Jaime Martín and the LSO’s Dazzling Falla

22/10/2018

Falla, Lalo and Stravinsky: Christian Tetzlaff (violin), London Symphony Orchestra / Jaime Martín (conductor), Barbican Hall, London, 21.10.2018. (AS)

FallaEl sombrero de tres picos – Part 1, Scenes and Dances; Part 2, Three Dances

LaloSymphonie espanole, Op.21

StravinskyL’oiseau de feu – Suite (1945)

Though it attracted a pretty full house (and that will have been a primary concern for the LSO, of course), this was not an ideally planned programme. It would have been better to have the complete Falla ballet as the second-half work, with the Lalo preceded by another Spanish-flavoured work to begin the concert. Instead we had the familiar – perhaps over-familiar – Stravinsky suite to end proceedings, though this was at least the extended 1945 version.

It would be wrong to suggest that only those with Iberian blood can conduct Falla satisfactorily, but it certainly does help. Those who are familiar with the 1950s recordings by the Portuguese conductor Pedro de Freitas Branco and particularly those by Ataúlfo Argenta will know how they brought a specific kind of rhythmic flexibility and subtle accents to the music that you seldom hear from ‘foreign’ conductors.

It was at once clear last night that Jaime Martín carries the knowledge of these specifically Spanish characteristics in his blood. With his superb, precise conducting technique, and an electric response from the LSO at its virtuosic best, this was a memorable performance. Every tiny inflection of detail made its vital presence felt. The flair and colour he brought to the score was magical: to take just one example, the slinky way in which he shaped the beginning of ‘The Miller’s Dance’ from Part 2 of the ballet was rich in personality and evocative power. And his performance was very ‘Spanish’ in the way that he brought out the deliberately brash, even coarse nature of Falla’s scoring. El sombrero de tres picos is not a refined piece as some conductors try to make it, as if it were Debussy or Ravel in Spanish mode. It is there to make an impact on the listener, and on this occasion it most certainly did. Only one thing was wrong, as I have suggested – we didn’t get the complete work.

Christian Tetzlaff is nothing if not a highly athletic, energetic performer, and Lalo’s essay suited him very well. With Martín and the LSO in vigorous support his sense of rhythm was superb, he spun eloquent melodic lines and his phrasing was warm-hearted and generous, even quite justifiably soulful at some points. This is not a deadly serious work, and his and Martín’s joyous, uplifting performance hit just the right note.

Alas, the second half was something of an anti-climax. For some reason Martín dispensed with his baton, and though he conducted very well, and obtained a predictably expert response from the LSO, his beat was not as electric or communicative as in had been earlier in the evening and a sense of magic was missing. Perhaps Stravinsky’s reduced orchestration itself seemed wanting for those of us who had experienced the complete ballet in its original scoring played by the LSO under Simon Rattle in this same hall not much more than a year previously. There was a big difference in the experience, and it would have been better to give Martín a different work for this, his debut in London with the LSO.

Alan Sanders

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