Vancouver Symphony

Nights of Spanish Passion

Date 3 - 4 February 2006, 20.00 Venue Orpheum Theatre Reviewer Ed Farolan


Maestro Valdés

The new trend for orchestras to try to rope in an audience with catchy titles like "Najda!" or "Midori!" or "Nights of Spanish Passion" can have its pitfalls. This evening was not nearly as passionate as I expected.

In fact, the only "passionate" piece played was Achúcarro´s rendition of Falla´s "Fire Dance." But even this was not enough to convey the full-blooded smoulder that is the Spanish and Latin temperament in full stride. A Basque isn't passionate enough to play the passionate rhythms of an Andalusian composer. Besides, whether it was the acoustics or the mike not picking up on the piano -- it just wasn't there.

Argentinian conductor Valdés had to get Argentina into the picture. He chose an unknown Argentinian composer, Alberto Ginastera, to start the performance. But why would he choose an unknown piece called Variaciones concertantes, Op. 23? It was nothing else but a mish-mash of experimental variations of different themes in scherzo style, in pastoral and canonic variations, and all kinds of variations, but there was no passion. It might have been better if he did variations of the tango, and that for sure would get this almost boring and passionless night going.

The choice of getting French composers Ravel and Debussy in a Spanish night was something I can´t seem to agree with. In fact, Debussy was in Spain only once in his life, and he was there to watch a bullfight. So how could he feel the passion of Spanish music in a bullring?

In the case of Ravel, his lesser known pieces were performed. Why wasn´t his best known piece Bolero in the program? Now that´s a passionate piece. When I listen to Bolero, I fantasize Bo Derek in the movie Ten.

Perhaps I expected too much, or perhaps it´s because when you convert Spanish passion to symphonic pieces, they lose the passion that is alive in the flamenco or the hot-blooded Andalusian gypsy music. Even the titles chosen for this concert were passionless. Falla's Nights in the Gardens of Spain was a serene rendition of calm and peace in the Gardens of the Mountains of Córdoba, the last piece of the Falla selection. One of Debussy´s images of Iberia was entitled Fragrances of the Night, invoking harmony instead of the restlessness of the Spanish spirit.

I noticed people leaving right away after the last piece was played; in fact, some left during the intermission. It was an audience that either liked the concert wholeheartedly, as there were a few who gave a standing ovation to pianist Achúcarro who was so enthralled that he decided to do the Fire Dance encore, or others, like myself, who were fidgeting to get out as soon as possible.

2006 Ed Farolan