A superb taste of Spain

22 April 2023

Peruvian conductor Miguel Harth-Bedoya leads a playful WASO through some Spanish flavours, with Penny Shaw particularly taken by a thrilling interpretation of Rodrigo’s famous Adagio. 

Rodrigo’s Guitar Concerto, West Australian Symphony Orchestra 
Perth Concert Hall, 21 April 2023

Joaquin Rodrigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez, famous for its beautiful melodies, intricate guitar work, and emotional depth, is the most recognisable Spanish classical music of the 20th century. 

On this occasion, it is sandwiched between two other compositions of a similar origin, Joaquin Turina’s Danzas Fantásticas, Op.22 and Silvestre Revuelta’s Mexican film score, La Noche de los Mayas, all under the baton of acclaimed Peruvian conductor Miguel Harth-Bedoya.  

Harth-Bedoya is an animated conductor; unencumbered by stand and score, he conducts the Danzas Fantásticas from memory, his grand gestures encourage a delightful playfulness and colour from the excellent West Australian Symphony Orchestra.  

The three-movement work is inspired by a novel, L’orgia by José Más, each movement referencing a different type of Spanish dance. The first, Exaltación, is a lively and rhythmic portrayal of the jota; fast, syncopated rhythms and bold, colorful orchestration. The second, Ensueño, is a more lyrical and introspective piece marked by rich harmonies, lush melodies, and a sense of dreamy introspection. The third, Orgía, is a frenzied and intense depiction of  flamenco. The music is full of passion and energy, with driving rhythms, percussive accents, and virtuosic solos for various instruments, including Andrew Nicholson’s exceptional flute playing.  

Miguel Harth-Bedoya is an animated conductor, encouraging a delightful playfulness. Photo: Daniel James Grant

After some shuffling of places in the orchestra, it is time for the next of the Joaquins, this time Rodrigo. The soloist is Karin Schaupp, the Queensland-based, award-winning guitarist, replacing  Aleksandr Tsiboulski, who withdrew due to injury. Schaupp appears relaxed and in her element and displays impressive dexterity and lightness of touch.  

The softness of the guitar is at first surprising. However, the ear soon becomes accustomed to its delicate timbre, carrying beautifully in the quieter passages, occasionally overwhelmed in the more lively ones but always a balanced conversation between the orchestra and soloist.  

Unsurprisingly the highlight is the Adagio. So familiar, having been arranged for everything from harmonica to brass band, it is thrilling to hear live. The program notes reference several possibilities of its origin – the emotional response to great art, the mourning of a lost child – but to my ear it does not sound tragic.  

As Rodrigo wrote, “in its melody the perfume of magnolias lingers, the singing of birds and the gushing of fountains”, and it feels more like the nostalgia of a blind Spanish composer, writing from his home in Paris, his idealised memories of Spain and its beauty pouring out of the music.  

Either way, it is a spectacular interpretation, packed with virtuosic playing and charm both from Schaupp and all the featured soloists, particularly Jonathan Ryan’s exquisite cor anglais. 

Liam O’Malley, associate principal trombone, plays the caracol during ‘La Noche de los Mayas’. Photo: Daniel James Grant

The final movement, the Allegro gentile, feels like an anticlimax following the beauty and drama of the Adagio but the pizzicato playing from the strings is delightfully detailed and the audience applause is enthusiastic.  

Schaupp returns for a much deserved encore, Southern Cross Dreaming, a beautiful solo piece written for her by Australian composer Richard Charlton, her tremolo haunting us as we head out for the interval.  

The second half is devoted to Revuelta’s La Noche de los Mayas. Originally composed for film, the concert version should perhaps be titled The Night of the Percussion as all 12 percussionists have a moment to shine. There is so much to take in; bongos, tom-toms, tam-tams and the incessant rattle of the sonajes and guiro.  

The evening veers ever more towards Lord of the Flies as the huge conch shell, or caracol, sounds and music builds to a frenzy. But even the grisly theme of human sacrifice cannot dampen the delight of the players who are clearly enjoying themselves as much as the audience.  

All in all a night not to be missed!  

Rodrigo’s Guitar Concerto is at Perth Concert Hall again tonight. 

Pictured top: Karin Schaupp performs Rodrigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez with WASO. Photo: Daniel James Grant

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Author —
Penny Shaw

Penny is an opera singer/cabaret artist/MC/podcaster/writer/director, in fact a self-confessed 'slashie' with a degree in Human Sciences from Oxford University. As a child she loved the the heady terror of a fast roundabout, as a mother of four children she hates swings.

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