Prom 8: Impressions of Spain

Manuel de Falla
La vida breve – Interlude and Dance

Édouard Lalo
Symphonie espagnole, Op. 21

Claude Debussy
Images – Ibéria

Maurice Ravel


María Dueñas

BBC Symphony Orchestra
Josep Pons



Reviewed by: Brian Barford

Reviewed: 20 July, 2023
Venue: Royal Albert Hall

The 200th anniversary of Edouard Lalo ‘s birth was celebrated at the Proms last night with a performance of his most famous work. Lalo’s Symphonie Espagnole may have become a comparative rarity in the concert hall in recent years, but it was a regular feature of Proms seasons in the first half of the 20th century with 16 performances alone between 1911 and 1935.  It’s an attractive piece in the right hands and that came across in this performance by the 20-year-old María Dueñas making her Proms debut ably accompanied by Josep Pons and the BBC Symphony Orchestra.  Dueñas’s interpretation here was serious with little exaggeration and an avoidance of excess. She hasn’t got a big tone, but she is fleet and agile with splendid articulation in the more florid passages and held the attention throughout. 

The first movement, a skittish and the playful Scherzando, was impetuous with a sense of fantasy. The third movement Intermezzo had temperament but there was a tendency to rush through faster passages.  Dueñas mined the vein of melancholy in the Andante with a hushed solo entry and the final Rondo was light-hearted if again slightly rushed and wayward – more bite was needed.  Josep Pons seemed visibly disconcerted by the applause between every movement and one could sympathise – it spoilt the continuity of the overall performance.

As a delightful encore – Gabriel Fauré’s song Aprés un rêve – delicately floating above the string accompaniment with a superb dying fall.

The rest of the programme was a tour of an idealised Spain from the imagination of, mostly, French composers, and a programme which attracted a packed house. The sole exception was Manuel de Falla with two brief extracts from his opera La Vida Breva. The Interlude had a furious film-score opening followed by plaintive clarinets and oboes leading to an energetic Dance played with fire and splashy percussion (castanets much in evidence, as they were throughout the evening).

Debussy and Ravel made up the second half. Debussy’s Iberia, extracted from his masterly Images is in three parts and thus a triptych within a triptych, received an oddly subdued performance. The opening strings and horns were beguiling, but the performance then seemed to lose momentum, although there was a fine viola solo. The nocturnal central section of Les perfumes de la nuit had whispy woodwind and sensuous strings providing a sense of seductive languor but the celebratory Le matin d’un jour de fete lacked panache and vigour.

Ravel’s Boléro has often had a life outside of the concert hall (the 1934 film Bolero with George Raft and Carole Lombard was handsomely illustrated in the printed programme) and sometimes on stage with a 2013 Proms performance by Juanjo Mena and the BBC Philharmonic totally overshadowed by the flamenco choreography of the Antonio Marquez Company that is best forgotten. This time Pons and the BBCSO played it straight and gave a performance of sustained concentration with many fine solos over the snare drum ostinato including a husky tenor saxophone (Damon Oliver) and refined flutes (from Daniel Pailthorpe and Tomoka Mukai), that built the crescendo inexorably and led to a ferocious conclusion.

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