Spanish Nights in Australia

Carmen Suite
Nights in the Gardens of Spain
The Miraculous Madarin, Op.19 – Suite

Josep Colom (piano)

West Australian Symphony Orchestra
Vladimir Verbitsky

Reviewed by: William Yeoman

Reviewed: 23 June, 2007
Venue: Perth Concert Hall, Western Australia

The West Australian Symphony Orchestra’s Conductor Laureate Vladimir Verbitsky this year celebrates a 20-year association with the orchestra (he first came to Australia in 1986, touring with the USSR State Symphony Orchestra). Judging from this concert, the bond is still a strong one, with the orchestra going that extra mile to deliver an electrifying performance of the Suite from Bartók’s The Miraculous Mandarin.

Before that we heard another ballet score, Rodion Shchedrin’s Carmen Suite (Carmen Ballet) for strings and percussion, based on music from Bizet’s opera and Manuel de Falla’s luxuriant, Impressionist ‘piano concerto’, Noches en los jardines de España, the soloist being the Spaniard Josep Colom.

Shchedrin composed Karmen-syuita for his dancer-wife Mayya Plisetskaya (in the title role) and Cuban choreographer Alberto Alonso; it received its first performance at the Bolshoi Theatre in 1967. The work is guaranteed to keep the five percussionists required very busy; not that the strings were let off, Verbitsky drawing maximum sonority while ensuring they participated fully in Shchedrin’s cheeky humour.

The second half of the concert brought in winds and brass for Falla’s saturated colours. Verbitsky was ever-mindful of the balance between orchestra and soloist (although the piano part is anyway fully integrated into the orchestral score); the matching of dynamics and colours was also finely judged. Colom was both elegant of touch and idiomatic of phrase, seamlessly integrating the French transparency of the keyboard writing with the Spanish melodiousness. Despite the best efforts of both soloists and conductor, however, there were times where the piano was swamped by some over-enthusiastic orchestral playing.

The suite from Bartók’s A csodálatos mandarin was, however, perfection itself, and anybody familiar with the plot of the ballet (which in this instance would have included anybody with a programme booklet) could not have failed to follow the drama as it unfolded. Verbitsky achieved here a sonority at once both rich and clearly-defined; tempos seemed spot-on and the final climax, when it arrived, made you realise just how much energy had deliberately been allowed to accumulate unspent.

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