Spain Meets Hollywood in BBC Philharmonic Concert

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Knussen, Korngold, Turina, Falla: Renaud Capuçon (violin), Clara Mouriz (mezzo-soprano), BBC Philharmonic Orchestra/Juanjo Mena (conductor), Bridgewater Hall, Manchester, 26.1.2013 (MC)

Knussen: Flourish with Fireworks
Korngold: Violin Concerto
Turina: Poema en forma de canciones
Falla: The Three-Cornered Hat (complete ballet)


Renaud Capuçon:photo credit Mat Hennek

The complete score to Béla Bartók’s ballet The Wooden Prince rather than the concert suite was originally programmed but permission to perform it could not be obtained from the Bartók Estate. However, I couldn’t imagine too many audience members leaving the Bridgewater disappointed after hearing Juanjo Mena conducting the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra in spectacular performances of the replacement scores by Joaquín Turina and Manuel de Falla.

Both Turina’s brief score for voice and orchestra Poema en forma de canciones and the complete ballet score to Falla’s The Three-Cornered Hat have been recently recorded by the Manchester based orchestra and their mastery of the music showed. Thoroughly at home in this Spanish repertoire Maestro Mena ensured that the dazzling performance saturated with sweltering Iberian heat and sunbaked colours was an antidote to the wintry weather that has been battering the British Isles for the last few days. The uplifting score with its vigorously sprung rhythms, castanets, clapping and olés from the orchestra, was permeated with the flavour of Andalusian flamenco. With Juanjo Mena displaying some nifty footwork on the podium there was even a spontaneous olé from an audience member and a ringtone from an errant mobile phone was audible to the keen ear. In both scores Spanish born mezzo-soprano Clara Mouriz was an ideal choice as soloist; vibrant, committed and displaying fine diction with significant amplitude. Also having plenty of opportunity to shine was the woodwind section – and shine they did with standout cor anglais player Gillian Callow once again displaying her remarkable tone.

Opening the proceedings was Oliver Knussen’s Flourish with Fireworks, a fine work scored for large orchestra with squally waves of sound evoking breakers crashing onto rocks. It’s extremely short at four minutes’ duration. In truth, I wanted something more substantial and I reflected on the large number of early twentieth century British symphonic poems that would have provided more meat on the bone.

As a prolific composer of film scores for the Golden Age of Hollywood, Korngold is often unfairly maligned by music purists for selling out to commercialism. Yet Korngold’s Violin Concerto, even if it does recycle its fair share of music from his film scores, typically goes down a storm with audiences and the Bridgewater crowd was no exception. I first heard the French violinist Capuçon play the Mendelssohn concerto play in Munich in 2011, and I know the Korngold concerto has been in his repertoire for some years; he released a recording of it in 2009. Listening to Korngold’s lushly Romantic score with its delicious melting melodies Capuçon’s performance, overwhelming in its passionate lyricism, was worth the ticket price alone. Such elegant and direct playing from the assured violinist made the brooding opening movement look all too easy, and I loved the way he revealed an undercurrent of melancholy to the haunting melodies of the Romance.A tour de force of rapid fire display contrasted with lashings of lyricism the Finale concluded with an excitable gallop to the finish line. Throughout Korngold’s concerto it wouldn’t have been difficult to imagine Hollywood stars of the silver screen Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland peeping through the stage door.

After tonight’s concert and with stunning recent performances of Mahler 5 and Bruckner 9 still vivid in the memory the appointment of Juanjo Mena as chief conductor of the BBC Philharmonic was certainly an inspired choice.

Michael Cookson