“Viva España!” might have been the theme to last night’s concert. It was fitting for this celebration of music inspired by Spain that La costa de Irlanda basked under typical Iberian sunny skies. The programme featured equal numbers of French and Spanish composers, not too surprisingly given the fascination and brilliance of the French in expounding the Spanish melodies and rhythms (one has only to think of Bizet’s Carmen).  

Leticia Moreno © Omar Ayyashi
Leticia Moreno
© Omar Ayyashi

Works from the Spaniards Joaquin Turina and Manuel de Falla opened and closed the concert while Lalo’s Symphonie espagnole in D minor and Ravel’s Rapsodie espagnole were the pieces either side of the interval. Soloist Leticia Moreno and conductor Josep Pons are Spanish and it was clear that both brought their native passion and enthusiasm to this evening’s programme to great effect.

A lithe and energetic conductor, Pons brought out the seductive, Spanish charm of Turina’s Danzas fantásticas. The shimmering high notes on the violins contrasted well with the menacing basses of the first dance “Exaltación” while the NSO responded with alacrity to Pons’ sharp crescendos and lush lyricism. The shy vernal lilt of the dream-like dance “Ensueño” offered a suitable poignant sound world which was immediately interrupted by the final “Orgía”, a lively dance with strident brass and a catchy drum-beat. Pons successfully ratchetted up the tension, bringing the work to a breathless conclusion.

Lalo’s Symphonie espagnole is a misnomer. It’s not a symphony at all but rather a violin concerto though admittedly one in five movements. From its stratospherically high opening for the violin, Moreno soared with ease, producing a soft pearly sound from her instrument. As the NSO responded with their lively martellato theme, Moreno coaxed a dark, husky lyricism high on the G string. Equally impressive were the virtuosic fireworks; these were not tossed off, but showcased as serious gems that sparkled and gleamed under her prodigious technique.

Moreno imbued the second movement melody with balletic charm as its melody wafted above the pizzicato ostinato. Both NSO and soloist captured the syncopated rhythms of the intermezzo while there was a breathy innocence to the melody Moreno spun in the gentler fourth movement. Subdued to start with, the intensity soon grew as did her passionate vibrato. The bright, cheerful rustic nature of the country dance lead to a thrilling conclusion of this “Spanish Symphony”.

Ravel was intrigued by the music of Spain in part due to his mother’s Basque heritage and composed many works inspired by Spain. The Rapsodie espagnole is in four movements and is an orchestrated form of the piano piece. The hushed strings of the opening “Prélude à la nuit” were immediately evocative of cicadas during continental nights while Pons brought the sharp, delineated rhythms to great effect in the second lively movement, Malagueña, the delicate flourishes disappearing into the ether. It was in the chattering of the Feria with its cheeky muted trumpets, sweeping harp arpeggios and exuberant tutti that conductor and orchestra were at their most dramatic. At one stage, Pons, his arms aloft, looked like a matador going in for the kill.

Manuel de Falla’s Suite no. 2 is music from his ballet El sombrero de tres picos commissioned by Diaghilev in 1915. Briefly, the story concerns a lascivious magistrate who lusts after a miller’s wife and has the husband arrested in order to pursue her. Once again, Pons was in his native element, coaxing the seductive sway of the seguidilla dance or highlighting swaggering, swashbuckling note of the Farruca dance. Loud crashes on the cymbals, rowdy offbeat drums all added to the excitement of the final dance which had us on the edge of our seats. It represented a thoroughly wonderful conclusion to an exciting Iberian-inspired concert.