Images pour orchestre – I: Gigues
Images pour orchestre – III: Rondes de printemps
Miroirs – Alborado del gracioso [orch. composer]
Nights in the Gardens of Spain
Images pour orchestre – II: Ibéria
Steven Osborne (piano)
Reviewed by: Colin Anderson
Reviewed: 22 July, 2011
Venue: Royal Albert Hall, London
This was a sound-bite concert at times, Debussy’s Images pour orchestre unhelpfully split asunder. Much better to have started with Alborada del gracioso, then played the Falla, and ended the first half with Ravel’s Spanish Rhapsody. The Debussy could have then followed the interval as an intégrale and also in the order that he intended.
This dog’s-paella of a Prom (not that Debussy’s Images is entirely Spain-centric) introduced to London the new chap at the BBC Philharmonic. Juanjo Mena is in a designate position until September when he replaces Gianandrea Noseda as Chief Conductor. Mena (born 1965) hails from the Basque Country and seems to already have an amiable and productive relationship with the orchestra. Their ‘recording career’ began a few months ago with an impressive disc of Pierné’s music for Chandos.
‘Gigues’ made an unsatisfactory start to the evening, the orchestra still settling (a state of concentration that some in the audience never achieved at all), the result, while subtle and poised, and with edge and volatility, was just a little amorphous. We had started in England, as Debussy’s quotation from “The Keel Row” makes clear. We now moved to Spain itself for Ravel, ironically occupying the position where Debussy’s second Images tableaux should have been. Mena conjured a wide dynamic range, sometimes bordering on inaudibility, and perfectly judged as such. Rhythms had idiomatic lilt and there was unforced exuberance when required, tuttis a bit noisy and generalised. Following on, Debussy’s picturing of ‘Springtime in Paris’ fluctuated teasingly but wasn’t the last word in clarity.
Alborada del gracioso, from Ravel’s cycle for piano, Miroirs, and orchestrated by him with typical brilliance and mastery, enjoyed a quicksilver response from the BBC Philharmonic, with very-together and bouncy pizzicatos, a finely characterised bassoon solo and a confidently articulate turning of the near-impossible trumpet figuration. The ‘piano concerto’ that is Falla’s Nights in the Gardens of Spain is only intermittently inspired as music but nevertheless enjoyed a crisp and fragrant account in which Steven Osborne and Mena formed a close rapport in music easy to over-paint and over-indulge, here happily avoided in a sympathetic account in which sepulchral shadows danced and moonlight bathed a nocturnal processional. Finally, ‘Ibéria’, unforced, flexible, languorous, Jennifer Galloway’s oboe solos full of flavour, with the mysterious transition to the bright festive day that is the closing section made hypnotic.