Dallas — Although the Orchestra of New Spain specializes in Spanish Baroque music, the first half of Saturday’s concert, called "Villa y Corte," featured late Baroque music from Germany and Italy, instead. The orchestra performed a three-movement symphony by Carl Phillip Emanuel Bach, the No. 4 in A Major, and a Sicilienne and the Sinfonia No. 6 in D minor, “La Case del Diavolo (The House of the Devil)” by Luigi Boccherini.
This half of the program was hit-or-miss in terms of both musical expression and technical execution. The orchestra was appropriately small—between one and three string players on each part, plus a pair each of flutes and horns on the Bach. What that means, though, is that imprecision by any player is greatly magnified. Typically, the first violins in particular sounded solid, while some other sections, especially the horns with their finicky valveless instruments, really struggled.
Still, there were some enjoyable moments—the Allegro con molto section that concluded the third and final movement of the Boccherini Sinfonia, for instance, had terrific energy, and at their best, the strings exhibited moments of well-coordinated musicality in the Andantino middle movement—they had similar ideas about issues such as vibrato.
The second half of the program was more successful than the first for several reasons—it returned the orchestra to its Spanish niche, it featured lively and accomplished singers, and the pieces themselves were three tonadillas, or musical skits, which are a fun genre unfamiliar to most contemporary audiences.
Anna Fredericka Popova and Jendi Tarde shone on the first such skit as two rival sisters who attempt to out-sing one another. Their well-matched sopranos were effective, although balance was an issue—a guitarist playing in this piece was completely inaudible, no match for two sopranos and ten bowed strings.
Tenor Joel Burcham paired with first Jendi Tarde and then Anna Fredericka Popova for two more humorous skits, one about a singer who fakes her own death, and the other about a failed seduction by a Spaniard posing as a Frenchman. Both were played for laughs, although the audience was strangely unreceptive. Perhaps it was the formality of the church atmosphere, or perhaps they were not following the printed lyrics, although they were quite clear, and bilingual rather than just providing an English translation, which was a nice touch.
The Orchestra of New Spain was most successful Saturday evening when it was playing to its niche—seldom-heard Spanish Baroque (and classical) music. Music Director Grover Wilkins researched the tonadillas in Madrid, and that dedication and passion is evident in the performances. Bringing Dallas audiences works that are simply not heard elsewhere is a gift that this orchestra can provide, and that should continue to be its focus.