United Kingdom Afternoon Fiesta: Clara Mouriz (mezzo-soprano), Eivind Holtsmark Ringstad (viola), BBC National Orchestra of Wales / Carlos Miguel Prieto (conductor). Hoddinott Hall, Cardiff, 28.9.2018. (PCG)
Falla – El amor brujo
Walton – Viola Concerto
Revueltas – Sensemayá
Marquez – Danzon No.2
Moncayo – Huapango
A brisk but sunny autumn day was a propitious omen for this opening concert of the BBC National Orchestra of Wales 2018-19 season in their own Hoddinott Hall in Cardiff Bay. The programme, conducted by the experienced Mexican Carlos Miguel Prieto, concentrated on works with a Spanish or specifically Mexican flavour. It attracted a very full audience to listen to some music which remains relatively unfamiliar.
We began with Falla’s Love the Magician, a score bedevilled with various editions. We heard it here in the final version prepared by the composer for a second staging of his ballet in 1924, some ten years after the original score was premièred. Actually, the performance here did appear to add back some details (featured in the original but later deleted), such as the spoken dialogue during Le cercle magique, but this was welcome even when the delicate voice of Clara Mouriz was occasionally smothered by Falla’s later and heavier orchestration. The vocal parts in the ballet can be problematic – I have heard versions which have reduced the singer to a purely flamenco role, even if it requires a solidly classical voice – but in the broadcast relay the difficulties of balance that were apparent in the hall were triumphantly surmounted. The orchestra responded with enthusiasm to Prieto’s direction and gave us playing of a triumphantly inflammatory Spanish temperament. The Ritual Fire Dance was incendiary indeed.
After the interval we heard three twentieth-century works from Mexico. They may have become more familiar in recent years thanks to the advocacy of Gustavo Dudamel and the Simón Bolívar Orchestra of Venezuela, but they remain rarities in the concert hall. Best-known of the featured composers was Silvestre Revueltas (the orchestra had played the suite from his film score La noche de los Mayas back in November 2015). If Sensemayá did not have the sheer volume of that overwhelmingly noisy score, it still packed plenty of punch especially in the revised 1938 version for large orchestra. The score is intended to depict the ritual killing of a snake, but the repeated gurgling ostinato on the bass clarinet seemed to indicate a positively vindictive malice towards players of that instrument as well; Lenny Sayers, a composer in his own right, ploughed on stoically through his endlessly repeated 7/8 phrase with an intrepidity that was surely beyond the call of duty.
At that same concert in 2015 which featured Revueltas, we had also heard the second of the Danzons by Arturo Marquez, which I had described then as a ‘real party piece’. It was every bit as enjoyable on renewed acquaintance, but if anything it was overshadowed by the Huapango by José Pablo Moncayo. That 1941 score featured infectious dance rhythms which explored in great detail what seemed to be every possible permutation that could be wrung out of a basic 6/8 time signature. In a spoken introduction, the conductor pointed up the similar use made of such contrasts in Bernstein’s ‘America’ from West Side Story, but indeed Moncayo proved even more resourceful with additional syncopation and the addition of duplet rhythms into the mix. It might all sound thoroughly technical and off-putting, were it not carried out with such panache and sparkle. After the end of the official programme, we had an extended encore in the shape of the intermezzo from La boda de Luis Alonso, a Spanish zarzuela by Gerónimo Giménez. It sounded surprisingly adventurous for 1897 but sent the audience out into the autumn sunshine with a real sense of enjoyment. Me too.
In the midst of this festive programme, Walton’s Viola Concerto sounded rather out of its element despite its occasional gestures towards Latin America; as the announcer pointed out, the composer had married an Argentinian wife, but that was some considerable time later! But whatever the reason for this unusual scheduling, this was a performance of real command and stature given by the young Norwegian soloist Eivind Holtsmark Ringstad, who has already recorded the work. Viola concertos are not thick on the ground, since the reticent tone of the instrument is easily overshadowed by an orchestral accompaniment of any weight; and Walton, although he cuts back his woodwind forces to double strength only, still employs a battery of three trombones and strenuous writing which cannot make life easy for the soloist. But there were no such fears here. Ringstad produced a warmth of tone and melodic line which communicated without any artificial assistance from the microphones, and his attack during the ferocious scherzo of the second movement was riveting in its presence before his relaxation into the uneasy lyricism of the finale. He too furnished an encore, in the shape of the second movement of the Fairy-tale Suite by his fellow-Norwegian Bjarne Brustad, with its folk-like echoes of a traditional Hardanger fiddle.
The next two programmes in the BBC season at this venue both feature world premières: Paul Mealor’s Third Symphony on 30 November and Stanford’s Missa Via Victrix of 1918 which will, extraordinarily enough, be receiving its first complete performance on 27 October. And I should not forget to mention that the BBC (whom I have criticised in the past for the programmes they provided for these Hoddinott Hall concerts) are now supplying programmes free of charge to audiences; they include full notes and details of performers complete with Welsh translations. We might, however, have welcomed the words of the songs in the Falla ballet. Looking at the concerts later in the season, I think we should definitely be provided with the text for Berlioz’s L’enfance du Christ and Bach’s Easter Oratorio (possibly a duplicated handout)? Nonetheless, a welcome development for which the BBC are to be both thanked and congratulated.
Paul Corfield Godfrey
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