In rare occurrence, a female conductor leads all Spanish concert with CPO

JoAnn Falletta
Calgary Herald

It was the music of sunny Spain that entranced a large audience at the Jack Singer Hall on Friday and Saturday nights. On hand to bring excitement to the concert was the excellent guitarist Petrit Ceku who, in his first visit to the city, performed the much-loved Concierto de Aranjuez by Joaquin Rodrigo. Also, in her first visit to Calgary, there was JoAnn Falletta on the podium, her liveliness and long experience evident throughout the concert.

One of the best things on the program came first: the Variaciones concertantes by Alberto Ginastera. Ginastera is an important figure in Latin American, and the quality of his music was quickly apparent in this highly attractive work, which features a number of extended solo passages for the first chair players in the orchestra.

In fact, the entire concert was so filled with cameo solo moments that it was a defining element in the evening. Although there were too many solos to name them all, Arnold Choi’s extended solo at the beginning of the Ginastera must be mentioned for its refinement and excellent tonal qualities. And throughout the work, the orchestra responded with energy and verve to Falletta’s first-class direction from the podium. This was an impressive performance of an equally impressive piece, one I hope we will hear again soon.

In the hands of a fine guitarist, the Rodrigo concerto is a never-fail work with an audience, and so it was here. Ceku is an effortless player, with a strong, projecting sound. He easily commanded the concerto’s technical demands, and the famous slow movement was poetry itself. But humour is also a strong point in his playing, and the folk-inspired framing movements had all the joyous simplicity and directness of utterance one could wish.

For the orchestra, Debussy’s Iberia was the greatest test of the evening, with its many fragmentary wisps of melody and need for buoyant rhythm. Falletta led a strongly-coloured performance, one more alive to vividness than refinement in the total sound. As was the case throughout the concert, the various solo passages were etched with clarity and distinctiveness. The only thing missing was the sense of a deep rhythmic core and a certain measure of sheen from the strings. On all, this performance favoured the earthy elements in the score over impressionistic refinement, certainly a possible view of the work, but nonetheless perhaps wanting a degree of poise.
Read the full review here