Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

September 4, 2012

Albeniz & Falla

Boston Symphony Orchestra
Tanglewood, Lenox, MA

August 25, 2012
by Michael J. Moran

The next-to-last concert of the 2012 Tanglewood season presented two rarities in an all-Spanish program led by popular annual guest conductor and peerless interpreter of this repertoire, Rafael Fruhbeck de Burgos.

The performances opened with the Tanglewood premiere of five movements from Albeniz’s “Suite Espanola” in Fruhbeck’s own orchestrations of these pieces originally written in the 1880s and 1890s for solo piano. The 25-minute work sparkled with glittering percussion, including maracas, in the opening “Castilla,” “Sevilla,” and the closing “Aragon” and luxuriated in lush strings and soulful woodwinds in “Granada” and “Asturias.” The performance was relaxed and genial, with conductor and orchestra clearly enjoying each other's company.

After intermission, the Tanglewood Festival Chorus and soloists joined in for a gorgeous account of Falla’s 1904-1905 “lyric drama in two acts and four tableaux,” “La Vida Breve,” (“Life Is Short”). In Act I, the young gypsy Salud and her wealthy lover Paco affirm their love near a forge in the gypsy district of Granada; in Act II, she and her uncle crash Paco’s wedding in another part of the city to a bride of his own class with tragic consequences. The moral of the story can be summed up in these words from Salud’s first aria: “life for the poor who suffer is bound to be short.”  

The cast of mostly Spanish soloists was consistently fine, but mezzo-soprano Nancy Fabiola Herrera as Salud was a standout for her radiant singing and dramatic gestures that underscored the wide emotional range of her character. While the women had the meatier parts, tenor Gustavo Pena was outstanding as “A Voice in the Forge,” whose periodic short arias reinforced the opera’s grim message. The Spanish flavor of the production was enhanced by a folk singer and a guitarist at the wedding and especially by flamenco dancer Nuria Pomares Rojas, who stopped the show after both of her dances.

Despite a number of empty seats in the Koussevitzky Music Shed on an aptly sultry evening, the audience response to this adventurous musical fare was enthusiastic, with a prolonged standing ovation at the end.