The first symphonic event of the 70th edition of the Granada Festival featured local ensemble, the Orquesta Ciudad de Granada, under the baton of Paul McCreesh in a programme bearing the title “La magia de la noche”. The title was well suited for a performance taking place under the open Andalusian skies, starting at 22:30 and finishing around midnight! If one was anticipating the concert to include the obvious choice of Manuel de Falla’s Nights in the Gardens of Spain, the festival proposed instead two programmatic works – Schoenberg’s Transfigured Night and Mendelssohn’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream – rarely paired together. Nevertheless, the juxtaposition of two Romantic masterpieces inspired by literary works with dreamlike connotations, made a lot of sense.

Paul McCreesh
© Festival de Granada | Fermín Rodríguez

If Mendelssohn’s Dream was conceived to accompany Shakespeare's play, there have been attempts (Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker’s choreographic work is a great example) to stage Transfigured Night as well. Thursday night’s performance, taking place in the circular courtyard of Charles V's Palace in the Alhambra, was more a son et lumière show. The team of José Sánchez-Montes and Tama placed a vertical disc sector behind the orchestra and screens in the inter-columnar spaces of the circular corridor that Pedro Machuca, Charles’ architect, placed high above the ground. Video projections included the text of Richard Dehmel’s poem that inspired Schoenberg, prosaic images of leaves, woods or a pair walking barefoot in the surf on a beach (the latter having nothing to do with the poem). At the same time, animated images unwinding on the high-placed screens, depicting a man and a woman dressed in white – two silhouettes under the moon’s shimmering light – had a poetic quality evocative of Marcel Marceau. These moving images were also closely related to the story: initially distanced – the man dispassionately, then nervously listening to the woman’s confession – the two characters are finally reunited, floating towards each other like in a Chagall-like dream.

Paul McCreesh conducts the Orquesta Ciudad de Granada in the Alhambra
© Festival de Granada | Fermín Rodríguez

Heard in its string orchestra version, Verklärte Nacht sounded gorgeous in these outstanding surroundings, with the ensemble succeeding in capturing the grace of the original sextet. McCreesh and his players brought out the sense of terse passion and mystery ingrained in this music, floating itself between Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde and Symbolism, between melodious harmonies and subtle dissonances. The shift to D major, when pardon and love bring true light to a bleak night, was beautifully portrayed, without any overstated intensity.

The second part of the programme was less successful, despite great contributions by bright sopranos Nuria Rial and Maria José Moreno who joined the Granadian orchestra and chorus in the Song and the Finale, two of the eight segments that McCreesh selected from Mendelssohn’s Midsummer Night's Dream. Adding brass to the mix unfortunately disturbed the excellent acoustic balance that had been achieved before the interval, even if the horns’ legato in the Nocturne was impressive. This was a colourful and vigorous performance, if lacking some gossamer grace. The Dance of Clowns and the Overture were arguably the most successful. In a performance where music was at the forefront, the “incidental” narrative moments were illustrated (using the same devices employed in the first half) via black-and-white, silent movie fragments that brought out little of Shakespeare's irony.