BBC Symphony Orchestra/Pons [Estancia … Aconcagua … Nights in the Gardens of Spain … The Three-Cornered Hat]

Ginastera
Estancia – Dances
Piazzolla
Aconcagua – concerto for bandoneón
Falla
Nights in the Gardens of Spain
The Three-Cornered Hat – Suite No.2

Pablo Mainetti (bandoneón)

Javier Perianes (piano)

BBC Symphony Orchestra
Josep Pons


Reviewed by: John-Pierre Joyce

Reviewed: 14 January, 2011
Venue: Barbican Hall, London

The BBC Symphony Orchestra headed south for a journey through the music of Argentina and Spain. The visit was bright and sunny, but somehow lacking in warmth.

Josep Pons. Photograph: Michael EriskatPlacing Astor Piazzolla’s bandoneón concerto, Aconcagua, at the end of the first half was not a great programming choice, simply because it was so good. It would have made a much better finale, with its stirring rhythms and rich orchestration. Fellow-Argentinean Pablo Mainetti proved an expert ambassador for the work. At times cradling over the instrument or tapping his feet and bobbing his head to the sway of tango melodies, his technique proved faultless. He was ably supported by the BBC Symphony Orchestra under Josep Pons. Shorn of all wind instruments, the orchestra asserted itself in the ripieno passages of this Concerto Grosso-like work, and weaved in and out of the bandoneón’s solo lines with lightness and ease.

The concert’s opening was not so impressive, for Alberto Ginastera’s Estancia is distinctly second-rate. Taken from his 1941 ballet for the American Ballet Caravan, the suite of dances is a touristy postcard image of the Argentinean plains. Even under Pons’s assured direction, the orchestra seemed unsure of what to make of it. The malambo dance-rhythms of the first movement (‘The Farm Labourers’) sounded angular and hesitant, while the brass- and percussion-playing in ‘The Cattlemen of the Hacienda’ was nothing to write home about.

There was something inauthentic, too, about Manuel de Falla’s works. Nights in the Gardens of Spain and The Three-Cornered Hat were played well enough – with particularly fine strings – but the overall approach was one of cool intellectual interpretation rather than emotional vibrancy. Much of Javier Perianes’s playing was swamped by the orchestra, although the gentle ‘Distant Dance’ of the second movement momentarily caught the fragrance of the scented garden. The ballet suite was enjoyable enough, but lacked daring. The pace only picked up during ‘Final Dance’, with its leaping jota motif. Here, the orchestra summoned up the excitement and passion that had been largely missing during the rest of the concert.

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