As an attempt to present a trendy image, the Orquesta Nacional de España (founded in 1940) gave the name “Viajes lejanos” (“Faraway journeys”) to its concert season for 2013/14. Taking this into account, one would suppose that the programs of the concerts would focus on travels, adventures, geographical references, aesthetic discoveries, far regions, and so on. This concert’s journey from France to Bohemia and back to France did not seem to be the most adventurous one. On top of that, it is a bit difficult to find novelty in the over-exploited formula of overture-concerto-symphony that characterizes the vast majority of symphonic concerts since the mid 19th century. Nevertheless, there was sincere interest in listening to these works under the baton of guest conductor Miguel Harth-Bedoya, as well as in appreciating the interpretation of Dvořák’s Violin Concerto by the German violinist Veronika Eberle. Apart from that, the Symphonic Hall of the Auditorio Nacional has an impressive organ built by Gerbard Grenzing in 1990, and it seemed this was good occasion to listen to it.

The concert opened with Berlioz’s Roman Carnival overture. Miguel Harth-Bedoya, Music Director of Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra, conducted from memory and showed from the very beginning his expansive, but never excessive, style. This overture, which premièred in 1844, includes some materials from Berlioz’s opera Benvenuto Cellini and shows some of the “fireworks” that characterize the music of the French composer. The orchestra did its best during the most brilliant passages, in which the brass demonstrated its quality. At some point, it seemed that there were some disagreements between the string and the wind, but they were rapidly solved by Harth-Bedoya, and the tremendous finale facilitated the audience’s enthusiastic applause.

After Berlioz’s pyrotechnics, the recital moved to Central Europe with Dvořák’s Violin Concerto. This creation, premièred in Prague in 1883, follows the Beethovenian tradition while introducing some of the innovations of Brahms. Veronika Eberle starred in a fine performance, in which the perfection of her tuning and the warmth of her sound have to be highlighted. But, in spite of this perfection, it lacked some of the passion that such a piece requires. Furthermore, during the second movement (which is connected to the first one), one had the feeling that the orchestra was always half a second after the soloist, as if walking through the mist, behind her. Things went better in the last movement, the most energetic one, and characteristic of Slavic rhythms, when it showed all the power of both the soloist and the orchestra.

After a well-deserved pause, the second part of the concert returned to France, and was entirely devoted to Saint-Saëns’ Symphony no. 3, “Organ Symphony” – in fact, the subtitle of the concert was “The organ, a great symphonic instrument”. This is a monumental though bizarre work which includes not only an organ, but also a piano. Although it is theoretically articulated in two movements, it has, in fact, four parts. Furthermore, the organ plays only in the second half of the two movements, and its role is not that of a soloist instrument – it is used as a means to create sonic atmospheres. This function was perfectly understood by Daniel Oyarzábal – also a multifaceted character, whose performances cover a wide range of styles, ranging from jazz to flamenco, and who never claimed the role of the protagonist.

As a whole, the symphony has a very complex architecture, and was perfectly understood and expressed by Harth-Bedoya who, yet again, conducted from memory. It can be said that the multifaceted personality of this Peruvian conductor has some points in common with Saint-Saëns – who, apart from being a composer, was a writer, caricaturist, entomologist, occultist, astronomer... The highlights in this execution were the drive of the second movement, the balance of the sound, and the precision of the motifs in the counterpoints. Unfortunately, there were some lapses of attention that tarnished a brilliant performance – for example, the first figure on the piano was a tad late, while the strings did not attack correctly the chorale in the “Maestoso” of the second movement, thus breaking some of its magic. Nonetheless, it was quite a formidable performance of this huge and spectacular symphony, which concluded an interesting and heterogeneous concert.