LALO Symphonie Espagnole Op 21. Namouna Suites 1 & 2
The performance of Symphonie espagnole is billed as departing from the way it’s generally played in the direction of being more serious and dramatic. Alexandre Da Costa points out that three of its five movements are quite sombre in character; by holding back the tempi of the first and third movements in particular, he gives the music more weight and, in the third movement, an impressively stern character. The downside, I suppose, is that the mercurial style of much of the violin-writing, tailored to suit the Symphonie’s dedicatee, Sarasate, is not so much in evidence. Jean-Jacques Kantorow’s fluent, spontaneous performance admirably demonstrates the music’s more sparkling side. And one of Da Costa’s tempi does seem to me distinctly too slow – the middle section of the finale; here the traditional approach, exemplified most beautifully by Jacques Thibaud, allows the music to flow easily while allowing room for touching expression. Da Costa’s is a strong performance, however, and for the most part entirely convincing.
Lalo’s ballet Namouna was not a success at its first performance in 1882 but its music inspired an enthusiastic response from Debussy and formed the basis for several concert works. The two Suites, of which the first is the more substantial, reveal Lalo’s mastery of the orchestra, his rhythmic inventiveness (I urge you to sample the ‘Dance of the Slaves’ – tr 15) and an approach to folkloric ideas that doesn’t seek to prettify them. It’s colourful music, often memorable, and is very well served by these neat, lively performances.