Proms Atlantida Royal Albert Hall, London

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The Independent Culture
Sunday night's Prom marked the 50th anniversary of Manuel de Falla's death with the first London performance of his incomplete cantata Atlantida. Guaranteeing a large audience for rarities and good causes is one of the things the Proms can do which most concert series can't. How good a cause Atlantida might be remains debatable. Ernesto Halffter completed the score, in which form it was first performed in 1961, but we heard a suite chosen by the conductor, Rafael Fruhbeck de Burgos, which, he suggested on Radio 3's In Tune, distilled the best of Falla's original. As far as I'm concerned, Falla is rather a low-profile composer, a minor figure - at least on the international scene - whose fastidious and painstaking working methods may have filtered out a lot of the potential gut energy of his music. Much of Atlantida, in particular the choral writing, was solemn and chorale- like: there was precious little in the way of reviving the glories of the Spanish Renaissance. The most colourful of the seven movements in the suite was Queen Isabella's Romance, graceful and light, with muted strings and harp, then a flash of metal and a bit of modal archaism. The excellent singer was the Spanish soprano, Maria Bayo. There were also some gorgeous contributions from the mezzo-soprano Katarina Karneus, the baritone William Dazeley as Narrator, and not least, the treble Raymond Winterflood, who projected courageously.

Falla's score was all but wiped from the memory by the much more powerful duende of Ravel's magnificent Left Hand Piano Concerto - though this, too, seems like an unfinished work, for surely it needs a substantially fuller orchestral coda after the solo cadenza, if not a full-blown apotheosis. After so many powerful build-ups, Ravel offers a disappointingly weak climax. Louis Lortie gave an exceptionally clear performance, and visibly underlined the final point of each solo with a gesture the Arena could appreciate. It's often said how Ravel was at pains not to make the solo part thin, but even in the barn-like expanse of the Royal Albert Hall, Lortie got single notes in the treble register to sing out as strongly as a trumpet, yet without banging.

The acoustic of the Albert Hall is a fascinating subject in itself, for you can never quite predict what you will hear where. Yet someone might have told Rafael Fruhbeck de Burgos that the woodwind, seated on their risers in the middle of the stage, tend to carry amply, and in Beethoven's Seventh Symphony he need hardly have encouraged them to play so loudly. Still, he got a good performance from the BBC Symphony Orchestra, perhaps a bit too smooth, but at least refreshingly light.

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