Mexican maestro’s musicianship marks an evening of rhythmical virtuosity with a lively dash of Hispanic colour

The combined forces of Mexico’s most prominent conductor Carlos Miguel Prieto and the leading Spanish clarinettist Sergio Castelló López lent a slightly new sound to the Halle.

The evening commenced with a rousing account of Falla’s 1914 ballet El Amor Brujo (spellbound love) which opened with an imposing Introduction & Scene carrying sounded reminiscent of a bullfighter making his entrance into the arena. Short parps on the trumpet led to a growing unease in the strings and tension began to build steadily. At the work’s first performance in Madrid back in 1915, somewhat surprisingly the audience complained that the music not “Spanish enough,” but to non-Andalusian ears, the modal harmonies and jaunty dotted rhythms on show sounded like pure flamenco.

A tempestuous delivery of the Song of Pain and Love was fittingly fiery, where Falla attempted to illustrate the pain of our protagonist being caught between memories of her dead lover and her new attraction to Carmelo. Later, the Dance of Terror brought sinister muted trumpets and tarantella-like rhythms featuring extensively. Such was the crescendo with which this section met its conclusion, premature applause was met with a swift rebuke from the bemused conductor who, turning to the audience exclaimed “there’s more!”

A recall of the work’s opening motifs preceded the opening of The Pantomime which offers a sultry dance of seduction – a Cadiz tango. The Dance of the Game of Love confirms the defeat of the dead lover; celebration follows, with morning bells ringing out. The Finale brings this vibrant work to a brief but affirmative climax guided along by a happy song sung by the cellos.

Prieto’s clear love of this work shined through and it felt like a particularly authentic performance.

The Halle’s principal clarinettist then joined the stage and delivered an effortless and rather languorous performance of Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto in A major. Still early on his career, this young man has a very bright future. Despite the passagework being amongst some of the must challenging in the repertoire, nothing seemed to present too big a challenge for him; his stance being somewhat atypical and more akin to an informal country musician or busker, you got the feeling that he had plenty more in the proverbial tank if needed.

Dvorak wrote that “Mozart is sunshine” and how right he was. This being the great composer’s last completed instrumental work (in 1791) it’s very hard to believe that he was so close to death upon its’ completion.

The sublime 2nd movement is rightly known for its utterly gorgeous, lyrical melodic lines and this account was expertly given – the clarinet tone warm was unfailingly warm throughout and dynamics always landed in just the right range.

The 3rd movement continued to showcase the soloist’s remarkable dexterity through sequences of question & answer interplay with the orchestra, always effortlessly played. Mozart had a mischievous personality as is evidenced by various surviving items of correspondence, but he never failed in his ability to seamlessly blend the profound with the light hearted.

Beethoven’s masterful 7th Symphony (also in A major) continued the theme of rhythmical creativity (Wagner called this Symphony the “apotheosis of dance.” Opening with a pronounced tutti chord, a particularly brisk pace was chosen (maybe slightly too hasty?) but close attention was paid to accents and the playful, developing motion of the music wasn’t neglected. The horns when they joined were fruity and forceful, although disappointingly errors increasingly started to creep in across the orchestra throughout the remainder of the work.

Galloping along, growing in urgency and whirling his arms back and forth, the conductor impelled more from his musicians. Slightly untidily but nevertheless assuredly, the first movement closed out and we found ourselves in the solemn, plodding funereal march of the slow movement.

This was truly raw and bare sounding whilst remaining stately and proud. Reducing to barely a whisper halfway through, this was a very good account of the 2nd movement. A lively spark propelled the rapid scherzo of the 3rd movement – the music was snappy and carried a real bite to it; the entire auditorium seemed to be jerking their hands and feet along with Beethoven’s insistent rhythms.

The offbeat, drone like final movement brought us toward the business end of the concert and again, the horns players made themselves heard, asserting themselves with vigour over and above their orchestral counterparts. A determined inner motor drove the movement forward without hesitation toward a hugely enjoyable A major climax.

Whilst this wasn’t quite a flawless performance, good intentions were firmly on show and a slight lack of polish was entirely forgivable.