OPERA / Unstapled diet

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The Independent Culture
They called it Festival of the Americas. Actually it was a Barbican one-night stand by the Royal Philharmonic, desultory and under-attended. All the pieces in the first half were platform staples from America: Copland's Fanfare for the Common Man, dances from Rodeo, Barber's Adagio and Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue. The Latin American second half, predictable too, was nonetheless mildly novel for a British audience: Chavez from Mexico, Villa-Lobos from Brazil (they played one of the Bachiannas Brasileiras but not the one that everybody knows) and Ginastera from Argentina.

Conductors who, with minimal rehearsal, make their mark on the coolly efficient carpet- baggers of the RPO are few. There was little evidence on Tuesday that Adela Marshall is among them. The Copland pieces and the Barber Adagio were apparently on auto pilot from start to finish.

The Gershwin was better, soloist Alberto Portugheis relishing his high profile, stomping out romantic blues. Not technically flawless, but compelling, imaginative and original, he established an infectious rhythmic presence.

Adela Marshall looked like no other conductor. A pale blue, frilly Barry Manilow shirt under her black DJ, a red bow-tie, red lipstick and a blonde head of hairspray gave the initial impression of a lady out to lunch. But the Latin- American half of the programme changed one's view.

It was clear she felt comfortable with these idiomatic, spicy pieces. Even the way she gave the beat changed: smaller gestures, more varied and precise. In the slow, simple prelude to Bachiannas Brasileiras No 4, one felt she had really been able to intervene, releasing powerful playing from the ensemble. The final section in Ginastera's dances from the ballet Estancia had the necessary fire and the orchestra's rhythms functioned with hypnotic smoothness.

Adela Marshall began to be comprehensible as a Latin American extrovert with a style all her own and a musical mission. It was, in any case, a pleasure to hear these pieces, intriguingly pre-minimalist in their stamping out of syllable patterns, a feature in the work of all three composers.

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