REVIEW / Hidden depths: Anthony Payne on Falla

The picture of self-denial that emerges from a study of Manuel de Falla's life seems at first to sit uncomfortably with the sensuousness that characterises his most popular work. Thursday's South Bank tribute to the composer, given as part of the current Spanish Arts Festival, helped to reconcile these two disparate images by reminding us of the original chamber versions of two popular dramatic works better known in their scintillating orchestral guise.

None of the impact of Falla's distillation of folk idioms is lost here. Indeed the lean sound obtained from the ensemble in both El corregidor y la molinera and El amor brujo seem specially true to that odd combination of spiritually austere and picturesquely vibrant which characterises Falla's original genius. A pity we could not have experienced El corregidor - related as it is to the Diaghilev ballet - in staged form, for the swift changes of mood and direction are tightly geared to action. Still, the excellent performance we heard of its first half by the Orquestra de Cambra Teatre Lliure under Josep Pons re- generated much of Falla's folkloristic vision.

The chamber version of El amor brujo is far more closely related to the famous orchestral ballet, sharing all key moments. Again, its clear, even pungent, soloistic textures gave an insight into that burning sense of locale and tradition which marks Falla's art, and the major role for flamenco singer, taken on this occasion with passion by Ginesa Ortega, sits perfectly in the more personal context.

The instrumental playing communicated an intense identification with subject and matter. Earlier a similarly authentic sensitivity had been summoned for one of Falla's most mysterious masterpieces, the Concerto for keyboard and five instruments. More usually heard as a harpsichord concerto, the work was here performed on piano (as approved by the composer) by Lluis Vidal, who brought both wit and poetry to his playing.

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