Manchester’s Hallé gave an enjoyable performance of works which closely examined centuries of innovations around the concept of dance, with a focus on the development of rhythmical creativities developed over time. Mexican conductor Carlos Miguel Prieto brought with him a touch of Latin sound to the occasion which gave the orchestra a distinctive, different sound from usual.

Carlos Miguel Prieto
© Benjamin Ealovega

The evening commenced with a rousing account of Falla’s 1914 ballet El amor brujo (Love, the Magician) which opened with an imposing Introduction and Scene sounding reminiscent of a bullfighter making his entrance into the arena. Short trumpet stabs led to a growing unease in the strings and tension began to build steadily. At the work’s first performance in Madrid back in 1915, the audience complained that the music not Spanish enough, but to non-Andalusian ears, the modal harmonies and jaunty dotted rhythms on show sounded like pure flamenco.

A tempestuous delivery of the Song of suffering love was fittingly fiery, where Falla attempted to illustrate the pain of our protagonist being caught between memories of her dead lover and her new attraction to Carmelo. Later, the Dance of terror sinister muted trumpets and tarantella-like rhythms featured extensively. Such was the crescendo with which this section met its conclusion that premature applause was met with a swift rebuke from the bemused conductor who, turning to the audience exclaimed “there’s more!”

A recall of the work’s opening motifs preceded the Pantomime which offered a sultry dance of seduction – a Cadiz tango. The Dance of the game of love confirmed the defeat of the dead lover; celebration followed, with bells ringing out. The finale brought this vibrant work to a brief but affirmative climax guided along by a happy song sung by the cellos. Prieto’s clear love for this work shone through and it felt like a particularly authentic performance.

The Halle’s principal clarinettist Sergio Castelló López then delivered an effortless and rather languorous performance of Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto in A major. Although the young Spaniard is yet at an early stage in his career, he has a very bright future. Despite the concerto's passagework being amongst some of the must challenging in the repertoire, nothing seemed to present too big a challenge for him. 

Dvorak wrote that “Mozart is sunshine” and how right he was. This being the great composer’s last completed instrumental work (in 1791) it’s very hard to believe that he was so close to death upon its’ completion. The sublime second movement Adagio is known for its utterly gorgeous, lyrical melodic lines and this account was expertly given, the clarinet tone warm throughout and the dynamics always landing in just the right range.

The third movement continued to showcase the soloist’s remarkable dexterity through sequences of question and answer interplay with the orchestra, effortlessly played. Mozart had a mischievous personality as is evidenced by his surviving letters, but he never failed in his ability to seamlessly blend the profound with the light-hearted.

Beethoven’s masterful Seventh Symphony (also in A major) continued the theme of rhythmical creativity. Wagner called this symphony the “apotheosis of dance”. Opening with a pronounced tutti chord, a particularly brisk pace was chosen – perhaps slightly too hasty – but close attention was paid to accents and the playful, developing motion of the music wasn’t neglected. When they joined, the horns were fruity and forceful, although errors started to creep in across the orchestra throughout the remainder of the work.

Galloping along, growing in urgency and whirling his arms back and forth, Prieto demanded more from his musicians. Slightly untidily but nevertheless assuredly, the first movement closed out and we found ourselves in the solemn, plodding funereal march of the slow movement. This was truly raw, whilst remaining stately and proud. Reducing to barely a whisper halfway through, this was a very good account. A lively spark propelled the rapid scherzo – the music snappy and carrying real bite to it. In the offbeat finale, the horns asserted themselves with vigour, while Prieto drove the movement forward without hesitation toward a hugely enjoyable A major climax.

Whilst this wasn’t quite a flawless performance, good intentions were firmly on show and a slight lack of polish was entirely forgivable.