What is it about the music of Spain? Something about its spirit and sensuality seems to wheedle its way into listeners' senses, taking us along for a sensory musical ride.
The Manitoba Chamber Orchestra, under the direction of guest conductor Jesús Amigo presented an entire program of Spanish music Wednesday night. Indeed, the aptly named Amigo acted as our friendly tour guide to various colourful areas of his home country.
We began in the populous Andalusia, with Rodrigo's Dos Miniaturas Aandaluzas. Amigo, with sometimes only the raise of an eyebrow, urged rich sweeping phrases from the orchestra, making this passionate and compelling. The brisker and rhythmic Danza portion lacked tidiness in the violin section.
Does concertmaster Karl Stobbe have some Spanish blood? His substantial solo in Turina's Serenata couldn't have been more sensitively played, capturing the flavour of the music with a sparkling, pure tone. Lovely dynamic swells within the orchestra washed over the audience like gentle waves.
Spanish-Canadian composer Jose Evangelista was represented by his Cantares, based on 16 traditional Spanish songs. Quebec mezzo-soprano Julie Boulianne made these her own, with her rich weighty voice and an underlying flame of energy that commands attention. Dressed in a flaming red skin tight low-backed dress, she needed only the red rose in her teeth to complete the picture.
The songs brought many moods to the stage, with the musicians sometimes producing a drone-like quality, reminiscent of period instruments. For the most part, the orchestra played along the same basic melody as Boulianne, with unison perfectly tuned -- no easy feat. With well-balanced vibrato, Boulianne finely honed each note, until freeing her voice in the final song, letting it burst into a joyful and assertive ode.
Albeniz's Cadiz from his Suite Espa±ola was really a song for orchestra. The execution of the familiar melody should have been more crisp and sharp. Instead, loose ends and stray notes marred the desired effect. The low strings provided a solid base, but their colleagues struggled.
Boulianne returned for Manuel de Falla's El Amor Brujo, complete with a sizzling reading of the popular Fire Dance in which the French horns got just a little carried away. Boulianne's mid-register notes were occasionally obscured by the orchestra, but her rhythmic emphasis and true Spanish flair made for a solid performance.
From Spain to the Plain
Manitoba Chamber Orchestra
Westminster United Church
April 25 Attendance: 610
3 1/2 out to five stars