Picard and RSNO Offer a Splendid Valentine’s Night Out for Scottish Lovers

United KingdomUnited Kingdom De Falla. Chabrier, Rodrigo, Bizet, Williams, Morricone, Barry, Ginastera: Romantic Valentine’s Concert: Xavier de Maistre (harp), Royal Scottish National Orchestra, Jean-Claude Picard (conductor), Usher Hall, Edinburgh, 13.02.2015 (SRT)

De Falla:  El sombrero de tres picos, Suite No.2
Chabrier: Habañera
Rodrigo: Concierto de Aranjuez
Bizet: Prélude to Act I, Intermezzo and Danse Bohème from Carmen
Williams: Love Theme from Superman
Morricone: Gabriel’s Oboe from The Mission
Morricone: Cinema Paradiso (arr. Langley)
Barry: Theme from Out of Africa
Ginastera: Four Dances from Estancia

The Valentine’s Concert is now a regular feature of the RSNO’s season.  I wasn’t at all taken with last year’s, but this year’s was much more successful.  For a start, it was more sensibly organised into two manageable themes – Hispanic music and film themes – and it worked pretty well.  The orchestra seemed to enjoy getting their teeth into the rhythms of The Three-Cornered Hat, and Jean-Claude Picard steered the transitions between the tempi very successfully, frequently needing to go from frantic to swagger and back again.

 Similar punchy energy was required for a storming performance of the dances from Estancia, with energetic cross-rhythms cutting against one another, excitingly backed by very thick orchestration and racy percussion; a very good choice to end with.  Next to these, Chabrier’s lilting Habanera was sedate relief, a gentle breeze as opposed to a Latin American storm.

 The film music got the expansive treatment and the orchestration glittered attractively.  The curiosity, however, was Xavier de Maistre playing the Concierto de Aranjuez on a harp.  It’s interesting to hear once, but I wasn’t convinced by it as an alternative.  For one thing, the notes from a harp linger longer than those from a guitar, so that there was often a penumbra of sound around the line that made it sound cloudy at times.  There was also the simple matter of sound and context: a concert harp has nothing like the Spanish lilt of a guitar; the gently strummed introduction to the slow movement, before the cor anglais entered with the main theme, sound as though it was about to lead into Greensleeves.  Furthermore, the constraints of the concerto didn’t give de Maistre any serious opportunities to show what he could really do: his encore provided that in spades, all flourishes, glissandi and harmonics, and I enjoyed its five minutes more than the rest of the concerto.

Simon Thompson

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