CLASSICAL CD OF THE WEEK The BBC Philharmonic has recorded a wide, varied repertoire for Chandos with Gianandrea Noseda, who was the orchestra's chief conductor for a decade. Now the partnership has shifted focus with his Spanish successor, Juanjo Mena, who took up his appointment last year and on this CD conducts an all-Falla programme of the two-act ballet The Three-Cornered Hat, as well as the late (1938-9) orchestral suite Homenajes (Tributes) and Nights in the Gardens of Spain, with Jean-Efflam Bavouzet as piano soloist. Bavouzet also featured on the first of Mena's discs with the BBC Phil (CHAN 10633), resurrecting some fairly obscure but endearing music by the French composer Gabriel Pierné. In conducting Falla, one might anticipate that Mena would possess the key to works by his fellow-countryman, and he does not disappoint. This is the orchestra's first commercial recording done in its new Salford home at MediaCity. The acoustics sound good and accommodating, with enough space to give the music air and a luminous glow, on which Mena capitalises in The Three-Cornered Hat, drawing a range of colour and atmosphere from the orchestra and getting its members to clap and shout Oi! with some gusto in the introduction. Light and shade are well delineated, as are the contrasts between sultriness and vitality. The elegiac mood of the central two movements in Homenajes, drawn from Falla's earlier tributes to Debussy and Dukas, is leavened by the opening fanfare dedicated to the conductor Enrique Arbós and by an attractive, affectionate sequence of music written in honour of the composer Felipe Pedrell. Mena and the orchestra find both the delicacy and the character of Homenajes, just as they catch the spirit of Nights in the Gardens of Spain, with Bavouzet adding scintillatingly to the orchestral spectrum. **** --The Telegraph,27 Jan 2012
CD OF THE WEEK Appropriately, the BBC Phil's new Spanish chief conductor marks his debut with the orchestra on disc with masterpieces by modern Spain's greatest composer. Harriet Smith's excellent notes refer to the popularity of the Three Cornered Hat and Nights in the Gardens of Spain, but often do we hear the complete ballet of the former, rather than just the suite, in concert and on disc these days? And who are the contemporary virtuosos who champion Falla's nights as Artur Rubenstein, present at the first performance in 1916,did? The BBC Phil respond with electrifying engagement and authenticity to Mena s idiomatic way with Falla's sensuous orchestration and his unmistakably Spanish dance rhythms. The Three-Cornered Hat, the story of the Corregidor's clumsy wooing of the Miller's Wife, and of her husband's revenge, is told in orchestral Technicolor and spectacular Chandos sound, the thrusting swagger of the wife's dance especially vivid. If Nights in the Gardens of Spain is not strictly a piano concerto, Bavouzet proves as persuasive a soloist here as his is in Debussy and Ravel. The makeweight is Falla's suite of Homenajes(Hommages) to Debussy, Dukas and his teacher Felipe Pedrell. This disc inaugurates a series devoted to La Musica de Espana, so we can look forward to more Spanish goodies from Mena, his orchestra and Chandos. --Sunday Times,05/02/12
The level of engagement with the music is exceptional. Often spacious and dark, the performance reaches past its starlit, balmy surfaces to find the ache and stoicism of Spanish history embodied in the places that Falla evokes. RECORDING OF THE MONTH --BBC Music Magazine,Mar'12
The BBC Philharmonic's new Spanish chief conductor directs characterful performances of works by his compatriot Manuel de Falla, two of them famous rarities. The Three-Cornered Hat comes not in the popular suite of dances but in the full score of the colourful ballet Falla wrote for Diaghilev: in Mena's hands the music dances the light --Gramophone,May'12
This is a punchy, superbly recorded performance. --International Piano, May/June'12
The works for stage and concert hall by Manuel de Falla starts off our new Spanish series with the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra and Juanjo Mena. Nights in the Gardens of Spain is among Fallas most impressionistic and poetic works, full of shimmering textures that recall Debussy, but with a hard-edged precision brought to the forefront by the piano. Each of the three movements is imbued with a strong sense of location. The first evokes the Generalife gardens of the Alhambra in Granada; the second, and most animated, displays a strong North African quality; and the third is inspired by the gardens of the Sierra de Córdoba. Here Fallas lustrous and voluptuous writing is contrasted with a dramatic refrain full of energy, colour, and savagery, and the work offers one of the most sensuous endings in all music. It was performed by the BBC Philharmonic and Juanjo Mena, as part of the conductors debut performance at the Proms in 2011. On this recording, they are joined by Jean-Efflam Bavouzet, the exclusive Chandos artist and multi-award winning pianist. Based on the novel by Alarcón, The Three-cornered Hat was commissioned in 1916 by the impresario Diaghilev for his Russian ballet company, the Ballets russes. Centred round sexual jealousy, possessiveness, mistaken identity, and deception, it tells the story of the failed attempts by an elderly local magistrate (whose three-cornered hat is a symbol of authority) to seduce the millers lovely wife. The music is exuberant, the principal characters wittily characterised, and the original production itself boasted an incredible wealth of talent: choreography by Léonide Massine, set and costume designs by Pablo Picasso, and the star ballerina Karsavina dancing the part of the millers wife. It was one of the companys greatest successes, and put Falla on the international map as a composer. Also on this disc is the Homenajes, in which Falla pays tribute to fellow musicians and composers. Fanfare sobre el nombre de Arbós was written for the seventieth birthday celebrations of the conductor Enrique Fernández Arbós, while Pedrelliana pays posthumous homage to Fallas teacher Felipe Pedrell, who had informed so much of his musical thinking.