ARTS / In the blood Heart and soil: Tess Knighton on new voices at the Spanish Arts Festival

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As the strikingly wide-ranging Spanish Arts Festival draws to a close, I only regret I was not able to go to many more of its events. While some aspects of the programming were predictable enough, there has been much to give a fuller, and not always familiar, picture of Spanish culture.

On the musical side, two series in particular have brought to our attention some new, or as yet little-known, Spanish performers and composers. On Friday the final concert in the 'Espanola' series of young Spanish artists at the Wigmore Hall was a recital of Spanish song by the soprano Maria Bayo, while on Sunday the last of the four 'Musica de nuestro tiempo' concerts at the Almeida featured premieres by Francisco Guerrero and Luis de Pablo.

Bayo, a rising star among Spanish performers who has already attracted attention here in Covent Garden's recent production of Massenet's Cherubin, seems destined to follow in the footsteps of Teresa Berganza. Indeed, she already shares many of that great artist's qualities, not the least being her ability to hold an audience in rapt attention by distilling the essence of each song and creating an immediate and almost tangible sense of atmosphere. This was especially true in the brief, but perfectly delineated, songs of Obradors, each a small gem made to glow or glitter as required by the translucent quality of Bayo's voice and her highly polished interpretations. Her pianist, Juan Antonio Alvarez Parejo, played with equal insight and passion.

If Bayo's programme of Obradors, Falla, Granados and Canteloube was essentially light, verging on the frothy, the Arditti Quartet faced a dauntingly different prospect. They ended their programme with Schoenberg's Second String Quartet (soprano: Sarah Leonard), which they gave a very assured performance, even if they seemed somewhat weary after a first half of pieces by Roberto Gerhard, Guerrero and De Pablo, none of which could be described in any way as specifically or overtly Spanish. Gerhard's Second Quartet is as cerebral a piece as any he wrote, an essay in serialism made distinctive by his colourful string-writing.

If Gerhard could not have written this without having had Schoenberg as his teacher, his work in turn seems to have influenced De Pablo's Caligrafia Serena, not so much in terms of serial technique as in the way a motivic cell is taken up within a texture, explored and then discarded. Indeed, the stringing together of a succession of such cells was more reminiscent in structure of a keyboard ricercar by Cabezon, so perhaps there is an underlying Spanish inheritance after all. This was a densely written and complex piece, but not as emotionally disturbing as Guerrero's IV Zayin (the fourth of seven pieces dedicated to the Arditti Quartet). Probably one needs to hear it in context; on its own, it had a relentless, searing quality in its persistent use of harmonics for siren-like or buzzing effects.

Sponsors: Alfred Dunhill (Espanola); Visiting Arts (Musica de nuestro tiempo)