A new season of orchestral concerts in Alicante’s ADDA opened with a blast, rather than a bang. The blast in question came at the end of the opening work, which was appropriately enough Shostakovich’s Festival Overture. The concert cycle is called Festiva and artistic director, Josep Vicent, has assembled an impressive mix across the twenty scheduled concerts. This opener, as with all recent concerts, had to be played twice on consecutive evenings because Covid restrictions limit the hall to half capacity. Even second time through, the program shone and glittered via the superb sound the resident orchestra now generates.
Shostakovich’s Festive Overture is something of a musical joke. It raises naivety to the level of satire in that its vast triumphal fanfares celebrate a musical progression through the indisputably trite. But as ever, Shostakovich convinces us on every one of the multiple levels that the work confronts. The blast, by the way, came at the end when the audience was surprised by the standing participation of ten extra brass players who had been previously and anonymously seated in the boxes on either side of the stage. Three extra trumpets, three trombones and for horns added the extra weight to the coda and the sound was breathtakingly resplendent. It was an experience that reminded this member of the audience of the ENO’s production of Lady MacBeth of Mtsensk in the 1980s when an onstage brass band similarly emphasized the explosive and expletive elements in the operas incandescent score. Then the players were all dressed in bright red military uniform with greatcoats and officers’ hats and all impersonated Joseph Stalin.
Second on the opening concert’s program was the Double Piano Concerto by Philip Glass. The soloists were the Lebeque sisters who have admirably championed this and other contemporary works.
It was an interesting piece with which to follow the Shostakovich, since it transports the audience from a symphonic overture that glorifies the trite and crass in complicated ways, to Philip Glass’s minimalism, whose reputation for simple repetition of arpeggios belies the complex reality of this subtle music. Yes, the chord progression that underpins the work may effectively be a chaconne – is Neo-Baroque a relevant term? – but the constant rhythmic variation renders the material much more than repetitive. There are admittedly no show-off cadenzas for the soloists, no obvious technical gymnastics seeking applause for mere completion, but there is an almost constant jousting between all participants in fights for rhythmic space within the world the composer restricts to a melodic corner. The result is a fascinating interplay between the soloists, between the combined soloists and the orchestra, and even between different sections of the orchestra. The Lebeque sisters offered an encore from the Four Movements by Philip glass and by the end the hypnosis was triumphant in its own quiet, understated way.
The concert’s second half was devoted to one of the greatest masterpieces of the concert repertoire, Prokofiev’s second Romeo and Juliet Suite. This is music about which everything possible has been said, so this review will make out with your personal comments.
No matter how many times I hear the piece, I cannot but marvel at the idea, in Friar Laurence, at the genius that gave a gentle melody to the bassoon and tuba. And why, when we first hear the love theme on the clarinet, is one note lengthened, never to be repeated thereafter? The score has a stress on the note, but it’s still a crotchet. The orchestral playing was magnificent and the reading of the score superb except… Having killed off the lovers at the end of suite number two, the pianissimo ending conveying true tragedy, in this concert performance we concluded with the Death of Tybalt from the first suite. Musically it brought the evening to a brilliant close, but intellectually it made little sense. It’s a minor point
We then had three encores. The blast from Shostakovich was repeated, complete with extra brass from the boxes and then Piazzolla’s Oblivion was just about audible! But beautiful. And finally, we had a rousing Latina American dance, the Danzon of Marquez, just a round off the opening evening. There’s 19 more like this in the season.