Last Thursday’s concert with the Oslo Philharmonic featured four pieces with little or no connection to each other, other than three of the pieces being either written by Spanish-speaking composers or actually being about Spain. Yet, apart from one piece, it all came together into a rather coherent whole.
The concert began with Jacques Ibert’s Bacchanale. “Bacchanale” refers to a celebration of the Roman god Bacchus, or a scene of general drunken revelry. Ibert’s Bacchanale was a commission from the BBC, to mark the tenth anniversary of the Third Programme in 1956. The piece is upbeat with prominent parts for both percussion and brass. And it was the brass that shone the brightest during this piece, suitably loud and playing with a wonderful, big, just slightly decadent sound. The strings sounded strangely distant at times, especially in the beginning, but things got better as the piece progressed. The all-important rhythmic drive that so pervades this piece was most definitely in place, and the Oslo Philharmonic and conductor Enrique Mazzola delivered a fine performance, even though the strings had a tendency to disappear, even when they were playing on their own.
The piece that followed, Luciano Berio’s 1975 Ritirata notturna di Madrid, was actually an arrangement and reorchestration of a piece written by Luigi Boccherini around 1780. Boccherini wrote a string quintet describing the night life of the bustling streets of Madrid, Musica notturna delle strade di Madrid, Op. 30 no. 6, and it was a movement of this piece that Berio arranged for full orchestra. The end result proved somewhat tame, and I found myself waiting for something to actually happen, other than the music being repeated several times over.
Piazzolla’s Concerto for Bandoneón and Orchestra might be one of his lesser known works, at least when compared to his justly famous tangos, but it is nevertheless a wonderful piece. The bandoneón is a relative of the concertina, a type of accordion. It was invented in 1846 in Germany by Heinrich Band, and soon became a popular instrument all over Germany. The bandoneón was also brought to Argentina by German sailors and it soon found a place in the local music, perhaps most importantly the tango ensembles that were growing in popularity.
The concerto is scored for solo bandoneón, string orchestra, piano, harp and percussion, and at times it might remind one of a Baroque concerto. The two faster outer movements have tutti passages where the bandoneón plays along with the orchestra, but also less densely orchestrated passages where the bandoneón is allowed to shine as a solo instrument. The slow middle movement is lyrical and opens with solo bandoneón, slowly incorporating more solo instruments until finally the whole orchestra joins in.
Tonight’s soloist, Per Arne Glorvigen, is a Norwegian bandoneónist, who has done much for the increasing popularity of Piazzolla’s music, especially in Scandinavia. His playing is virtuosic, but he also showed himself ever the chamber musician in the second movement, playing along with only the harp and a solo violin and cello. Even though his playing in the outer movements was nothing but spectacular, it was still the sensitivity and interaction with the orchestra players in the second movement that impressed me the most. After the concerto had finished, Glorvigen played a tango by the Argentinian composer Eduardo Arolas called El Marne, named after the Marne river in France.
The last piece on the programme was Manuel de Falla’s ballet The Three-Cornered Hat. It was commissioned by Sergei Diaghilev for his Ballets Russes and was premièred in 1919. The ballet is decidedly Spanish in flavour, with traditional Spanish dances such as the fandango and seguidilla, and characteristically Spanish elements like castanets and the clapping of hands. While much of the music itself is very interesting, I found it made little sense as a whole without dancers. Still, the performance of the whole ballet as opposed to just a suite was rather good and there was a lot of very good playing, especially from the winds. The sound of the orchestra left much to be desired in terms of colouration at times, but that is mainly due to the Oslo Concert House’s poor acoustics. Performing the whole ballet also meant the inclusion of a singer, performing two short songs. The singer of the evening was Spanish mezzo-soprano Silvia Tro Santafé, and her creamy, dark mezzo suited the music perfectly.
Thursday’s concert was a very well played one that unfortunately was marred by poor acoustics, but quickly regained whatever it lost through some marvellous playing, coming especially from the soloists and winds.