Guitar concertos aren't performed (or indeed written) very often, not least because of the ferocious difficulty of achieving any sort of reasonable balance between a full symphony orchestra and a single rather soft stringed instrument which can't generate a sustained note. Two of the best in the repertoire are Villa-Lobos's Concerto and Rodrigo's Concierto de Aranjuez, so it was a nice treat to be asked down to Bournemouth Pavilion to see the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra performing them under the baton of Matthew Wood with Mexican guitarist Morgan Szymanski - both young artists with rising careers.

The programme was billed as "A Taste of Spain", somewhat dubiously in that only two of the five pieces were actually Spanish, the others being Brazilian and French. The evening opened with Bizet's Carmen Suite no. 2, whose plethora of memorable tunes always makes for a good curtain-raiser. The BSO's playing was meticulous, with every note in place and some particularly nice sound from the flutes, although I couldn't help feeling that it was just a touch restrained: more of the Spanish army camp and less of that no-holds-barred gypsy flamboyance.

Next, though, the orchestra hit its stride with de Falla's Three Cornered Hat Suite. Where the Bizet is ersatz-Spanish, this is the real thing: a sequence of exuberant flamenco dances exploding in rhythm. The BSO launched themselves into the suite, delivering a true sense of joyous fiesta in the square of a small Spanish town. Unlike Bizet, de Falla doesn't produce memorable tunes, but the festival atmosphere was relayed wonderfully.

And so on to the Concierto de Aranjuez: two cheerful and pleasant outer movements (the third is actually marked "Allegro Gentile") flanking a central Adagio of great beauty and melancholy, laden with nostalgia for a bygone and more romantic era. As in the Falla, the BSO had obviously been taking their Spanish lessons, because their rendering was impeccable. The beginning of the slow movement is really a double concerto for guitar and cor anglais, whose dark mournful solo sets the scene for the musical reminiscences that are to follow. The piece may be "something of an old warhorse", but it was beautifully played. All this said, I didn't feel that Szymanski sounded particularly comfortable. Some of his phrasing was a little over-elaborate, as if he wasn't happy with the music as written and was desperate to add to it, and I didn't find his timing quite confident in Rodrigo's many long runs of notes which lead into orchestral tutti.

On the other hand, Szymanski was an altogether different proposition in the Villa-Lobos, where he appeared completely in control of the music and revelling in it. The Villa-Lobos isn't Spanish at all - far more Brazilian rain forest than Spanish town square - but Villa-Lobos was a real guitarist's composer, who found unique sound patterns in the instrument that just "fall under the fingers" of the player. And there is no shortage of melodies, atomosphere and harmonic progressions to engage the listener. There were a few instances of orchestral raggedness in the first movement, but both soloist and orchestra excelled in the slow second.

The concert closed with Ravel's Bolero - another well-trodden (and well-skated) number, although it's a good reminder of Ravel's genius for orchestration, and when you hear the piece in full, it's a wonderful exploration of different orchestral textures applied to a relatively simple tune. Again, the orchestra played impeccably, although it's a little difficult to find anything fresh and new in such familiarly charted territory. Mind you, I did detect just a slight touch of syncopation as the piece neared its climax - a bit of Broadway swing that would probably have appalled Ravel but was obviously a lot of fun for the audience!

Inevitably, there are compromises involved in a venue like Bournemouth Pavilion which is a theatre rather than a purpose-built concert hall, but there was no compromise at all in the music produced by the BSO, who provided a good reminder to us Londoners that they're an orchestra who can match the best that the capital can provide.

David Karlin 23rd November 2008