowning effort of his life. Not performed complete until a century after his death, the unique brilliance of his concept is now recognized, as testified most recently by a Met production. The NMSO chorus joined the orchestra for some of the opera's choruses and ballet music. Guillermo Figueroa's affinity for this music was evident in the fine dramatic pacing and narrative clarity of his conducting. The chorus, well-prepared by their director Roger Melone, plunged in with precise diction and well-shaped passages, though their emotional response could have been freer. Clarinetist Michael Stordahl's expressive solos made the Andromaque scene one of the most moving. The choral chant of praise to Queen Dido and the Royal Hunt and Storm scene, brass going in full glory, had impressive power, as did the Ceremony of the Dead, steadily paced by timpani and basses.