MUSIC / Espana - QEH, South Bank Centre / Radio 3

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The Independent Culture
No mere guidebook tour of Spanish music, Tuesday's BBC concert, Espana, avoided any suggestion of national colour until Part 3, pursuing its theme - courtesy of the Columbus quincentenary - via the late Roberto Gerhard, the living Manuel Hidalgo, and a selection of 13th-century Cantigas de Santa Maria, where the nearest thing to flamenco was a pair of medieval castanets.

Jeremy Avis was the soloist in these songs to the Virgin, all cast in an idiom, which, to modern ears, mixed the timeless aura of Indian music with piquant North African sounds. Relaxed and flirtatious, Avis seemed as fluent in their Galician dialect as the other members of the Dufay Collective, singing and accompanying with harp, hurdy-gurdy and related instruments of minstrelsy.

Hidalgo's Alegras, premiered by pianist Andrew West and the Matrix Ensemble under Robert Ziegler, proceeded in accordance with its title, 'Daydreams', presenting a collage of brief, ear-tickling impressions, while leaving the audience to imagine an appropriate syntax for themselves. By contrast, Gerhard's Leo was all syntax and structure, sonic beauty taking a minor role until the final, captivating paragraph.

Falla's El retablo de maese Pedro restored the balance after such wilful denial. Matthew Best was a splendidly severe Don Quixote, treble Sam Pay a virtuoso boy narrator.

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