What is Spanish music? The question was addressed first in the ISO's pre-concert Words on Music presentation, with two young women, Alexis Witt and Christine Wisch, IU Ph. D. candidates calling themselves "musicologists" and acting as dual hosts. It turned out to be a half-hour lecture, including musical examples, the hosts taking alternate turns.
Their thesis appeared to be that Spanish composers writing "Spanish" music produced a discernable difference from "foreign" composers writing Spanish music--the former music they called "nationalistic," the latter "exotic." Examples of both types were played, with their having the audience guess which was which. A novel lecture making too much of the composers' birthplaces; just playing the examples and discussing them would have more than sufficed.
Guest conductor Eugene Tzigane, 30 (same age as our music director Krzysztof Urbański), offered four works, two by Spaniards, one by a Frenchman and one by a Russian. Guitarist Miloš Karadaglic, 29 of Montenegro, joined the forces for the program's centerpiece, Joaquin Rodrigo's lovely Concierto de Aranjuez.
Rodrigo, a blind composer missing living the entire 20th century only by a few months (1901-1999), was conservative as Modernists go; his concierto's slow movement is filled with heart-rending Spanish melody, poured wistfully into our respective souls by Karadaglic's expressive strumming. Tzigane's Mozart-sized orchestra gave us a perfect collaboration with the soloist.
The more lively first movement went less well. The acoustic guitar makes too soft a sound on its own to compete with an orchestra -- even a small one. So it must be amplified to be heard and achieve balance. Tzigane took too fast a pace in that movement for the guitar to be clearly articulated, with many of Karadaglic's strumming notes running together underneath the violins, even with the amplification.
Tzigane opened with Maurice Ravel's Alborada del gracioso, yet another instance of a Ravel piano work (1905) which he later orchestrated (1918). Tzigane moved his players well nigh effortlessly through this short aperitif.
After the break came a piece previously unknown to me -- and to the orchestra as well (ISO first performance), Joaquin Turina's Sinfonia sevillana, Op. 23. Written in 1920, this three-movement work also betrays few Modernist elements in its unfamiliarly engaging manner. With no arresting tunes, motifs or passage work leaping at us, we can see why this work remains on the repertoire fringe, despite its accessibility.
Last, but hardly least, we went from obscurity to a symphonic chestnut, Rimsky-Korsakov's Capriccio espagnol, Op. 34. Does anyone not know this work -- well, perhaps any symphony-goer? Tzigane took the first, third and fifth of its five parts at a very brisk tempo, the orchestra almost, but not quite running away with him, or from him. It was an evening of lighter, but mostly quite engaging music, which the half-filled Circle enjoyed. Nov. 8-10; Hilbert Circle Theatre