Thursday, October 09, 2008

Flamenco and Co

Last night's concert was sold as 'Flamenco and 16th/17th century Spanish music'. The little word 'and' was the one I overlooked, and perhaps others, too, in the packed St Catherine's church. (I now need to rethink my entire review....)

The United Continuo Ensemble of Germany performed this Fiesta Española, together with Mercedes Hernandez (soprano), and the singer, dancer, castanette player Elva La Guardia. The instruments consisted of two baroque guitars, sometimes replaced by modern acoustic ones, a viola da gamba, and various pieces of percussion. The music ranged in fact from the 15th century to the 20th or 21st (the latter having more of a flamenco flavour).

This then explains why there was a soprano singer, Mercedes Hernandez. I was confused because her voice did not fit flamenco; it was too high and had constant vibrato... which means that I am not sure that it fitted the old non-flamenco music much either. She did have an amazing pianissimo, however, and sang well. Some of the songs sounded just like Dowland lute songs, except that most pieces also had a percussion accompaniment.

The pianissimo was very useful, given that it was really hard to hear the baroque instruments (in the 11th row where I was sitting). It's evidence, I suppose, that at the time these pieces were written concerts took place in more intimate surroundings where you could actually hear them.  The gamba had a rather dull part, mostly, often only following the singer's line, or providing a continuo background - there was one quite virtuosic piece, but the playing was so fast, and the string response rather slow, that it was not really possible to pick up the intricacy of the music - you just saw the player working very hard.

Elva La Guardia, on the other hand, was brilliant - sang with the right flamenco voice, gave commentaries which I could not hear, and danced, with or without castanets, sounding like pistol shots, actually more like machine gun fire.

The audience was there for the flamenco, as was I, and the applause reflected that very clearly.