Fiesta offers a touch of sentimental Spanish sun

City Chamber Orchestra of Hong Kong

A Spanish Fiesta

City Hall Concert Hall

Performance Monday

Bringing a little Spanish sunshine to the evening of a distinctly grey Monday, the City Chamber Orchestra - with guest guitarist Xuefei Yang and mezzo-soprano Cynthia Luff - under the baton of guest conductor Carlos Checa, reminded us that there is life after the Arts Festival.

It was a beautifully paced evening, running to just under two hours including the interval, beginning with strings and percussion only for three popular pieces from the Suite Espanola No 1 by Isaac Albeniz.

Brass and woodwinds were brought on for three dances by Joaquin Rodrigo, which set the mood for the composer's best-known work, the Concierto de Aranjuez, performed with Yang.

Although Yang's guitar was plugged in, Checa opted to keep the orchestra relatively quiet throughout the three movements, much as the composer originally intended; the piece having been written for guitar in the days before the instrument could rely on the assistance of amplification to compete with the volume of the orchestra.

The guitarist made a faltering start on the technically demanding Allegro Con Spirito but had found her full expressive form by the famous second movement.

Checa's reasons for not giving the Rodrigo the full Technicolor treatment it generally receives became apparent after the interval. All the stops were pulled out for Manuel de Falla's El Amor Brujo.

Luff delivered spirited interpretations of the songs, and Checa gave the orchestra free rein to allow the music its full melodramatic sweep, right up to the tubular-bells-led finale.

It was a programme full of popular, often sentimental themes, but none the worse for that, and Checa judged the dynamics of the evening exactly. A good night for the City Chamber Orchestra, which is growing steadily in assurance.