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.


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

sábado, octubre 01, 2016

Shakespeare-Verdi´s “Macbeth”: black and red tragedy


            Shakespeare´s "Macbeth" is one of the  blackest tragedies he wrote and the most concise. It matters little that this Medieval Scottish drama disregards history, for in fact Duncan was the villain and Macbeth a good ruler. What counts is its terrible denunciation of murder  as the route to absolute power, the psychological complexity of the ruling couple, the corroding strength of remorse, and the memorable phrases that stay in the mind.

            One of the mysteries of music is that the best operas on Shakespeare weren´t written by Britishers but by an Italian: Giuseppe Verdi. He only knew the great playwright in translation, but that was enough to heat his imagination and understand that he had found golden material. And indeed, Verdi´s "Macbeth", "Otello" and "Falstaff" are the most important Shakespearean operas in history.

            The first version of "Macbeth" is dated 1847 and is by far Verdi´s greatest opera prior to the so-called popular trilogy ("La Traviata", "Rigoletto", "Il Trovatore"). Although he revised it in 1865, most of the material stayed as it was, the basic changes being the addition of Lady Macbeth´s aria "La luce langue" and a new triumphant ending.

            Francesco Piave´s libretto (with some additions by Andrea Maffei) is extremely faithful to Shakespeare, though some scenes are excised. And the witches´ crucial two scenes are respected, for the underworld is essential both in Shakespeare and Verdi. As the original was premièred in Florence and the revision in Paris, the latter had to have a ballet for the witches, and this is currently cut. 

            Verdi was only 34 when he created his tenth opera, and in it what he did was unique for he explores new grounds: the singers rarely have to deal with virtuosic writing but need to involve themselves with the characters to the point of total identification: you need great artists rather than outstanding singers. And the orchestra creates ambiences of disquiet and terror.

            At the Colón it was offered only in 1939 before the great performances of 1962 and 1964 established it in the repertoire: Shuard, Colzani/Taddei, conductor Previtali, and the truly innovative production by Pöttgen. Unfortunately by 1998 the production by Jérôme Savary was contaminated by the distortion trend that has ruined European production ever since. And last year something even worse happened: a South African company presented a total travesty with a "Congolese Macbeth" where snatches of Verdi could be heard and poor Shakespeare was torn to pieces.

            The opera is Medieval and Scottish, but in this operatic season Marcelo Lombardero´s production happens in the Nineteen Fifties in a vaguely Balcan location. So the references to Glamis, Birnam Wood, Cawdor, Fiffe and the English go for nothing. Ah, but you have to resignify it for our times, for we are so silly that we can´t understand Medieval struggle for power. So at the end you see a modern bombarded town and not an inkling of the Birnam wood advancing. Banquo is killed in a train station. Why a barbed wire in "a deserted spot near the border with England" ? And why after the final chorus of peace are people repressed? But we have plenty of red blood.

            Granted, the massive stage designs of Diego Siliano are well executed, and the apparitions of ghosts are effective (also by Siliano). Costumes by Luciana Gutman follow the producer´s instructions. The lighting by Horacio Efron is skillful.

            Lady Macbeth is a fearsome role, and Callas´s record of the arias set the standard. Chaira Taigi (debut) is beautiful but that´s not a plus in this role: she has to inspire dread with her acting and singing, and she doesn´t. The voice is middling, for she neither has a firm top nor solid lows. However, she found her best form in the Somnambulist scene. The Argentine Fabián Veloz, replacing the announced Jorge Lagunes, was admirable, a true Verdian baritone with timbre, volume, musicality and dramatic presence. A plus: for the first time at the Colón, we hear Macbeth´s farewell to the world (from the 1847 version).

            Aleksander Teliga (debut) was a Banquo of little vocal presence, but Gustavo López Manzitti was very expressive and accurate as Macduff. The rest were in the picture.  Excellent work from the Colón Choir (Miguel Martínez). And a welcome return of conductor Stefano Ranzani, who gave full dramatic impact to the music with a collaborating orchestra.

For Buenos Aires Herald

Beethoven´s Septet and Schubert´s Octet: ideal chamber music


            Chamber music is generally identified with the string quartet as the most natural genre of the kind: a conversation between equals. Naturally  the brunt of the repertoire either comes from it or from various combinations with piano: violin, cello in sonatas, trios and also with viola in quartets. There are also various combinations in quintets: strings with piano or clarinet or another string. But  there are much fewer string sextets, and scores for seven, eight or nine soloists are rare.

            That is why last Saturday´s concert at the Museo de Arte Decorativo was so fascinating, for it combined what for long was one of Beethoven´s most popular works, the Septet, with Schubert´s Octet, which uses the same instruments plus a second violin. Both proved that the blend of strings with winds was not only possible but also extremely rich in timbric possibilities in the hands of master composers.

            Beethoven´s Septet was written between 1798 and 1800 in six movements; not the habitual four of the quartets, but rather like a divertimento or serenade. He combined four strings (violin, viola, cello and bass) with two woodwinds (clarinet, bassoon) and one brass (horn). After an introductory Adagio we hear an extended Allegro in sonata form where the constant dialogues are delightful listening. Then, a beautifully melodic Adagio, and a famous minuet which he also used in the Piano Sonata Nº 20. An ample Theme with ornamental variations which give a chance to shine to the individual players, a brilliant Scherzo,  and a martial Andante ending in an exhilarating Presto. About 36 minutes of the "other Beethoven", the one still more classic than pre-Romantic, without drama and capable of charm.

              Schubert´s Octet was a command by Count Ferdinand Troyer to write a score in the spirit of Beethoven´s Septet. And he did, respecting the number of movements and only inverting the order of the menuet and the scherzo. In 1824 Schubert´s style was fully mature, including his  bent for heavenly lengths, for it lasts a full hour. Who cares, when every minute is so beautiful. 

            As you can imagine, to hear both in the same evening is ideal; but it is also taxing: about 95 minutes of difficult music that needs utmost professionalism and concentration.  The group that presented these works calls itself facetiously Ensamble Intergaláctico, and maybe it´s an ad hoc occasion, but I do wish that they will play them in other occasions for this is a first-rate conflation of the best instrumentalists we have. It comprises as first violin the excellent Chilean concertino of the Colón´s Orquesta Estable, Freddy Varela Montero; as second violin, the talented Pablo Sangiorgio; as violist, the admirable Adrián Felizia; as cellist, Gloria Pankaeva, an accomplished Russian artist living here; as bassist, the ever reliable Oscar Carnero. Plus two first desks of the Buenos Aires Phil: Gabriel La Rocca, bassoon; and Fernando Chiappero, horn. And an Argentine who has been working in Chile for decades, clarinettist Luis Rossi.

            They preferred to play the Schubert first, perhaps because it is so arduous. Except for some initial horn mistakes, the playing was wholly satisfying, both in mutual comprehension, style and technical accomplishment. 

            The evening happened to be the last of a cycle that began on June 4 with a concert by Sex Vocibus which I reviewed. It was called National Cycle of Chamber Music, and the knowledgeable programmers were Mariángeles Fernández Rajoy and Francisco Varela. They did a splendid job: twenty concerts of very interesting and renovated programmes. Unfortunately I could only hear two of them due to collisions with other events but I know I missed some wonderful afternoons.  May they be able next year to do a similar cycle in the gorgeous main hall of the Museo: just being there is always a renewed joy of refinement and quality. And it´s for free.

Pablo Bardin


For Buenos Aires Herald

The Phil and theNS play in consecutive days at the CCK

         Chaos at the Usina del Arte: for the third time this year a concert announced since March by the Colón to take place there had to be derived to another venue, in this case the CCK´s Blue Whale (called now the Symphonic Hall, Sala Sinfónica). Chaos at the National Symphony (Orquesta Sinfónica Nacional): as the Culture Ministry´s Administration pays absurdly late, renowned Chilean conductor Francisco Rettig had already cancelled one of the concerts programmed with his presence; the second, in which he was supposed to lead Stravinsky´s "Oedipus Rex" (already cancelled  a couple of seasons ago for similar reasons), took place with Rettig though with a different programme: he was finally paid his fees for last year´s performances, but so late that the orchestral parts of "Oedipus Rex" were sent back to its foreign editors. So he had to choose one of his specialties available in the orchestra´s archive: Bruckner´s Fourth Symphony.

            A sad story, and with a very bad outcome: worn down by a continuous fight of many years, the Orchestra´s stalwart programmer, Ciro Ciliberto, finally quit. He had been a key figure during the long Calderón tenure; after the ailing and aged conductor finally stepped down last year after inaugurating the Blue Whale, Ciliberto was left in sole command as programmer and organizer. The policy was to have guest conductors known to the orchestra and of firm renown (Rettig, Lano, Diemecke, Neuhold) and talented young Argentine conductors and avoid for the time being the naming of a new Principal Conductor. That was so both in 2015 and 2016.

             Now the destiny of the NS is in the hands of a committee of capable first desks of the orchestra, but it will be tough for them to replace the constant day-to-day work of Ciliberto, a capable and hard-working man to whom the NS and the audience owe a great homage, for without him the NS wouldn´t have surmounted uncounted problems due to the uncooperating Ministry Administration. Frankly I have little hope of an amelioration: what´s needed is a wholesale renovation with new, sane and workable rules, with strong sanctions against offenders.

            Let´s go back to the Buenos Aires Philharmonic: it was their first concert at the Blue Whale, so they had to adapt to acoustics they didn´t know.  The Phil had the benefit of refurbished acoustics that have diminished the bothersome stridency of the brass and percussion, for now a curtain behind the orchestra is  veiling the black granite wall.

            Luis Gorelik, born 1963, is an experienced Argentine conductor, disciple of Calderón and of Mendi Rodan in Israel. In recent years he has been Principal Conductor of the Salta and Entre Ríos Orchestras, and currently he is also PC of the Filiberto Orchestra.

            The Phil played first the charming Boïeldieu Harp Concerto (1795) in which he wrote in "gallant" style what is still the most popular of the not abundant concerted literature for this instrument. Lucrecia Jancsa, first desk of the NS, played it tastefully and mostly accurately, though her volume is small. She gave us a nice encore melody, which sounded French to me. The orchestra accompanied well.

            The tremendous ballets Stravinsky wrote for Diaghilev between 1910 and 1913 are still the most famous of all his compositions. "Rite of Spring" (1913) is the most important, but "Petrushka" (1911) is the one many of us like best, for its enormously innovative and varied music. For some reason, "Rite.." was initially programmed, but "Petrushka" in its 1947 revision was played instead; no complaints from me. The solo playing could be improved and the first minutes were rather garbled, but matters settled down and we finally had an attractive version, well understood by Gorelik.

            Now to the NS: Rettig is a Bruckner connoisseur, and his Fourth was predictably well built and conducted from memory. His style is sober, maybe too much so, but always very musical. Most of the playing was quite good, but the first horn wasn´t up to par. I would have preferred the longer Seventh or Eighth, but the one-hour Fourth was a last-minute replacement.

For Buenos Aires Herald

Polish pianist Slawomir Dobrzanski reveals Szymanowski

            Naturally enough, since Chopiniana´s inception many years ago it has had close contacts with the Polish Embassy, and in each season we have had the pleasure of hearing authentic interpretations of Chopin. One of those artists was Stanislaw Dobrzanski, who visited us in 2010. And now he was back giving us Chopin and Mozart, but particularly letting us make the acquaintance of two composers of similar surnames: Szymanowski and Szymanowska. As usual, the venue was the splendid oval room of the Palacio Paz.

            Of course, Karol Szymanowski isn´t an unknown here, for BA has witnessed the premières of several important scores from him, recognised as the most interesting Polish composer of the Twentieth Century prior to World War II, but he is hardly a household name and merits to be much better known, for he had a rich musical language. To mention some essential works: the opera "King Roger" (Colón, 1981), the Stabat Mater (Rowicki, 1965);  the Third Symphony ("Song of the Night"); and the First Violin Concerto. He wrote many very personal songs, and no less than 16 works for piano, especially the Nine Preludes, "Métopes" (three poems), "Masques", the 20 Mazurkas Op.50, and the music we heard played by Dobrzanski, the Twelve etudes Op. 33  (1917).

            Born in a Polish estate in the Ukraine in 1882, from 1901 he studied in Warsaw and was especially interested in  "the structure of the pianistic passages of Chopin and Skriabin. In their music he saw and was able to discover the secret of pianoforte style" (Ludomir Rózicki). Warsaw was very conservative then, but stays at Vienna and Berlin opened new paths and led to a style of his own. His Etudes should be much better known, for in their concise way (just 17 minutes) they witness a vivid and innovative imagination and a complete knowledge of the piano´s resources.

            Dobrzanski is a graduate of Warsaw´s Chopin Music Academy and Doctor of Musical Arts at the Connecticut University (2001). He is currently Music Professor at the Kansas State University, and alternates teaching with concert giving and recordings. On the evidence of this concert, he is a solid musician of considerable means, and a specialist in Szymanowski, for the Etudes were expressed with very firm technical attainment and understanding.

            And now the curiosity: the Nocturne in B flat minor, and as an encore a short Mazurka, by Maria Szymanowska (1790-1831), about which the pianist wrote a book (2006). A disciple of the Irish composer John Field, inventor of the Nocturne for piano, she was a distinguished pianist and a blonde beauty who was briefly Goethe´s lover. None of the information found in this review comes from the printed programme, for unfortunately the Chopiniana series never has programme notes. So her Nocturne sounds Chopinian "avant la lettre", for in fact the model was Field (who inspired Chopin to produce his own famous series).

            Before Szymanowski, Mozart´s penultimate Sonata, Nº 16, K. 570, in a clean performance, slightly fast in the first and last movements, and an Adagio with some pre-Romantic touches. And after Szymanowska, four Chopin masterpieces: the Third and First Ballades, along with the Scherzi and the Etudes the composer´s most virtuosic writing but never having a superficial moment; the lovely Berceuse; and the very difficult First Impromptu. All this was played with admirable style but not without some smudges, a couple of them rather glaring. A veteran pianist who has been in Poland during one of the competitions said, and I agree: all the best Polish pianists have a peculiar sound that distinguishes them. Dobrzanski is one of them.

            A detail which bothers some but not me: the artist has as a memory aid a tablet with the scores in front of him; he hardly looks at it, however. 

For Buenos Aires Herald

The Ensamble Lírico Orquestal´s “Rigoletto” passes muster

            The Ensamble Lírico Orquestal defines itself as "an independent alternative producing projects of classical  and lyric music". It isn´t  accurate, for opera is also classical. In fact they programme operas and choral-symphonic concerts. It is led by the married couple of conductor Gustavo Codina and soprano Cecilia Layseca, enthusiastic artists that have kept alive the institution during the last decade. I single out three interesting things they have done: the première of Verdi´s second opera, the comedy "Un giorno di regno"; Orff´s "Catulli Carmina", the middle work of the trilogy begun with "Carmina Burana" and ended with "The triumph of Aphrodite"; and Respighi´s charming "La bella addormentata nel bosco", an adaptation of the Sleeping Beauty story.

            In recent years their home has mostly been the Auditorio de Belgrano, the venue for so many seasons of the National Symphony, now ensconced at the Blue Whale. As it is a very good auditorium with fine acoustics, I find positive that the ELO can present in certain Sunday afternoons  four offerings, each one given twice. The AB thus has some representation of classical music in what otherwise is a stage for popular shows.

            This year the ELO has very conservative programming: in opera, two surefire hits, Puccini´s "La Boheme" (though semi-staged) and Verdi´s "Rigoletto", fully staged; and in concerts, a Brahms afternoon including the German Requiem, and Beethoven´s Ninth Symphony, "Choral". Brahms and Puccini have already passed.

            The Auditorio has no pit, so they have had to eliminate the first rows of the stalls to place the 35 players; as the acoustics are quite alive, the sound comes out powerful as if there were 60 instrumentalists.

            As said, there are only two performances, and the decision was made to have two casts; I heard the second, but for information you´ll find in parentheses the name and surname of the singers of the first cast. Of Verdian operas "Rigoletto" is second only to "La Traviata" in popularity, and for good reason in both cases; even with some libretto faults, the warm humanity of "Rigoletto" touches the heart and the protagonist is psychologically very rich.

            The opera is also  demanding, and calls for great singers. Of course it is unfair to make in this instance comparisons with some admirable Colón casts, but memory keeps coming back as we hear. Just very few reminders for those readers who are long-standing opera goers: Rigoletto: MacNeil, Milnes, Nucci; Gilda: Gencer, Scotto, Jo; Duke: Raimondi, Álvarez.

            Fernando Grassi (Enrique Gibert Mella) is a versatile artist of histrionic and musical proficiency both in comedy and drama; his Rigoletto was certainly meritorious, for he sings with good line and acts convincingly. What he lacks is a true Verdian voice, of ample dynamics and personal touch; he is more of a Donizettian.

             Rocío Cereceda (Cecilia Layseca) was uneven in the center and low registers but firm and brilliant in the highs; after some uncertainties she found her form and did an interesting Gilda, well acted and intense. Cristian Taleb (Fermín Prieto) is still rather green; his voice needs to mellow, for at perilous moments it sounds precarious. He started poorly with "Questa o quella" but was better later on, and as an actor, though personable, he doesn´t project the Duke´s character.

            Felipe Cudina (Claudio Rotella) was a satisfying Sparafucile, with a firm bass voice and strong presence as the murderer. Virginia Scavino (both performances) was a lackluster Maddalena, with little volume and personality, though musically correct. Alejandro Schijman (Sebastián Angulegui) was a good Monterone. The others were middling.

            The best thing of the evening was the very firm conducting of Dante Ranieri, a true connoisseur (and back in 1986 a talented Duke at the Colón) leading a carefully selected orchestra of fine sound. The Coral Ensemble sang under Codina with reasonable quality and involved acting.

            I´m sorry to say that I was disappointed with the stage direction of Luis Gaeta (now a veteran but still able baritone, he was a talented Rigoletto at the Colón in 1997 and 2002). This is a new activity for him, and although he was helped by reasonable stage designs by Victoria Chacón and Gabriela Mayoni (except the non-existent wall in Act 3) his decisions were often awkward and even absurd.  Poor costumes by Paula Guidi Mantarás and Miguel Alejandro Flores. Supertitles by Damián Roger with many mistakes.

For Buenos Aires Herald

Veteran Argentine pianist Eduardo Delgado´s controversial Comeback


             Study in contrasts: in the same Wednesday I witnessed the presentation of two very different pianists: I have already reviewed Alexander Ullman´s refined Chopin at the Gran Rex, too big and matte a hall for him. And now, the comeback of veteran Argentine pianist Eduardo Delgado, for Chopiniana at the Palacio Paz, an artist of very powerful sound in a resonant small hall.

            Born in Rosario, the mere mention of his teachers reveals his generation, that of Argerich, a good friend of his: Vicente Scaramuzza here, Sergio Lorenzi in Venice, Rosina Lhevinne at the Juilliard.  His career as a pianist has been chequered, but he has long been  an esteemed teacher (twenty years at California´s State University, Fullerton) and member of the jury of numerous international competitions. He has collaborated with José Cura in two records and  committed to CDs Ginastera´s complete piano music. (By the way, his biography in the hand programme was horridly translated, probably Google´s).

            Although he has visited his hometown (Rosario) often, he  played rarely in Buenos Aires. I was told that he wanted very much to give a recital here. I heard him when he was young (1965) and once with Argerich in one of her festivals, so I was quite interested in this live contact.

            The first thing that struck me was that the programme was enormous, as if to compensate for his long absence. Also, the wrong lack of information about the two Domenico Scarlatti pieces he played: there are over 560 of them! And all we were told was "Two sonatas"; you need the Kk (Kirkpatrick) number, the catalogue that superseded Longo´s.  And finally, the lack of stylistic affinity mixing Schumann and Ravel in the First Part when the latter should have begun the Second Part, particularly because the chosen piece, the "Alborada del Gracioso", is a good companion to Granados.

            Such criteria from a veteran teacher pianist surprised me, for they mean poor judgment. But of course the playing is the main thing, and after the First Part there were colliding opinions. Not about Scarlatti, which seemed correct in style and well played: a slow and a fast one, both rather well-known. But Schumann´s "Fantasia" is his most difficult score, and probably the best, even harder than "Carnaval" or the "Symphonic Etudes". There was no gainsaying about the artist´s concentration and involvement, really intense, but I felt (and others concurred) that much was arbitrary and his touch was too massive, that there were numerous smudges and that he fell often in that irritating fault of anticipating the left hand in chords so that they sounded like arpeggios. Others minimized these problems and were carried away by the pianist´s Romantic impulse.

            Ravel´s "Pavane for a dead Infanta" (not just "Pavane", as the programme said) needs flow and charm; I didn´t find these qualities. But the "Alborada del Gracioso", cheeky, Spanish and advanced both in harmony and rhythm, was quite good, perhaps his best playing in the recital; he solved perfectly passages of very fast repetition of a single note.

            The Second Part was presented by Delgado, who said that it commemorated the centenary of both Granados´ death and Ginastera´s birth. Also, it was announced that Chopin´s "Fantasia", Op.49, was a mistake in the programme and wouldn´t be played; not so, Delgado had ceded to an opinion stressing that there was too much music in the evening. 

            "La maja y el ruiseñor" and "El amor y la muerte" are two intricate and long pieces from Granados´ "Goyescas" suite, certainly his most elaborate and important music. They need the light touch  and the Spanish character that Alicia de Larrocha knew how to communicate; Delgado was much too loud and blocky.

            Ginastera´s concise "Suite de Danzas criollas" Op.15 and the Sonata Nº3, his very last piano piece (1982), are joined by  devotion to the malambo (in fact the one-movement five-minute Sonata should be called so, or Toccata). This is rustic and rhythmic Ginastera, one that tolerates Delgado´s energetic approach.

            Encores: after a bad start in Chopin´s Etude Op.10 Nº 11 (all arpeggios) he did it reasonably well; and the subtle Ginastera of the "Danza de la moza donosa" showed that Delgado can play lightly when he wants.


For Buenos Aires Herald

Misha Maisky: long-awaited return of master cellist


            Misha Maisky is a special personality among the great cellists of our time. Born in Latvia and now in his middle sixties, he is the only one that had instruction both from Gregor Piatigorsky and Mstislav Rostropovich, leading figures of yore. Great friend of Martha Argerich, he has given many concerts  and made a recording of the complete Beethoven cello-piano sonatas with her. He has made 35 CDs, including three times the Bach cello suites.

            He visited us a long time ago, and now he returned at the height of his fame. Not for a recital but  with a  chamber orchestra, the Tel Aviv Soloists under their founder Barak Tal.  It was a presentation  of Nuova Harmonia at the Colón. The fact that it´s a chamber, not a symphony orchestra, limits the choices to works that can be played with 29 instruments, thus eliminating all the famous Concerti.

            The choices were: a short Tchaikovsky Nocturne, adapted by the composer from the fourth of his Six pieces op.19 for piano; "Kol Nidrei" by Max Bruch, which in the original is for cello and full orchestra, was played with less instruments (two horns, three trombones and harp were absent); and Haydn´s Concerto Nº1, Hob VIIb:1, in C.

            The Nocturne is a lovely melody and Maisky showed that he can really sing with his cello. With his disheveled mane of grey hair and informal dress code,. Maisky doesn´t look like a classical artist, but he most certainly is. "Kol Nidrei" means "all vows", an Aramaic prayer sung on the eve of Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, and is an 188l score defined as an Adagio on Hebrew melodies. It´s a beautiful piece that lasts ten minutes and Maisky phrased it with great expression.

            In the First Part, however, there were no fireworks and the music was slow. The splendid Haydn Concerto provided Allegro music and difficulties in the first and third movements, whilst leaving the middle Adagio for sensitive molding of melody. In the Allegros Maisky showed his flashy side, attacking wirth gusto and exaggerating the intensity in certain fragments, even risking some harshness, but never losing control.

            The audience, which had been friendly but contained before, exploded with ovations and got three encores. The two final variations (slow and very fast) of Tchaikovsky´s "Rococo Variations" (with less orchestra than the original) again let us hear the contrast between his plangent and subtle slow playing and the exciting, almost frantic playing of the virtuosic bits. Again Tchaikovsky, his arrangement of the Andante cantabile from the First Quartet, one of his most memorable melodies, was another proof of Maisky´s empathy with the composer. And the slow middle movement of Haydn´s Concerto for violin in C, transcribed for cello, played with exquisite control of pianissimo. By the way, the artist suffered from heat, and often wiped dry his face.

            Now to the Orchestra. Although the appellation "Soloists" hardly applies to an orchestra, some ensembles call themselves so, meaning that they play with great quality.  The Zagreb Soloists did, but I feel that the Tel Aviv group doesn´t quite make the grade.

Founded in 2001 by Tal, it is a good, decent group of young musicians, with particularly proficient oboes and flutes, but, either because  it is the taste of the director or that there is a lack of impulse in themselves, the strings are relegated, especially the first violins; and one bass isn´t enough, you need at least two. There are 16 strings plus 8 woodwinds, 4 brass, and tympani.

            The purely orchestral scores on the programme were Mozart´s Symphony Nº 41, "Jupiter", and Prokofiev´s Symphony Nº 1, "Classical". Curiously in both cases I felt the same: low energy in the first two movements and a pickup in the last two. Surely there´s plenty of interesting content in the first movement of the "Jupiter" but it had no more than a lackluster reading this time;  the Menuet was better, and the tour de force of counterpoint of the Finale emerged clean and positive.  In the delightful Prokofiev opus, the Allegro start should be joyful and fresh, not tentative; the slow movement was correct. However, the Gavotte  was rhythmically alive, and the exhilarating Finale took fire.

            In their accompanying role, Tal and the players were closely attuned to Maisky´s phrasing and did a good job.



For Buenos Aires Herald