The London Philharmonic Orchestra at full strength gave us an intense and detailed account of Ottorino Respighi’s Fountains of Rome as the opening piece in their programme Ravel’s Obsession with Spain conducted by Enrique Mazzola at the Festival Hall as part of the Southbank Centre’s festival The Rest is Noise. This performance of Respighi’s multi-layered impressionist piece was the shining star of tonight’s concert.

Fountains of Rome, premiered in 1915, sits clearly in the time frame where music reacted with impressionism against the symphonic tradition, maybe (suggests the programme note) also as a reaction against the horrors of World War One. The result tonight was like enjoying a box of Belgian chocolates, each exquisite image rendered with fiery intensity. A benefit of attending the concert and seeing the orchestra was to realise there is also a part for the organ!

The audience’s concentration wavered noticeably during the performance of Manuel de Falla’s Nights in the Gardens of Spain. Not the fault of the performance, Javier Perianes (piano) was admirable, but the contrast was too great between de Falla’s simple arrangement passing the melody around the orchestra compared with Respighi’s multi-layered texture. Nonetheless, closing my eyes during the performance, it was easy to conjure up a Moorish palace gardens, some Spanish friends, and even a hint of the whiff of their cigarettes. So the atmospherics worked even though the juxtaposition was unfavourable. Javier Perianes gave us a splendid encore of an unnamed piece which demonstrated that his piano technique far outweighs the demands of the programmed piece.

Unfamiliar Respighi after the interval: Il Tramonto (The Sunset) for mezzo-soprano & strings. The composer died in 1936 of cardiac problems, having vouched to the fascists for the conductor Arturo Toscanini, and also having left several operas. This performance, a tantalising taste of Ottorino Respighi’s command of operatic writing, left me eager to seek out his operas.  Maria Luigia Borsi, soprano, wore a deep turquoise costume reminding me of the Azure hues of the Mediterranean sky on a torrid summer night.

Finally, two of Maurice Ravel’s familiar pieces: Pavane pour une infante défunte, which was a fine and clear performance though maybe a little brisk and could have communicated more emotional depth.

Rapsodie espagnole received a rousing performance with some clever accelerandos to end the night at the Royal Festival Hall.

London Philharmonic Orchestra
Enrique Mazzola - conductor
Javier Perianes - piano
Maria Luigia Borsi - soprano