miércoles, noviembre 30, 2016

Vintage Italian string instruments admirably played

            The Museo de Arte Hispanoamericano Isaac Fernández Blanco has had during about two decades the luck of being directed by Jorge Cometti and having Leila Makarius in charge of musical activities. Together they are responsible for hundreds of worthwhile concerts  both in the mother house (Suipacha half a block from Libertador) and in the Hernán Vigo Suárez  at Hipólito Yrigoyen. To boot the Fernández Blanco has a lovely main hall of warm acoustics.

            But two special projects stand out; one has been going on for many years: La Capilla del Sol, a vocal and instrumental group led by Ramiro Albino (collaborator of the Herald during a long time) specialized in Baroque Latinamerican music. The other, after exhaustive preparation, was born last year and should be a staple of our musical life: Fernández Blanco was a great collector of string instruments of the master Italian luthiers of the Eighteenth-Century and eventually it became the best collection of its kind in South America.

            The Colón had it in loan  from the Fifties to 2007, when the Museum recuperated it and started a curatorial team featuring Horacio Piñeiro (restoration) and Pablo Saraví (violinist and connoisseur of the great schools of North Italy, particularly that of Cremona: Stradivarius, Amati, Guarnerius). Last year two things happened: a room adjoining the main hall was dedicated to show the collection under the best possible conditions; and a cycle of four concerts was organized so that the audience could hear them played by outstanding artists. This season a similar series was given and I caught the last one: it proved a memorable evening of exquisite Mozart.

            Both Cometti (giving a general survey) and Saraví (explaining each instrument) added greatly to the enjoyment: they were models of useful information. And we had the best local quartet, the Petrus, playing at their highest level, plus a guest of star quality: oboist Néstor Garrote, first desk of the Buenos Aires Philharmonic. The Petrus is made up of Saraví and Hernán Briático, violins; Adrián Felizia, viola; and Gloria Pankáeva, cello. It would be churlish to make any distinction: all were inspired.

            The Divertimento K. 137 is generally played by a string ensemble but the option for quartet was sanctioned by the composer. Then, Quartet Nº 16, K.458, "The hunt", one of the mature six dedicated to Franz Joseph Haydn, and they are a wonder of perfection: chamber music at its best. The sole Quartet for oboe and strings is so beautiful that one can only be sorry that Mozart didn´t write another.

            The outstanding instrument was a Guarneri del Gesù, but the others were also specimens of wonderful tone, round and true: from Guadagnini, Storioni, Cappa, Grancino, Steffani, Mantegazza, and Piñeiro on a model by A. Guarneri (the cello).

For Buenos Aires Herald

            


The world of symphony orchestras now expands to China


 

            Of course, it was only a matter of time before Chinese orchestras started arriving to our city, although they existed even during Mao tse Tung´s regime: I certify that Beijing had an orchestra in 1962 that played such Occidental authors like Sibelius, along with Chinese composers. But the ironically called Cultural Revolution wiped them out for a long period. However, the almost miraculous reversal engineered by Deng Hsiao Ping gradually opened the immense country; musically this is recounted in that indispensable film with Isaac Stern, "From Mao to Mozart". Orchestras re-formed and others were created; and in 1999 Hong Kong became part of China, including its notable Philharmonic that has left so many fine recordings (they would be welcome visitors to BA).

            Changes take time, and it was only last year that a Shanghai Orchestra came here (a promised Beijing one didn´t materialize). And now we had the visit of the Qingdao Symphony. How many Argentines know something about this city? I didn´t, and I went to Google, for the programme gave me no information, except biographies of the interpreters and the listing of the players. They gave two concerts at the CCK¨s Blue Whale, the first combining China with the Occident, the second almost purely Chinese; I attended the first, missing two initial pieces due to a traffic jam (sounds familiar?).

            It turns out that Qingdao is a big port in the Province of Shandong with a population of around 6 million; German colony from 1891 to 1904, twice invaded by Japan and recuperated in 1949; it now has five universities. The Orchestra was re-established in 2005; its current Director is Zhang Guoyong (Herald readers may recall my review of his debut concert with the Buenos Aires Philharmonic this year, praising him in a difficult programme of Zimmermann and Prokofiev). Eighty players came in this tour, all with purely Chinese surnames.

            This people is gregarious and disciplined; on the evidence of this concert, the players have been carefully selected and are fully professional, and thoroughly trained by such a proficient conductor they gave first-rate performances of all the programmed pieces. As I wrote concerning other Chinese composers´ works played in BA (not many) I believe that the Occidental orchestra isn´t the right instrument for what remains a profoundly different culture. You do hear some pleasant pentatonic tunes but the orchestrations are showy and bombastic and the structures are haphazard.

            The pieces I heard both concerned concubines as they are depicted in Beijing Opera, as far from the European conception of the genre as possible in voice and instrumentation: voices are supposed to be used with extreme nasality and artifice, and there are very few players. The long symphonic fantasy "Goodbye, my concubine", by Guan Xia, suddenly includes a song; and then we heard a symphonic arrangement of a melody from Beijing Opera´s "The inebriated concubine".  Zhang Ying, attired in colorful traditional clothes, sang both, in a way that decidedly for Occidentals is an acquired taste (if you do acquire it).

            But it is a matter of training: soprano Song Yuanming studied at Vienna and sang our opera and operetta with an agreeable voice of clean highs: the Waltz from Gounod´s "Roméo et Juliette" and the Csardas from Johann Strauss II´s "Die Fledermaus"; when she finished the First Part with a Chinese melody, "I love you, China", by Zheng Quiufeng and Qu Zong, she sang like an European.

            The Second Part was occupied by the most famous cantata of the Twentieth Century, Carl Orff´s "Carmina Burana", with the Coro Polifónico Nacional led by Darío Marchese, soprano Song Wuanming, baritone Alejandro Meerapfel and countertenor  Pehuén Díaz Bruno. The rhythmic vitality and melodic  charm of this celebration of Medieval love and wine dressed in modern clothes has seldom sounded so full and precise. The Choir was in fine shape, potent, in tune and exact; the Orchestra responded brilliantly to Guoyong´s commanding baton; and the soloists were well chosen, from the firmness of Wuanming´s highest register to the intelligent interpretation of Meerapfel and the adequacy of the countertenor singing the strange predicament of the roasting goose.

            How would this orchestra and conductor fare in, say, Beethoven and Brahms symphonies, is anyone´s guess, for all I heard from them was lavishly colorful; anyway, they certainly have the right technical tools. The style? Maybe.



For Buenos Aires Herald  

Bach´s marvelous Mass in Argentine interpretation of high quality


            Johann Sebastian Bach´s Mass in B minor is a marvel paradoxically born of earthly needs and made up mostly of remodelled earlier music of the composer. But it sounds absolutely unitary! Moreover, it is so long that it can´t be used liturgically. It stands with the two Passions as the greatest monuments of the German Baroque. Now two Argentine groups have given us a great night at the Auditorio de Belgrano. First, some necessary background.

            There are four short protestant masses of his (only Kyrie and Gloria) quite beautiful but rarely done. The big Mass is the result of Bach´s tensions with his Leipzig employers and the desire to be named court composer to the Elector of Saxony and King of Poland; he wanted to be recognised by the Catholic court in Dresden, and therefore, write a mass that also included the Credo, Sanctus, Benedictus and Agnus Dei. Although in 1736 he was officially promoted to the appointment he seeked, "Hofkapellmeister",  he remained at Leipzig! And the Mass was never played during his lifetime.

            In 1733 he had already written the Kyrie and Gloria, both much longer than in the four masses mentioned above; they last almost an hour! And they use a five-voice choir and ample orchestration. But as he wrote the remaining parts in the last decade of his life, he got the appointment without having done  the Catholic fragments...It would seem that he created the whole vast structure as a legacy of his mature genius in sacred music, much as happens with his Art of Fugue in that particular field.

            Gradually this Mass was discovered and admired; probably Beethoven felt its challenge when he composed his monumental Missa Solemnis, arguably the other peak of the genre. Bach´s Mass has such immense variety in both the choral and the soloists´  music that the hearer is constantly surprised: consumate mastery  and vivid inspiration never flag.

            In the Twentieth Century the Baroque began to be understood only in the Thirties with artists such as Günther Ramin and Adolf Busch leading the way. After WWII and with the coming of LP recording,  style began to change, shedding some of the Romantic distortions; but at first the phrasing was too square. Karl Richter gave impetus and intensity to his readings, and was almost worshipped in our city during the Sixties (Amigos de la Música). Then came the historicist movement in which we currently are: the use of Baroque instruments, faster speeds, impacting rhythms. Some were moderate, like Rilling; others too extreme, like Parrott; the main trend was imposed by such great artists as Harnoncourt, Leonhardt, Gardiner.

            Here Mario Videla evolved from his Richter influence to that of Rilling, and he has done splendid work with his Bach Academy. Many times he had the collaboration of the Grupo de Canto Coral (GCC) led by Néstor Andrenacci. On the other hand, the Baroque violin virtuoso Manfred Krämer founded in his native Córdoba La Barroca del Suquía, certainly our best instrumental group for that period. And last year Andrenacci and Krämer joined forces for an admirable concert in which they gave us Bach´s six Motets.

            Now they tackled an even bigger challenge, the great Mass, and have emerged from the test with flying colors. For this occasion La Barroca was 24-strong and incorporated great instrumentalists, such as Gabriel Pérsico (flute), Diego Nadra (oboe and oboe d´amore), the splendid trumpet solo player Cristian Muñoz from Chile, bassoonist Franco Bonino (Chile) and Emmanel Frankenberg  from Holland in natural horn. As to the GCC, it added to its 23 singers four more and they all were fresh beautiful voices, honed to perfection by the  talent of Andrenacci: disciplined, vivid music making by all players and choristers.

            The soloists were uneven: the best were baritone Federico Finocchiaro, always steady and clean; Soledad de la Rosa as Second Soprano ( a mezzo register) showed her musicality and powerful lows. Cecilia Arroyo was correct though a bit white; countertenor Martín Oro started poorly but then found his form; tenor Agustín Novillo´s timbre is too unsettled for Bach.

            We´ve had in recent years two visits by the wonderful Gächinger Kantorei (with Rilling and Rademann) plus Videla´s very honorable version closing the trajectory of Festivales Musicales. Audiences greeted them enthusiastically and so it was now: the battle for Bach´s Mass has long been won.



For Buenos Aires Herald  



Mozarteum closes season with choral-symphonic Berlin artists


            The Herald inaugurates today a new era of weekly Friday appearance and it will continue to cover the relevant news in classical music: opera, ballet and concerts. This first review concerns (paradoxically) the last concerts of the Mozarteum Argentino´s season. As it has done in some earlier years, it said goodbye with masterpieces of the choral-symphonic repertoire, in this case presented by two Berlin visitors: the Rundfunkchor (Radio Choir) and  -curiously with an Italian appellation- the Orchestra L´Arte del Mondo.

            It is a pity that this review only covers the first of the two different programmes, but as will be apparent to readers, this is due to the clash of the second (Tuesday) concert with no less than the Bach great Mass at another venue. On Monday the Colón heard Brahms´ "A German Requiem" ; on Tuesday the "pièce de résistance" was Mozart´s Requiem, and as it lasts one hour, it was heard preceded by a Brahms motet, "Warum ist das Licht gegeben" ("Why is light given") and a curious a cappella arrangement of Mahler´s Adagietto from the Fifth Symphony.

            The Rundfunkchor was founded in 1925 and has had an important trajectory; its current Director (since last year) is Gijs Leenaars, born 1978 in Nijmegen, Holland, succeeding a famous choral specialist, Simon Halsey. L´Arte del Mondo is much younger; it was founded by Werner Ehrhardt in 2004. As they came in this tour, the choir lists 51 singers, among them the two soloists we heard, soprano Anne Bretschneider (a native Berliner) and baritone Artem Nesterenko (born 1989, Novosibirsk), whose surname is the same as that of a famous bass  heard at the Colón in 1982. And the orchestra came with 53 players (among them Ehrhardt as violinist, he is generally conductor) plus two invited BA musicians (tuba, harp).  Leenaars conducted.

            Brahms´ very particular Requiem lasts about seventy minutes and discards the habitual text used by Mozart or Verdi, for it uses versicles from the Old and the New Testaments in the Luther translation; "German" simply because Brahms uses  that language. Brahms was incited by both Robert Schumann and his wife Clara Wieck to write a requiem, though they didn´t imagine it would be so original. Also, its progress wasn´t linear; e.g., the second of its seven parts was the reelaboration of a movement from a two-piano sonata that was never finished; other five parts were written later, and the work had a first première in three parts in Vienna (1867) and in six  in Bremen (1868); later he added the lovely part with soprano, and it was only in 1869 that the whole score was heard at the Leipzig Gewandhaus.

            It was soon recognised as a masterpiece and both in length and quality his most valuable contribution to the choral-symphonic repertoire. In 1869 he was 35 and had already written such major works as the First Piano Concerto and the First Sextet. In modern times there has been a plethora of marvelous recordings (Karajan, Klemperer, Sinopoli, et al) and the work has been done quite often in our city; sample: between 1955 and 1968 the Asociación Wagneriana, then a basic institution, presented it three times with its own choir and orchestra. Since that already remote time, it has lost none of its attraction. This year it was offered in BA at the Auditorio de Belgrano (conductor Domínguez) and at La Plata´s Argentino (Vieu).

            It is a work that shows Brahms´ best qualities: sustained melodic inspiration, sensitivity to the meaning of the words (from the Psalms, epistles of Paul and Peter, Revelation, Isaiah, Matthew, St.James, Proverbs), total counterpoint mastery, an unerring sense of contrast. There´s not a banal or weak moment  though it requires total concentration from artists and audience, for it is tryingly dense. 

            The music goes from consoling and serene to stark and granitic, and requires very firm intonation both orchestral and choral. The version we heard  was honorable and at times more than that, but it had flaws at various points. I found the choir more even in their performance than the orchestra, who had some maladjustments and doubtful attacks. The speeds were correct but at times the necessary tension wasn´t achieved.  The solo singers were musical and pleasant, though the parts can be sung with more personality. And Leenaars, although well-schooled, isn´t yet commanding enough for such powerful music.


For Buenos Aires Herald  


Impressive Dallapiccola double-bill suffers from distortive production

 

 

            Luigi Dallapiccola (1904-75) was the leader of the Italian musical avantgarde and had enormous influence on people like Nono and Berio. The Colón, wrongly, hasn´t seen fit not to offer us operas from the latter, but it has given us three of Dallapiccola: "Volo di notte" in 1959 and 1969, "Il prigioniero" in 1954 and 2000, and "Job" in 1964. Now we were presented with the double-bill of "Volo di notte" and "Il prigioniero" in three non-subscription performances. Excellent idea, although with more performances it should have been included in the subscription cycle, which only had seven titles.

            "Volo di notte" is based on the Saint-Exupéry nouvelle "Vol de nuit", about the nocturnal flights of the pioneer Aéropostale based at an airport near our city; both he and Jean Mermoz were among the pilots that did those dangerous flights of the early 1930s, so the fiction is partly autobiographical. The libretto of this 1940  opera is by the composer and is centered on the opposition of Rivière,  a man dedicated to his ideal of imposing nocturnal postal flights at a time when the post was essential in communications, and Madame Fabien, whose love for her husband pilot is paramount.

            The pilot Pellerin comes from the Andes and tells of a great storm; Robineau, in charge of operations, is scolded by Rivière: no sentiments can be on the way of their task; and the Wireless operator tells us the messages, including the final anguished minutes of Fabien, who perishes when his plane is thrown by a cyclone into the Atlantic.   And the choir reacts emotionally to events whilst Rivière remains adamant.

            The music has twelve-tone elements but is expressive and strong; the orchestra is huge and alternates between chamber passages and others of tremendous tension and high decibels. I was much impressed by the dramatic projection and splendid voice of soprano Daniela Tabernig. Víctor Torres gave Rivière the adequate coldness but at times was swamped by the orchestra. Both tenor Carlos Ullán as Pellerin and bass Carlos Esquivel as Robineau did very well; Sergio Spina was too shouty as the Wireless operator but  communicated the stress of the situation. Carolina Gómes showed  fine timbre and line as the Internal Voice.

            The Orchestra responded convincingly to Christian Baldini´s clear understanding of the complex music. The young Argentine conductor showed again his affinity with Twentieth Century idioms. And the choral work was powerful  under the guidance of Miguel Martínez.

            Initially the production seemed acceptable. The stage design of Luigi Scoglio is based on a three-storey tower at the right (the wireless in the third floor), a nondescript mass at the left, and joining both, a huge division between the chorus and the protagonists. Correct costumes by Ana Ramos Aguayo, inventive lighting by Bogumil Palewica and uncredited projections of planes and the sea.

            But in the final minutes things start to fall apart in Michal Znaniecki´s production, for he absurdly mixes with the action the Madres de Plaza de Mayo, and during the interval the stage isn´t renovated.   Fact is, there´s no relationship between "Volo di notte" and "Il prigioniero", a stark tale by Villiers de l´Isle-Adam, "The torture by hope", adapted by the composer. The prisoner is tortured by the Inquisition  at the time of Philip II of Spain; he is given hope by the jailer, who turns out to be the Grand Inquisitor in the final minutes: the prisoner will be burned.

            A completely uncalled-for choreography for dancers and acrobats by Diana Theocharidis runs counter to Dallapiccola´s own indications for the Mother´s monologue at the beginning: "a black curtain; only her white face, strongly lighted, becomes visible to the audience".  The laterals remain as in "Volo di notte" but the center is occupied by a big cube that changes position in different scenes: in it is the jail.

After many other tergiversations, in the final minutes the Prisoner is supposed to embrace a cedar,  for he believes he is free; from it emerge the arms of the Inquisitor; but not here, the Inquisitor is in the lateral tower with the same artifacts of the previous opera... 

            The intense music was admirably expressed and acted by baritone Leonardo Estévez and mezzo Adriana Mastrángelo, and tenor Fernando Chalabe was in fine form as Jailer/Inquisitor. Again Baldini was in full command and choir and orchestra responded in kind.

        


For Buenos Aires Herald  


Diemecke and the Phil: strong and weak points in two concerts

            Enrique Arturo Diemecke has been at the helm of the Buenos Aires Philharmonic for twelve years, a long period, and maybe it´s time to evaluate globally  his good and bad points. For some people feel –and I agree- that it would be fruitful to change Principal Conductor.

            On the plus side: fantastic memory; technical capacity; affinity with the Postromantic repertoire, particularly Mahler. On the minus side: a clownish personality aggravated each year by irritating and often mediocre and unnecessary comments; programming that isn´t inclusive enough ( some examples: almost no Schönberg-Berg-Webern; few good after WWII choices; neglect of composers such as Hindemith, Martinu or Milhaud; almost no relevant USA music, although he has worked there for decades); less subscription concerts than we should have (not 15 but at least 18);  too much hogging: this year nine out of fifteen concerts are conducted by him; and too little presence of important colleagues, Argentine and foreign.

            In this visual and light society, many like  the showman aspects that trivialize concertgoing; but such recent visits as the mature Nagano and the young Bringuier demonstrate that you can be vital, perceptive and communicative without lowering standards of behavior. I believe we need another sort of Principal Conductor: one with Diemecke´s strong points but one that corrects the weak ones. There are a lot of fine conductors nowadays and a hunt should be on to find somebody that accepts the experience of working here.           

            Diemecke has led the Flint, Mich, Orchestra for 27 years; doesn´t anyone wonder why a man of such technical capacity hasn´t moved to a higher-rank USA orchestra? Or to a good European one? I do, and think that his personality is the problem. Let him come as guest, for he has quite a following, and his better concerts are quite enjoyable.

            The tenth subscription concert was rather good, though it started with a crossover Mexican piece too often played here, the Danzón Nº 2 by Arturo Márquez, "danced" by Diemecke on the podium (he premièred it here fifteen years ago).

            Then, an homage to Ginastera by one of his historic interpreters, the veteran pianist Luis Ascot: the Concerto Nº1, Op.28, a tough score of his Neo-expressionist period, premièred in 1961 both in Washington and BA by Joao Carlos Martins and conductor Howard Mitchell. Ascot has always been a Ginastera champion and has played this concerto often in his international career. Now there´s a sense of strain and intent concentration, but by and large his was a true voice, and was well supported by the conductor.  Feted by the audience, he played two quiet encores: Liszt´s Consolation Nº3 and Ginastera´s "Canción al árbol del olvido" ("Song to the tree of oblivion").

            The concert ended with a very good reading of Mussorgsky´s "Pictures from an exhibition" in Ravel´s unparalleled orchestration. Here Diemecke was at his best, giving its true character to every fragment of this extraordinary score, and there were brilliant solos (saxophone, trumpet) as well as powerful brass ensembles.

            I wasn´t  happy with the following concert, too short and strangely made up of two concerti and a famous Ravel piece, "La Valse".  I love Poulenc´s Two-Piano Concerto, one of his best scores, particularly as they are played by the Labèque sisters;  the artists brought over on this occasion are first-rate: Jean-Philippe Collard, a masterful French pianist whose white mane tells of a long career documented by splendid records, such as the two Ravel Concertos; and our Marcela Roggeri, who lives in Paris and visits us regularly. The concerto hardly lasts twenty minutes; in what was an exciting interpretation, I question some harshness from the orchestra and an excessively brusque rhythmic accent, almost machinistic at times, though played with stamina and clarity, apart from minor misadjustments. The charming encore was Poulenc´s waltz-musette "L´embarquement pour Cythère" ("The embarkation for Cytherea"), vaguely based on Watteau´s lovely painting.

            I didn´t enjoy the South-American première of Pascal Dusapin´s Cello Concerto, of course well played by the Finnish specialist Anssi Karttunen, who was the first to execute 135 contemporary pieces!  I found the music arid, though in some moments there are interesting sonic effects. There was an encore which I couldn´t place.

             Finally, "La Valse" was played grossly, without the refinement that most of it needs; this was Diemecke in poor form.

          


For Buenos Aires Herald  


Chopiniana presented promising Argentine and admirable Polish pianists

 

            Chopiniana ended its season at the Palacio Paz with the impromptu presentation of the twenty-year-old Gastón Frydman (due to the illness of veteran Spanish pianist Guillermo González) and the Argentine debut of Szymon Nehring, a true revelation in an all-Chopin programme. Although the cancellation of González was a pity for he has a vast trajectory and would have premièred several recently discovered sonatas by Domenico Scarlatti, it was worthwhile to meet Frydman´s art at a tender age, for he should have a good career.

            At such short notice, the decisive factor was that he had a varied programme ready for any occasion that might appear. He is a product of the serious training provided by the Beethoven Conservatory and the Colón Institute of Art, among others. He has had some European experience and currently has formed a duo with the accomplished violinist Rafael Gíntoli.

            His programme was eclectic and difficult. The Busoni arrangements of Bach aren´t trendy nowadays, but they are good of its kind, such as the one on the chorale prelude "Ich ruf zu dir, Herr Jesu Christ" ("I call to you, Lord jesus Christ");  Frydman showed continuity and fine timbre in his interpretation. Beethoven followed, with the wonderful Sonata Nº5, Op.10 Nº1, in C minor,  the first one that leads to his maturity. Frydman had some memory errors but understood the forward-looking elements of the style. He was completely in charge of Ginastera´s First Sonata, with its strong Bartókian influence; I only question that the "Presto misterioso" wasn´t, well, mysterious enough.

            He proved comfortable in Liszt´s  arduous music: expressive in the Petrarch Sonnet Nº 47 (not the most popular, but very beautiful), and up to the hurdles of the heavy "Vision", Transcendental Etude Nº 6. In the contrasting world of Debussy, he chose the last of each Book of Preludes: the humoristic "Minstrels" and the virtuosic "Fireworks", both well-managed. Finally, Chopin´s Scherzo Nº1, with its violent contrast between the opening lightning-fast music and the meditative central section well realized by the pianist, notwithstanding small smudges.

            His encores were interesting: a charming Barcarolle by Anton Liadov (hardly ever played, his abundant piano music should be explored), and one of the splendid arrangements by Earl Wild (the great American pianist who fascinated our city decades ago) of Gershwin songs: "Embraceable you", done with much charm by our young pianist. Wild called them "virtuoso etudes", and so they are.

            Nehring studied in Cracovia and Bydgoszcz, and won a Krystian Zimerman scholarship; also, he has gone through a gamut of competitions, with ever higher prizes. Although he keeps perfecting his studies, I find him not only fully formed, but in his twenties he must be one of the best Chopin interpreters in the world. As time went by, it became quite clear that he has an exquisite sense of style and powerful, practically flawless technical command.

            I  have some complaints but they aren´t about the music or the playing: almost half-an-hour delay, apparently because the Polish Ambassador and other people hadn´t arrived yet; a change of order in a programme that already was felt as short measure.; and the repetition of two scores that were already heard in the subscription series: the Fantasia and the first Ballad. But what was included satisfied even the severest judges.

            I will comment the pieces in the order that they were really played (it was announced by Martha Noguera, the organizer of Chopiniana). The lovely Four Mazurkas Op.33 (curiously played in different order: 1,3,2,4, with the fourth having an internal cut because it´s long) were done with the particular empathy that only Poles can have with this rhythm. Followed the meditative Nocturne Op.37 Nº2, and the inimitable tracery of the Barcarolle, executed with astonishing observance of the tiniest detail.

            The Second Part started with the complex Fantasia Op.49, in which the disparate elements were cunningly integrated by the pianist. Then, the Nocturne Op.32 Nº2, one of the less dreamy and more fluent. A scintillating traversal of the Waltz Op.34 Nº 1, specifically named "Brilliant". And the  challenge of the First Ballad, one of the most important scores in Chopin´s life, an enormously varied "narration" that taxes even the greatest pianists, heard in an astonishingly mature reading.

            The encore was a magisterial rendering of Etude op.25 Nº 11, great waves of sound perfectly controlled.

For Buenos Aires Herald          

            



martes, octubre 18, 2016

Puccini´s “Manon Lescaut” in BAL´s disconcerting production


            Giacomo Puccini´s "Manon Lescaut" is his third opera, and after the weak "Edgar" his first success. It was premièred  at Torino in February 1893, almost at the same time as Verdi´s "Falstaff" at Milan, and our city premièred  it just four months afterwards. The famous novel by the Abbé Prévost  is dated 1731 and there are two other operas inspired by it: the charming one by Auber (1856) and the very famous Massenet "Manon" (1884).

            Although "Manon Lescaut" is a giant step forward in Puccini´s career, his style will only be fully formed with "La Bohème" (1896). A phrase by the composer is illuminating: "Massenet feels Manon like a Frenchman, powdered and with minuets. I will feel it like an Italian, with desperate passion". 

            Its progress was difficult, for it successively had four librettists, because the composer wasn´t satisfied: as Claudio Ratier tells us in his excellent programme notes, Giulio Ricordi (Puccini´s editor) hired two librettists: the playwright Marco Praga and the journalist Domenico Oliva. Leoncavallo, the future composer of "I Pagliacci", tried to fix the offending passages of both. But Puccini hadn´t finished composing, and for the fragments still to come the prestigious Luigi Illica was called.

            The fact of not having an acceptable (to him) libretto forced Puccini to compose piecemeal and not in order, hence the music varies in quality. But even if the compounded libretto has its problems and is much weaker than Massenet´s, it does add in the Fourth Act  a scene where the lovers are in a desert near New Orleans (never mind that there are no deserts there) and where she dies from exhaustion.

            But the main roles are a gift for great singers: very demanding both vocally and dramatically; in fact, the tenor has no less than four arias and is even tougher than Calaf in "Turandot". I have been perusing the Colón presentations since 1911; truly great singers and conductors up to 1966 (Caballé-Tucker-Bartoletti).

            Now comes this one from Buenos Aires Lírica. I am sorry that I can´t be happy with the results. It´s very hard to find a first-rate duet of protagonists, and neither Macarena Valenzuela (Chilean) nor Eric Herrero (Brazilian) were quite up to the requirements. She wasn´t in her best vocal condition and her high range was  clearly uncomfortable in the first two acts; she bettered in the Third and was in fuller command in the crucial final aria, "Sola, perduta, abbandonata".  And Herrero was taxed by the frequent top  notes; he has them, but not with the timbric quality they need: the sounds came out raw.

            The best voice was Ernesto Bauer´s as Lescaut, Manon´s brother, a heal and a gambler; he sang with clean open phrasing and a satiric turn the part needs. Geronte di Ravoir, his very name tells us, is the old rich man (no less than the Kingdom´s Treasurer) that is keeping Manon in the splendor of his Parisian palace; it was well impersonated by Norberto Marcos. Iván Maier, in unexpected harsh voice, was Edmondo, Des Grieux´s friend who aids him to elope with Manon; he also was a foppish Dancing Master and a Lamplighter singing a ditty. Baritone Enzo Romano sang well as Innkeeper, Sargent and Commandant, and Trinidad Goyeneche was correct as a Musician in a madrigal.

            Veteran maestro Mario Perusso knows well his Puccini, but the reduced orchestra  can´t give the richness of tone this composer needs (he probably used a retouched orchestration); the pit only holds 43 players. Nice work from the chamber choir under Juan Casasbellas.

            But the staging by André Heller-Lopes was absurd from the beginning. Act I: a square at Amiens with a tavern on the side, and what do we see?: a splendid palace with huge columns and a rococo ceiling (quite handsome; stage designer Daniela Taiana). Of course, it´s perfect for the Second Act, with the addendum of an extremely Baroque bed. However, the same columns are at Le Havre and at the desert!  Plus a mixture of costumes (Sofía Di Nunzio): women with hoop-skirts  and men with modern ties.   Tasteless marking of the singers with sexual innuendo,  ridiculing publicly a powerful man as Geronte or manhandling women in Le Havre scene. And an ominipresent desk at extreme left, for we are supposed to see everything as the narration of an older Des Grieux...


For Buenos Aires Herald​​


The Zürich Tonhalle Orchestra´s stunning third Mozarteum visit


            For decades the Mozarteum Argentino has been the main force in bringing us important orchestras from all over the world. Back in 1978 we had the first Argentine visit of the Zürich Tonhalle Orchestra, conducted by their Principal Conductor Gerd Albrecht. The presence of the Tonhalle confirmed its European prestige.  Then, in 1988 they returned with Hiroshi Wakasugi, their PC at the time, with pianist Rudolf Buchbinder; another positive experience. The venue was then and now the Colón.

            And this season they returned with their new PC, Lionel Bringuier, and the  violinist Lisa Batiashvili. And the results were nothing short of stunning. The artists have youth in common: Bringuier is only 30, born in Nice, and was named PC at 28!          And the violinist looks a similar age, though the biography gives no details about age; nor her  place of birth, but her surname is Georgian. However it does inform about her career, and it is quite impressive, for she has played with the best orchestras and conductors of the world.

            As to Bringuier, he studied at the Paris Conservatory, where he received the influence of conductor and composer Peter Eötvös, for long the leader of the famous Ensemble Intercontemporain; now Eötvös has been named Creative Chair of the Tonhalle during this season, and several works of his will be played, one of them in BA. The other essential influence came from his six years as Resident Director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, first with  Salonen and then with Dudamel. 

            About the Tonhalle: it started in 1862; after World War II it had eminent artists as PC: Vokmae Andreae ended his dilated tenure in 1949 and was succeeded by Rosbaud, Kempe, Dutoit, Albrecht, Eschenbach, Wakasugi, and before Bringuier, by David Zinman from 1995 to 2014. There´s  a mistake in their hand programme biography: it isn´t the orchestra of the Zürich Opera, and it could hardly be: the  Opera´s orchestra, called the Philharmonic, plays 250 performances a year!

             The 2016-17 season of the Tonhalle Orchestra boasts such names as Haitink, P.Järvi, Nagano, Ch.Von Dohnányi, Dutoit, Blomstedt, Zinman , Eötvös and Runnicles. They play at their New Hall, 1600 capacity.

            Their South American tour started at BA and continued at Montevideo, Sao Paulo and Rio, where the soloist was pianist Nelson Freire. Here they played two programmes, both having Batiashvili in Tchaikovsky´s Concerto. From the moment she started playing, there was no doubt that we were hearing an  exceptional violinist: the timbre was as beautiful as she is, the phrasing was exact, the impulse and excitement were contagious, and when she had an ample melody she sang it as the best opera singer. She is also consistent, for on Tuesday she was as splendid as on Monday. And the Orchestra under Bringuier never lost pace nor technical perfection.

            The encore was unusual and welcome: the Kreisler arrangement for violin and orchestra of the principal melody of Dvorák´s Second Movement from the New World Symphony, interpreted as meltingly as can be.

             Two symphonies were heard: on Monday, Shostakovich ´s Sixth; on Tuesday, Mahler´s First. Before Shostakovich, a seven minute score by Ötvös with a particular title: "The gliding of the Eagle in the skies" (première). Written for the National Basque Orchestra in 2012, it features a big orchestra with much percussion, especially a "caja" (drum case), and flighty sounds from the flutes. I found the music evocative and interesting .

            The Sixth was premièred just as World War II started, and as it ends with a sarcastic Presto it was rejected at the time, but it starts with a desolate Adagio in the best stark mood of the author, and it is an important score. Apart from being overfast in the second movement, Bringuier was impeccable, and the orchestra, a round hundred players, showed first-rate quality in all sections.

            Mahler´s First was heard for the third time this year, but the music resists repetition as few others, for it is immensely creative and atractive throughout. Bringuier´s reading was  quite satisfactory, and the playing had many moments of  moving  communication.

            Encores: on Monday, a sprightly rendition of Rossini´s Overture for "L´Italiana in Algeri". On Tuesday, a surprise: Florian Walser, the Tonhalle´s clarinettist, composed a funny showpiece with no name on traditional Swiss tunes, featuring characteristic wether bells, played with gusto by his colleagues.


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For Buenos Aires Herald​​

The Met opens season with controversial “Tristan and Isolde”

 

            New York´s Metropolitan Opera is recognized as the most important in the world, and its satellite transmissions, with excellent sound and image, have been a major contribution to opera in many countries. Fortunately, the Fundación Beethoven took up the challenge and we have had many seasons at the Teatro El Nacional, generally with packed audiences, who know that many of the artists heard and seen don´t come to our city, for the Colón is far from being what it was.

            However, there has been a downside more and more evident: the Met used to be a guarantee of  productions where not only the music but also the libretto were respected. As one great European house after another fell under the evil trend of disregarding the very essence of opera as a genre that allows us to explore different epochs, supplanting it with incongruous and often insulting changes, it finally reached the Met, and its current Director Peter Gelb is responsible for that, as he is in the positive side of the worldwide transmissions. So now we have a Nazi "Manon Lescaut" or a "Rigoletto" in Las Vegas.

            This year his choice for the opening was curious: generally the Met offers a grand production of operas that have a spectacular side, such as "Aida" or "Turandot", and of course with the most famous singers. Wagner´s "Tristan and Isolde" certainly isn´t that: an intimate story of love, vengeance and death between Medieval Celtic reigns, with few choir interventions and no massive scenes.

            But apart from the distortion of taste and common sense, there´s another general problem: even if tickets are quite expensive, costs are very substantial; at the Met salaries of orchestra and choir are exaggerated and productions have gone sky high. So the Met complies with reality: this "Tristan" is a coproduction with Festival Hall Baden-Baden, Teatr Wielki-Polish National Opera and China National Centre for the Performing Arts, Beijing.  So you can see the same stage conception in four cities; and the HD live process  extends this to two thousand venues in 69 countries. Wonderful if the production is good, but deeply destructive if it is bad. And this one is.

            The producer is Mariusz Trelinski, Director of the Teatr Wielki; stage design by Boris Kudlicka; lighting by Mark Heinz; projections design, Bartek Macias. Director of HD live: Gary Halvorson. And an inexplicable item, for there isn´t any: choreography, Tomasz Wygoda. In the cast I find two characters that don´t exist in Wagner: young (in fact, boy), Tristan; the other isn´t even seen: a Doctor.

            Now let me stress the musical side, for it was very worthwhile. I didn´t know Sir Simon Rattle as a Wagnerian, and I was pleasantly surprised: his reading was intense, coherent and intelligent, and of course the Met Orchestra is first-rate, so we had the intercrossing of Leitmotiven admirably expressed. And the singers were of undoubted quality.

            Nina Stemme probably is the best Isolde nowadays, of the Behrens rather than the Nilsson mold: a solid firm voice, but foremost a psychological insight that makes riveting every passage she sings. She recorded it with Plácido Domingo. Stuart Skelton, a new name for me, is tall and portly; his timbre is of the Windgassen rather than the Melchior tradition: it is clear, well projected and of ample register, though lacking in the volume and baritone richness of the ideal Tristan. He sings musically, with no nasality, and has the stamina to arrive fresh to the end of his part (the Third Act has terrible demands). And he is reasonably good as an actor.

            Ekaterina Gubanova was an expressive and  well-sung Brangäne, and Evgeny Nikitin a bluff and forthright Kurwenal. We know the exceptional King Marke of René Pape, for he made his Colón debut two years ago singing the Second Act in the concert version conducted by Barenboim.

            The production: a) We were robbed of hearing the Preludes concentrated on the music, for a big periscope circle center stage showed confused images of mostly inextricable meaning. b) Costumes were modern and revolvers were used. No sense of Medieval values. c) Clumsy final minutes: you don´t see King Marke´s retinue nor the clash between Kurwenal and Melot, only lights with no people; and in what should be a sublime Isolde Love-death goodbye, she cuts her veins. And so on...


For Buenos Aires Herald



​The National Symphony and the Klais organ, an interesting combination


            The Klais organ at the Blue Whale is spectacular and dominates the perspective from the hall. As I wrote in other reviews, it is enormously powerful and much more adapted to what is called symphonic organ, the school derived from the Cavaillé-Coll organs and that bred the production of Franck, Widor and many others. It isn´t a Baroque-style organ, and that is a problem. For undoubtedly if you think of organ music your mind goes first and foremost to Bach and Buxtehude.

             I heard the Klais organ no less than three times before reviewing the concert I´m referring to. Once at the very start, when the CCK was opened; then, at the end of 2015, late in November; and more recently played by Innocenzi. But the marketing of this concert mentioned it as the "inauguration" of the Klais.

            The structure of the programme was unusual: two scores for organ; one for organ and orchestra; interval; two works for orchestra. On this occasion, two German artists were brought over: the organist Hans-Dieter Meyer Moortgat (debut) and conductor Bernhard Wulff, who has worked with the National Symphony before.

            Also a pianist, the veteran organist Mayer-Moortgat has had what is usual in this line of work: long tenure at a determinate post. He is organist of the Braunschweig Saint Magni Church since 1973, and since September 2013 also  of the Bad Gandersheim Basilica, two Lower Saxony towns. As did Mario Videla last year, he chose the ultra-famous Toccata and fugue in D minor by Johann Sebastian Bach, perhaps his most celebrated youthful work; it probably dates from 1706 or 1707, when he came back from Lübeck fascinated by Buxtehude´s improvisations in the vast church of St Mary´s. It is very free, has wide contrasts and impressive command of the organ´s possibilities.

             Mayer-Moortgat proved to be a good professional, apart from minor smudges and hesitations, but he certainly knows that a full organ chord in Bach can never sound like it surged from the Klais, a behemoth of sound. My intrigue, for with Videla, our greatest Bachian, something similar happened: is it impossible in the Klais to play down the volume, or do they succumb to the temptation? For if it is, it proves that the Baroque isn´t for this instrument.

            Naturally, Ginastera´s only creation for organ, the "Toccata, villancico y fuga" (1947) was much more amenable to the Klais, with the massive passages in the first and third pieces sounding out with powerful dissonant glory; but the villancico was the opposite, charming and delicate, and here the Klais proved its versatility.

            Now Meyer-Moortgat descended from his high perch to the stage, and played Bach´s Organ Concerto in D minor at the console (of course, connected to the Klais) with the National Symphony conducted by Wulff. The orchestra was rather big for Bach, though it had to contend with the organ. I am disconcerted by this Concerto: it doesn´t have a single catalogue number, but the following: 1052, 1052a, 146 and 188. Well, the first two coincide with the First Concerto for harpsichord, and the other two with cantatas, but the music I heard sounded like an augmented transcription of the Concerto; and I found only one recorded performance, where it says "reconstructed by Schureck". It was, as heard, rather long and prolix, with ample cadenzas and endless strings of semiquavers. Again, the organist played well rather than magisterially; the orchestra accompanied in kind.

            Nowadays you rarely encounter Stokowski arrangements of Bach, they are supposed to be démodé; but "Komm, süsser Tod" ("Come, sweet Death") is Nº 40 of the Schemelli Musical Song Book as harmonized by Bach, a short, discreet sacred song orchestrated by Stokowski with taste and containment, even if with some instruments that Bach wouldn´t have used; it was nicely played.

            And then, what for me was the best choice of the evening: after a long silence, Buenos Aires finally heard again Hindemith´s Suite "Nobilissima visione", extracted from the 1938 Massine ballet on the life of St Francis of Assisi. This is beautiful Neoclassic music, of enormous contrapuntal ability and fresh inspiration, in its parts "Introduction and rondo; March and Pastorale"; and a marvelous final "Passacaglia". Wulff and the orchestra offered a fine performance both globally and in refined solos like those of flutist Patricia Da Dalt.


For Buenos Aires Herald

Urlezaga´s federal project Danza at the Opera-Allianz

                                 

            Iñaki Urlezaga has had a brilliant dancing career since his early debut when he was fifteen in 1991 with the Ballet of the Teatro Argentino.  He went on to be Principal Dancer of the Royal Ballet during a decade and a  guest at the Bolshoi, the Met and the Scala. But after this trajectory, he came back to Argentina, founded his own Ballet and started a double life as dancer and choreographer.

            In 2013  the Ministry of Social Development (Ministerio de Desarrollo Social) called him for a federal project called Danza por la Inclusión; the current Government shortened it to Danza, but the purpose remain the same: to include and blend dancers from all over the country in a new Ballet. 

            All through his career Urlezaga has had the help and solid criteria of his aunt Lilian Giovine (Artistic Adviser of Danza); Rodolfo Sorbi is Assistant to the Artistic Director (Urlezaga). All three were dancers of the Argentino in 1992. Another Urlezaga, Marianela, is in charge of Artistic Production; Miguel García Lombardo is the Technical Director; and the Lighting Director is the recognized Roberto Traferri.

            I can only imagine what a tough and time-consuming job it must have been to select capable dancers from all over and mesh them into a group with a corporate feeling, imbueing them with a sense of style of such different aesthetics as those displayed in this cunningly designed  programme. Apart from Urlezaga, the Principal Dancers are Eliana Figueroa, Iñaki´s partner for many years; Gabriela Alberti, admirable Colón artist; and Nahuel Prozzi, who has had distinguished participation at the Argentino Ballet.

            I counted 49 dancers in the programme list and frankly their names are new to me, the result of the talent hunting of recent years. Evidently the work of the leading team plus four rehearsal maestros has been fruitful, for even if some are still a bit green, most have learned and incorporated a lot of the arduous training demanded by classical ballet. I saw the Thursday afternoon performance, in which Urlezaga didn´t participate.

            The choice of George Balanchine´s "Serenade" was a sign of Urlezaga´s confidence, for a ballet by this most refined and musical of all choreographers is certainly a challenge. But he had the help of the Balanchine Foundation, zealous custodian of the great G.B.; they sent Diana White to supervise the rehearsals, and following the creator´s dictum of integrated concept,  the marvelous costumes of the fabled Karinska and the original lighting by Ronald Bates modified by Mark Stanley were used.  Balanchine inverts the fourth and third movements, so that the piece ends with a sad Elegy.  It was his first ballet conceived in America, originally in 1934 for the School of American Ballet and later revised for his New York City Ballet in 1948. Figueroa  danced expressively her melancholy part, abetted in the Waltz by Prozzi, and the group of female dancers responded ably to the pure harmony of Balanchine´s steps.

            "Cantares" is a ballet for women by Oscar Araiz on Ravel´s Spanish Rhapsody. It comes from a show called "Ibérica"; no date is mentioned in the programme, but I surmise that it probably was choreographed about two decades ago. Fernanda Bianchi is in charge of the revival, which used the attractive costumes of Carlos Cytrynowski. With a confessed García Lorca influence, the choreographer goes through different moods, from anguished feelings to the joyful final "Feria".  It is one of his better and more balanced jobs and was quite well danced, with again fine work from Figueroa.

            Finally, the Third Act of "Raymonda", the 1898 Glazunov ballet choreographed by Petipa and on this occasion revised by Urlezaga. Seen whole here when the Bolshoi Ballet visited us long ago,  the final act is purely Divertimento; a succession of group dances tinged with Hungarian Gypsy folk feeling (it happens at the court of the King of Hungary) and numerous solo variations (too numerous), it is quite a test of Petipa style and as such good training for dancers. Alberti and Prozzi shone in the leading parts, and the others mostly did well, though there´s room for improvement. Splendid stage design  by Sergio Massa (not the politician...) and rich costumes by Mariano Toffi.

            The Orquesta Académica de Buenos Aires, though unfortunately amplified, was led with acumen by Carlos Calleja, who is a specialist in these matters.



For Buenos Aires Herald


Kigawa and Cuckson, virtuoso specialists in contemporary music


            You find specialists even in the standard repertoire,  but you also have generalists who are at home in an ample display of different schools. However, you do need specialisation if your line of work is Medieval or Renaissance Music, or the Baroque. And that applies naturally to contemporary music, for its language isn´t of easy access, as it used to be in another periods. Listeners understood readily Bach or Mozart, they don´t Boulez or Berio.

            The CETC (the Colón Center for Experimentation) annually does a small cycle called Integrals, focussed on one composer´s production for an instrument, and usually there are three concerts within a small lapse. This year we were offered Sciarrino´s creations for flute, played by Matteo Cesari; Tristan Murail´s piano music, by Taka Kigawa; and veering from the term Integrals, solo violin scores by American and exiled composers that have lived in the USA, played by Miranda Cuckson.

            Frankly I am not enthusiastic about Sciarrino, so I skipped it; but I was sorry to miss the Murail Integral due to a family reunion. However, I heard Kigawa in earlier seasons and knew that he is an exceptional artist, so I was happy that he added a concert out of the Integrals series. It was presented at the Colón´s Salón Dorado for free with a packed audience and it proved memorable.

            Kigawa is Japanese, in his early forties, slim, energetic and wonderfully controlled. He lives in New York, where he obtained a Master at the Juilliard School. His short programme started with two Japanese composers.Toru Takemitsu was well known by his film music; "Les yeux clos" ("The closed eyes")  lasts seven minutes; the music is subtle and sensitive, ideal for Kigawa´s touch and total command. Karen Tanaka (b.1961) wrote "Crystalline", a good title for a five-minute piece that opts for diaphanous,  atmospheric writing.

            In a way, these composers reflect the refined, nature-loving side of Japan, and seem influenced by the Occidental musician that many believe to be the father of Twentieth-Century innovation, Claude Debussy. So it was a marvelous idea that Kigawa completed the concert with the French creator´s seminal First Book of Preludes (1910). Although they are enormously important, they are rarely done integrally. Their variety is astonishing, going from the total serenity of Nº 1, "Danseuses de Delphes", to the turbulence of Nº 7, "Ce qu´a vu le vent d´Ouest" ("What the western wind saw"), to the jazzy humor of Nº 12, "Minstrels", all the time creating new ways to harmonize and to play the piano. 

            Kigawa showed himself a phenomenal virtuoso, both in the whole First Book and in the encore, the dazzling Nº 12, "Feux d´artifice" ("Fireworks"), of the Second Book of Preludes. Following his playing with a score, the perfection of hues, articulations and rhythms was amazing. One small cavil: his fortissimi sounded too Bartokian for Debussy.

            Miranda Cuckson, also a Juilliard School Doctor in Music, faced a 75-minute recital of solo violin music, all of it very difficult, with absolute technical command and unflagging intensity. Her concert was at the CETC and she had a spare audience, though enthusiastic. She also had bad luck: they were paving Libertad and the sound penetrated the venue´s walls; but why did we also hear walking people close by? She was unfazed and completely concentrated in her playing, with a flexible body trained to such efforts.

            Stefan Wolpe (1902-72) was a Berliner who emigrated to the USA due to Nazi threats. His 1964 "Piece in two parts" (one slow, one fast) lasted 15 minutes, contrasting

twelve-tone melodies (yes, they exist!) with pizzicato interruptions. Elliott Carter perhaps was the longest-lived composer (1908-2012); the "Four lauds" were written over a lengthy span (1984-20   11) and their 18 minutes give us widely contrasting music of strong dissonance but also a certain lyricism in the "Gratitude for Goffredo Petrassi", the admirable Italian composer.

            Mario Davidovsky, b. 1934, is Argentine and has lived for decades in the USA, working in the field of electroacoustic music and its relationship to instruments. A typical and valid example is the  "Synchronism Nº9",  1988, where the violin blends easily with the electronic sounds.

            The final work is quite a challenge, a 33-minute Sonata (1953) by Roger Sessions (1896-1985), a dense serial work in four movements well crafted though sometimes arid. Cuckson played it with powerful conviction. 




For Buenos Aires Herald



Nagano and the Hamburg Phil: transcendent German Postromantics

             Kent Nagano is one of the most complete conductors  and some years ago vividly impressed the Mozarteum audiences when he came with the Montreal Symphony. Now he was back with the Hamburg Philharmonic at the Colón with two programmes focussed on German/Austrian Postromantics and they became a major event of the season.

            Nagano has had a great European career which in principle one wouldn´t expect from a Californian of Japanese ascendance, but he explains that he was trained by a German teacher who imbued him with the very essence of style in the greatest symphonic repertoire.  In his DNA there was an innate musicality and it was nurtured by an intelligent guide.

            A brief résumé. He has held main posts at Lyon Opera (a very innovative tenure), the Hallé  Orchestra, Los Angeles Opera, Deutsche Symphonie Berlin, the Bavarian Opera (Munich). And since September 2015 he is Musical Director of the Hamburg State Opera, whose Philharmonic Orchestra gives two hundred performances of opera and ballet plus thirty symphonic and chamber concerts, a tremendous amount of work.

            I recall that this orchestra came here decades ago led by Aldo Ceccato and for the Mozarteum:  a solid ensemble, though not as important as it was on this year´s visit. They trace their origins to as far back as 1828, and during the Twentieth Century they had illustrious conductors: Muck, E.Jochum, Keilberth, Sawallisch and G.Albrecht. Then Ceccato, and afterwards Metzmacher and for ten years before Nagano, Simone Young, the outstanding Australian lady conductress.

            As it came in this tour they numbered 96 players, big enough for Strauss. They really have 130 players because their enormous yearly task necessitates  some rotation of players.  And with them came two admirable artists: cellist Gautier Capuçon, who with his violinist brother Renaud played a memorable Brahms Double Concerto here in one of the Argerich Festivals; and Japanese mezzosoprano Mihoko Fujimura, unknown here but very appreciated in Germany, particularly in Wagner.

             Richard Strauss´  "Don Quixote" (1897) demonstrates his inexhaustible orchestral imagination, who had only one possible match in the late Nineteenth Century: Gustav Mahler. "Don Quixote" has a subtitle, "Fantastic variations on a chivalric subject". The cello is the Don and the viola is Sancho. Between the Introduction and the Finale there are ten variations, some of them with astounding orchestral effects (the sheep sound like advanced atonalism, and flying is cunningly imitated). But it is also a warm portrait of character.  It needs a crack orchestra and an inspired cellist: it had both this time.

             True, Capuçon was somewhat arbitrary as to note values, but his interpretation was expressive and convincing, with beautiful timbre and fine technique. Nagano and the orchestra were stalwart throughout, with perfectly chosen tempi and immaculate playing of the very difficult music, as well as  intensity and sustained concentration. Naomi Seiler (viola) and Konradin Seitzer, the concertino of imposing presence and virtuoso quality, made fine contributions.

            Brahms´ Symphony Nº 1 is probably the best First in history; to say that what we heard was outstanding in the myriad versions we have heard through several decades

is no exaggeration. The composer was born in Hamburg and was homaged by the players fully and excitingly. The encores were the subtle Entr´acte from Schubert´s "Rosamunde", lovingly done, and curiously with no hiatus, a fascinating movement from Ligeti´s "Concert Romanesc", as wild a piece as can be imagined, where conductor and orchestra showed that the moderns have no secrets for them.

            The second programme was very coherent. Before the interval, Wagner´s Prelude to Act One and Love-Death from "Tristan and Isolde", the latter in the orchestral arrangement of the composer; and the five "Wesendonck Lieder", arranged by Felix Mottl the first four  and the fifth by Wagner from the original for voice and piano. As two of them have melodies that reappear in "Tristan...", it was a good idea to programme the songs on the poems of Wagner´s muse, Mathilde Wesendonck. Nagano proved a fine Wagnerian, and Fujimura sang with powerful voice and clear understanding of the style.

            Bruckner´s Sixth Symphony (1881) isn´t as long as the following ones (55 minutes); I find it more technical and less attractive than the Seventh or Eighth, but quite representative of his distinctive personality. Again Nagano and the orchestra showed conclusive professionalism, energy and power of communication. There were no encores.


For Buenos Aires Herald

Martha Noguera gives difficult long recital in her Chopiniana


 

            Among her many qualities pianist Martha Noguera has perseverance and the courage to tackle difficult tasks. Long before she created Chopiniana, the pianistic Festival that has brought many great talents to Argentina, she did here in 1998 the integral Beethoven sonatas (32) and all Chopin´s works with opus number in 1999. Her ample career started when she was eleven  and she is now in her early seventies, along with Argerich, Gelber and Barenboim. So we have a formidable Argentine school of piano playing. And although they are no longer active, let us not forget such names as Sylvia Kersenbaum and Elsa Púppulo.

            Her yearly recitals for Chopiniana are always long and difficult, never less than 95 minutes of music. But in recent seasons I felt that she is asking too much from herself, and that her programmes are exhausting for any pianist. Her memory has been proverbial for many decades and her technique is up to almost any hurdle, but now there are occasional fissures in both, although the level remains high.

            The recital at the Palacio Paz began with Schubert´s last Sonata, Nº21, D.960, surely the most played but not part of her repertoire until recently. Schubert is beautiful but needs patience; days ago I mentioned concerning his Octet the Schumann phrase about him, "heavenly length", and it certainly applies to this 40-minute Sonata. Noguera showed that patience in her faithful, detailed and solid account of the first two movements, never rushing in the slow one, admittedly repetitive. The scherzo was a bit too fast though it held. But the Finale was uneven, with some fine passages followed by others who were, yes, rushed; and at a certain point she wavered and for some seconds didn´t find her way.

            The Second Part started with one of the most problematic Beethoven Sonatas, Nº28, op.101. The lovely lyrical First movement was done with much sensibility and style, and the brusque "Vivace alla marcia" was tackled with energy. The Finale is the complicated movement: it starts with a morose "Lento", quotes the first movement, and then turbulently falls into a tremendous  Fugue, almost as hard to play as that of the "Hammerklavier" Sonata though not so long. But Beethoven states: "not so fast", and pianists should comply, for Noguera started too fast and then had to keep that pace as the music became more and more arduous; apart from some slips, again it happened that suddenly a figuration didn´t come out well and she repeated it for some seconds until resuming the progress of the music.

            Then she played Chopin: two youthful works, the Rondo op.16 and the rarely done First Sonata op.4. The Introduction and Rondo, to give its proper name, was written in 1832, when he was 22, a brilliant showpiece light in content: Chopin as a virtuoso. As I have no score, I can´t vouchsafe that everything was played as written, but Noguera produced plenty of fireworks.

            The Sonata is a strange work, written as a teenager (18). The initial Allegro maestoso is based on a chromatic subject, and its course provides many surprises, although with a feeling of immaturity. The Larghetto is melodic but rather tame, and the Menuetto has charm, although this form is certainly not Romantic. The Finale is speedy, ample and rather entangled. Was it this last characteristic that troubled Noguera? For she skipped four whole pages of score in what seemed a memory lapse. Up to then she had played quite well. 

            The hall was full, for Noguera has a large following, and Poland´s Ambassador was present and gave her a public homage. Her encores were temerary but surprisingly were among the best interpretations of the evening: a murderous arrangement by György Cziffra of Rimsky-Korsakov´s "Flight of the Bumblebee"; and the ultrafamous Chopin "Heroic" Polonaise, in a strong and assured performance  full of the adequate contrasts.

            May I venture a suggestion for next year? Be a little less ambitious and play a shorter and not so arduous programme. 




For Buenos Aires Herald


López Puccio´s Estudio Coral dazzles with their uncanny precision

             For several decades Carlos López Puccio has led a celebrated double life as member of Les Luthiers and the recognised master of the best chamber choir we have, the Estudio Coral de Buenos Aires. What´s relevant isn´t only the high quality of picked professional singers and the expressive and stylish interpretations that the conductor always obtains:  what matters equally is the unfailing interest of the pieces that his avid curiosity unveils for us.

            Last Wednesday they gave an outstanding recital for the Mozarteum´s Midday Concerts at the Gran Rex, called "Postromanticism and Modernity in the Twentieth Century".  Although many of the pieces had been heard at the Colón last year, some were not, very especially a fantastic Richard Strauss score, "Hymne", sung however  in other venues, and for me the main attraction.

            As he always does, López Puccio, with his nervous, fast humor, presented some of the most complex  choices. Naturally "Hymne" (1938) closed the concert. On a Friedrich Rückert text about the biblical story of Joseph and his brethren Strauss builds a colossal edifice for twelve different voices plus a soloists quartet, not only a technical tour de force but, as the conductor said, "a beautiful piece of work". The sixteen parts meshed to perfection and arrived to an overpowering climax before subsiding. The solid soloists were Pol González, Paula Riestra, Silvina Sadoly and Pablo Zartmann.

            Earlier we had heard another of Strauss´ rare scores for choir, heard at the Colón,  the sarcastic and witty "Die Göttin im Putzzimmer" ("The Goddess at the boudoir"), 1936, in a Rückert text on an entirely contrasting subject with that of "Hymne". This "Goddess" isn´t easy at all, for eight skillfully managed voices (of course several singers per voice: the Estudio numbers thirty people) 

            Two items were folk-inspired: two of Janácek´s songs for mixed choir, a slow melodic one ("The wild duck") and a fast, rhythmic piece ("Our song"), both very attractive; but here López Puccio chose with poetic licence, for they are from 1885 and 1890. The "Four Slovak folksongs" (1917) by Bartók are short and close to the originals collected by himself; charming and vigorous, they show why this great creator was so attracted by folklore. The interpretations were fresh and rhythmic.

            The other two scores were from notable USA composers.  Copland´s "Lark" (1938) is an inspired song  for baritone and choir; the fine soloist was Martín Caltabiano.  Surely the most advanced choice was Charles Ives´ "General Booth enters into Heaven", written in 1914 on a text by Vachel Lindsay extolling the figure of Booth, founder of the Salvation Army; his entry is followed by a choir of indigent people. The firm voice of González was the Narrator; the choir quoted the hymn "Cleansing fountain" (1823) by Lowell Mason; and the piano played atonal chords. As usual, Ives experimented, with talent and a personal touch. Both here and in Bartók, Diego Ruiz accompanied.

For Buenos Aires Herald