"Dutoit conducts Falla" Review- a night of romantic and gently comic Spanish music

On Thursday night, May 12, 2016, at Symphony Center, 220 S. Michigan, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, under the baton of conductor Charles Dutoit, presented four pieces and an encore reminiscent of the grandeur as well as the humor of Spain, featuring pianist Javier Perianes and mezzo-soprano Daniela Mack, both making their CSO debuts.  Appearing as guest participants were Demarre McGill, flautist, from the Dallas Symphony, and Mary Lynch, oboist, from the Seattle Symphony. The program will be presented once again on Saturday night, May 14, 2016, and consisted of Maurice Ravel’s “Alborada del gracioso”, both Manuel de Falla’s “Nights in the Gardens of Spain” and his “The Three-Cornered Hat”, and Paul Dukas’ “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice”. Thursday night’s encore, by Perianes, solo, before the intermission, was another Falla composition, “Ritual Fire Dance”, from “El Amor Brujo.

Conductor Charles Dutoit; photo courtesy of Aline Paley

Ravel composed  “Alborada del graciosa” (“Morning Song of the Jester”) between 1904 and 1905 and transcribed it for orchestra in 1918.  When Spanish composer Falla arrived in Paris in 1907, he was introduced upon request to Ravel.  He later wrote, “But how was I to account for the subtly genuine Spanishness of Ravel?”  Ravel learned about Spain in an idealized way through his mother, who had lived in Madrid in her youth. For Ravel, Spanish flavor goes hand in hand with mystery, as in “Bolero”, (1928), or with humor, as in his comic opera  “L’heure espagnole”, (1907-1909).  Alborada, not quite 8 minutes long, has been described as “a big independent scherzo”. Combining subtle humor with frank and vivacious fantasy, it has an almost swooning flow of melodic line.

Mezzo-soprano Daniela Mack; photo courtesy of Simon Pauly

Falla, now considered one of Spain’s most important conductors, composed his most impressionistic piece, “Nights In the Gardens of Spain”, over virtually a decade, finally completing it in 1916. It is considered an atmospheric masterpiece, and Falla himself referred to the lush and sentimental work for piano and orchestra as “symphonic impressions”. The 3 movements together evoke a sense of mystery and even melancholy. In the first movement, “The Generalife”, we are taken to the gardens that surround the summer palace, the Alhambra. One can distinctly hear echoes of the flamenco amid the elegance. The second movement, “Distant Dance”, leads the imagination to a dark and dramatic place. Lastly, the “Sierra de Cordoba” gives us gypsy dancing and singing. Together, the elaborate and famously difficult to play piano music weaves into and out of the lush score. Sometimes it seemed this reviewer couldn’t hear Perianes seperate from  the orchestra; at other times he led the orchestra.

 Falla’s “Ritual Fire Dance”, (1915), part of his ballet “El amor brujo”, (The Bewitched Love) has a duration of about four minutes, and is said to have been influenced by the traditional religious ceremony of that name, during which people would leap over or around fire. It contains numerous repetitive trills and ornaments which this fine pianist’s skills.

Javier Perianes; photo courtesy of Daniel Garcia Bruno

“The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” is a symphonic poem written in 1896-97 by the French composer Paul Dukas, as “part of the larger Romantic genre of programmatic music”, inspired by a comic ballad by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe of the same name, (1797).  It was an instant success for Dukas, but it became much more widely known to audiences because of it’s central appearance in the 1940 animated Disney Film “Fantasia”; Micky Mouse plays the part of the sorcerer’s apprentice. In Disney’s version, one sees an enchanted broomstick, created by the apprentice while the sorcerer is away, springing to life in the first bassoon passage. He chops the broomstick in half, and the two pieces cavort in the second soli bassoon passage. The composition’s musical storytelling is considered remarkably graphic, and the piece is lively, sprightly and very bright.

Charles Dutoit leads the CSO; photo courtesy of Todd Rosenberg

 “The Three Cornered Hat”, is a pantomime ballet by Falla scored for small chamber orchestra in 1917, and rewritten as a two act ballet scored for large orchestra, first performed at The Alhambra  (1919), with sets and costumes by Pablo Picasso. Throughout the ballet, Falla uses traditional Andalusian music, and the two songs sung by the mezzo-soprano are of the type usually accompanying flamenco music telling a sad story. When we first hear the exquisite voice of Daniela Mack, it is in response to numerous cries of “ole!” from the orchestra members, accompanied by the clicking of castinets. This energetic and confident piece, filled with energetic color builds up a good head of steam as it comes to finale.

The Swiss born Dutoit, particularly noted for his interpretations of French and Russian 20th century music, is currently Principal Conductor and Artistic Director of London’s Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. During the expansive, dramatic and lyrically lovely concert, Dutoit seemed much like a sorcerer himself, dipping almost to the floor, reaching above his head, sweeping his left arm in wide and graceful invitation while his right controlled the tempo. He heralded and encouraged sounds of sensual clarity, the musicians responsive to his every nuance.

Daniela Mack; photo courtesy of Simon Pauly


Spanish classical pianist Javier Perianes, a frequent prizewinner at competition, has long since proved himself a master of Falla. He released in 2011 on Harmonia Mundi a disc devoted to Falla’s music for piano, including a live recording of “Nights in The Gardens Of Spain” with the BBC Symphony Orchestra under Josep Pons, which received a Latin Grammy nomination.  Perianes’ playing was marked by technical virtuosity and precision; he captured the magic of the music to and with perfection, but also with inspiration and full-bodied warmth.

 The Argentinian born, internationally experienced operatic performer Daniela Mack performed briefly, yet memorably in “The Three-Cornered Hat”. A finalist in the 2013 BBC Cardiff Singer of the World competition, she has received praise for her “caramel timbre, flickering vibrato, and crisp articulation”. She brought forth the seductive sounds of the famous ballet with aplomb and wit.

Javier Perianes; photo courtesy of Marc Borggreve

This was a concert of fanciful and lovely masterpieces, a collection of sensuality, dreaminess and power, expertly led and beautifully rendered.

For tickets to this and other great CSO performances and attendant concerts and series, go to the CSO website




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