This en pointe concert featured music by Prokofiev and two of Spain’s most famous composers. Manuel de Falla wrote little but nearly all of it remains well known, but almost everything composed by Rodrigo, apart from the Concierto de Aranjuez, is now forgotten. Perhaps de Falla’s most famous work is his ballet The Three Cornered Hat first performed in 1919. Written for the Ballets Russes, with choreography by Léonide Massine and sets by Picasso, it was also one of Diaghilev’s greatest collaborations. The short second suite takes in the rousing finale as well as the earthy “Miller’s Dance” and is full of the sharp rhythmic contours and crystal clear orchestration that are the hallmarks of the composer. The London Pphilharmonic Orchestra, under the baton of Spaniard Jaime Martin, captured the zesty brilliance of the score and only in the “Danza final” did he seem to be pushing a little too hard and too fast, so that final climactic passage didn’t quite have the impact it should.

Xuefei Yang © Neil Muir
Xuefei Yang
© Neil Muir
Joaquin Rodrigo, whose Fantasia para un gentilhombre was next up, was a composer of limited scope but, as demonstrated in this piece, the possessor of a delicate sensibility and a wonderful ear for piquancy. The four movements of this guitar concerto in all but name, have a balletic quality in keeping with the rest of programme, based as they on dance themes by the 17th century composer Gasper Sanz. Played with increasing fluency, after a slightly tentative opening five minutes, by Chinese guitarist Xuefei Yang, only in the second slow dance “Españoleta y fanfarria de la caballería de Nápoles” did she fully come into her own. The fabulous melody here rivals that in the slow of the ubiquitous Concierto de Aranjuez. Pert and accurate playing from the LPO woodwind made this an enjoyable outing for a worthwhile piece.

The final offering, excerpts from Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet, took the music-making to a different level. Without rival in the 20th century as a full length ballet, it was composed at breakneck speed over a period of three months in a summer retreat found for him by the Bolshoi Theatre, who then refused to perform it. The result is a work of such unalloyed inspiration and unity, that it is the composer’s most important stage work by a long chalk and perhaps one of the greatest achievements by an artist in the early Soviet Union. The strength of the work, apart from its musical embarrassment of riches, is its uncanny ability to conjure up the full range of emotions and characters from the Shakespeare. The particular mood of delicate tragedy is brought to life in a way that is rarely achieved in adaptions of the The Bard's work.

In this performance Jaime Martin worked hard to bring out the passion and power in the music. He and the LPO were particularly successful in the first love duet between Romeo and Juliet, where the lushness of the LPO strings held sway, but also in the contrasting dramatic music for the Death of Tybalt, where the full weight of the brass and percussion created an impressive wall of sound, with a heart breaking edge of desperation. The moving final scene, Juliet’s Death, was strangely lacking in passion and faded away passively in the final bars. A convincing, unflashy performance with an eye to the dance stage and to Shakespeare.