Manuel de Falla’s El amor brujo (Love, the Magician) was certainly the real deal in this concert, performed in its original chamber ensemble version with a genuine flamenco singer.
Here, it was the remarkable María Toledo, whose characteristically throaty voice-production and dramatically charged articulation provided such a refreshing change from what we usually hear.
And the direction of Josep Pons, a conductor whose tidy beat encourages rather than dictates what goes on in the ranks, enabled a much reduced CBSO to relish the score’s transparency and its opportunities for individual display, notably in the Pantomime (lovely cello solo from Richard Jenkinson) and Will-o’-the-Wisp numbers.
Falla’s Noches en los Jardines de España (Nights in the Gardens of Spain) was not so rewarding.
Although technically demanding for the piano soloist – and Javier Perianes was glitteringly up to the task – it is not a concerto in form or scale.
With the instrument placed centrally in front of the conductor there were often textural imbalances where solo figurations obscured, rather than decorated, important orchestral material. A concertante position within the orchestra would have been much better.
Framing these signature works was Ravel’s wonderful Spanish homage, Rapsodie espagnole, and his infamous Boléro.
The former was certainly the winner for this listener, beautifully structured by Pons and played throughout with gorgeous sensitivity. Inevitably, though, it was Boléro that won the audience vote.