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Allegro Opens Season With Spanish Theme

Allegro Tuesday, Oct. 10, The Met

For the opening concert of its tenth season, Allegro sailed to Spain. Rather than sticking to music from a particular period, it wandered from the Baroque to the modern, selecting music by Spanish composers, or music with a Spanish theme.

As national styles go, Spain’s music is very cohesive, its defining elements having been consistent over the centuries. With all the similarities on Tuesday’s program, there was the danger of becoming bored with the redundancy. Not so. It was 10 o’clock all too soon.

Allegro directors Beverly Biggs and David Dutton selected quite a pleasant representation of the Spanish style, from wailing soliloquies over a Moorish drone to rhythmic dances with castanets. All of these maintained a mellow and intimate character.

Biggs and her harpsichord are often integral parts of Allegro’s programming. Biggs always participates, but sometimes she performs on the fortepiano or the modern piano. However the accompaniment roles in Baroque sonatas generally do not offer as many opportunities to shine as she had with this concert.

Her solo venture on Scarlatti’s K. 141 Sonata showed a splendid use of tension and release in rubato timing combined with the variety of colors available on her instrument. By bringing out the creative modulations and shadings of the chords, she blew away 275 years of accumulated dust.

Those wonderful harpsichord colors combined in unusual and delightful ways with the marimba, played by Martin Zyskowski. These two instruments do not mate in nature but cohabit the stage well. Both have subdued timbres with a sharp attack and quick decay.

The exotic blending of harpsichord and marimba enhanced two Soler works, the cute Sonata in F-sharp and the Andante and Minuet of his Concierto I in C. The happy, motoric qualities of the Concierto were emphasized by the precise and even playing of both Zyskowski and Biggs, especially in the trio of the minuet, which came off sounding like a mechanical clock.

Modern usage of the harpsichord/ marimba combo was exemplified in one of the songs by Fernando Obradors, “Chiquitita la Novia” (The Tiny Bride) and Joaquin Nin’s Murciana, from his Suite Espagnole.

The Obradors, which also uses English horn and cello, calls for quickly repeated notes and tremolos from the harpsichord to create a sustained texture while the other instruments eulogize. Nin’s view of the world was more cheerful in his dance, which alternated 3/4 and 6/8 meters, broken up by the occasional oboe or cello cadenza.

Actually, the English horn had quite a presence for this performance, as well. Dutton used it more than the oboe. The alto voice provided the right mood for Carlos Surinach’s Three Tientos. “Plaintive” and “Sorrowful” are easy picks for the burnished tone of the instrument, but even Surinach’s “Joyful” Tiento was tempered with a minor feel.

Dutton always pushes the envelope with his heart-on-the-sleeve playing. This worked well with the Spanish style, and his renditions of Sarasate’s “Playera” on English horn and Ravel’s “Piece en forme de Habanera” on oboe were charmed.

Granados’ “Tonadilla” gave cellist Wayne Smith a moment in the spotlight. He played simply but richly over the piano’s ground bass, pacing the rise and fall of the piece sensitively.

Allegro’s concert became a delightful collection. There was enough of a theme to connect the many short pieces, but enough variety to keep things interesting. This was a very pleasant way to spend a couple of hours.