The Legendary Pepe Romero with the VSO

Conductor: Roberto Minczuk Featured Performer: Pepe Romero

Date 4 February 2007, 8pm Venue The Orpheum Theatre

Reviewer John Jane

Pepe Romero loves to visit Vancouver and it’s clear that Vancouver concert-goers love Pepe Romero. Last time he played this gig in May, 2005 patrons had to encounter scalpers outside the Orpheum asking well above face value for the few available tickets. This time, despite competition from the Super Bowl and the farewell tour of Jesus Christ Superstar playing round the corner, the virtuoso classical guitarist still managed to sell-out the Orpheum.

Everyone was there to hear Joaquin Rodrigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez, perhaps the most famous concerto ever written for guitar and orchestra. Rodrigo wrote it in 1939, when he was living in Aranjuez, a Spanish summer resort. The celebrated second movement has been re-scored by everybody from Miles Davis to television commercial arrangers.

Rodrigo wrote the melody at a tragic time in his life. Living with his wife, Victoria in Paris in the 30's, they discovered that she was pregnant, but when she miscarried, Rodrigo became deeply saddened. He exorcized his grief by creating the melody on the piano.

The work opened with the solo guitar and dancing strings introducing the basic motif of the first movement. The third movement was light and airy, with a constantly changing rhythmic pattern. The tone of the second movement was dramatically distinct from the other movements, beginning with a haunting oboe solo impeccably played by Beth Orson, introducing the melody.

Concierto de Aranjuez is arguably one of the best loved of all concertos. The combination of Pepe Romero's mesmerizing yet subtle playing, together with his instinctive grasp of the Spanish idiom ensured that this performance would become among the most memorable seen on the Orpheum stage this season.

After the intermission, Romero returned to the stage without the orchestra for the recital component of the programme. Starting with the Isaac Albeniz flamenco themed, Rumores de la Caleta, the Spanish musician followed with Francisco Tarrega’s gentle, flowing, Capricho árabe and one of his personal favourites, Fantasia Cubana, composed by his father and mentor, Celedonio. At the conclusion of his performance, the audience responded with a well deserved standing ovation, pressing the guitarist for an encore.

The VSO rounded out the program with Emmanuel Chabrier’s lively España at the beginning of the evening and Georges Bizet’s corybantic Carmen Suite at the end. The dazzling orchestral color of España is always a surefire hit with concert-goers, and the French romantic composer captures the authentic Spanish flavor as well as any other to date.

The VSO under the baton of Sao Paulo native, Roberto Minczuk, the newly appointed music director of the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra offered a zestful interpretation of the Carmen Suite pulsed with pageantry and cataclysmic intimations. The orchestra conjured dramatic images of the bullfight fable with the Chanson du Toreador movement. The suite concluded with the energetic gypsy dance beginning softly and ending in a crash of well-balanced percussion.

With classical concert patrons clamouring to pay good dollars to hear marquee musicians, how long will it be before Vancouver gets a top class concert hall or opera house?

© 2006 John Jane