Review: ‘Fabulous stuff’, A Latin Fiesta with the BSO

Image of Gabriela Montero, Artist in Residence at BSO 2019/20; courtesy of BSO.

Paul Valentine reviews the recent opening night performance of Latin Fiesta, conducted by Carlos Miguel Prieto, with piano by Gabriela Montero and Mezzo-Soprano by Rihab Chaieb.

From the outset, Prieto’s mastery and management of the orchestra was perfect. The split-second control and timing were breathtaking, especially when combined with the delicious phrasing.

There are essentially four themes running in Marquez Danzon No. 2 although A and C are similar. They suggest a rich and blousy feeling, like the sails of a fine yacht. The rhythms set by the claves and the echoing syncopation from each section of the orchestra are simply mesmeric. Fabulous stuff.

Onto the Montero Concerto No 1, the ‘Latin Concerto’. I adore Gabriela Montero, an award-winning and bestselling American-Venezuelan concert pianist, recording artist, and composer. Leaving aside her fantastic ability both in composition and playing, I have enormous regard for her resilience and capacity simply for making it in a man’s world and in being such a wonderful role model to young girls. She was awarded the Beethoven Prize ‘for human rights, peace, freedom, anti-poverty and for inclusion’, and as one of Amnesty International’s Honorary Consuls, she speaks out against the ‘narco-cartel’ that has murdered 30,000 people and tortured countless others every single year. I confess to having a tear in my eye when she praised the humanity and love of the BSO in hosting her visit.

The first movement of Concerto No 1 is just so exciting: utter dexterity playing the complex rhythms of every Latin country. The second movement starts serenely and develops into the hustle bustle rhythms of city life before a ‘momenta domestica’ takes over, as lovable as any Beethoven sonata. The final movement is totally upbeat but with sinister undercurrents reminiscent of the gangs that haunt Caracas. These two themes then vie for supremacy but the movement ends suddenly without resolution, as if describing the reality of Venezuela’s darkness. A tremendous ovation followed, and also the now famous improvisation (which I thought was a Verdi aria).

I have been a Manuel de Falla fan since I bought a cassette tape of El sombrero and listened to it whilst cleaning my very first car. You could have shaved in the reflection when I’d finished. de Falla took the shimmering coolness of the French Impressionists and added the heat of the Spanish landscape. Nowhere is this seen with more effect than ‘El sombrero de tres picos’. From the very opening bars one is transported to a land of heat, intense colour and fragrant orange blossom. But more than this, to a culture with an undercurrent of sensuality and desire. This rendition by the BSO under Prieto was absolutely flawless; fast paced, dynamic, dark, sensual, beautiful. But it didn’t stop there as many do, it also had the fun and frivolity and colour of a Tom and Jerry cartoon. Even the short mezzo-soprano moments were gorgeous with deep, round, lascivious notes. I didn’t manage to write many notes about this apart from ‘Phew’.

It was brilliant, simply brilliant from the very first ‘Olé’ through the dark sonorous cellos, the spot on percussion, crystal piccolo, sumptuous strings and the brass seeming to come through one instrument. I met a friend on the way to my car – we didn’t talk much, both blown away by this exceptional and memorable performance.

I can’t wait for Gustav Mahler’s ‘Das Titan’, sorry, ‘Fearless Youth’.


You can read all of Paul Valentine’s BSO reviews here and check out what’s on at Portsmouth Guildhall, including comedy, music, community events and exhibitions.


This story is part of our ongoing series from our #ReclaimTheNews team, a group of local residents trained in investigative journalism in partnership with The Centre for Investigative Journalism. The group now forms S&C’s Community Reporting team. Check back regularly for more news from the team and help us to spread the word by sharing their articles with your friends and networks.