lunes, enero 09, 2017

Witty Bernstein, Honegger Christmas and “Degenerate art”

            This is the last survey of the by now extinct musical season. Two of the five comments are about the Colón; two concern the cycles of the National Library.

            The Art Institute of our mighty theatre does a special project each year: a short opera wholly prepared, sung, staged and played by students, naturally with professors´ supervision. I find it a very rewarding and intelligent idea, for from it will come the professionals of the future, bred at the source. They call it Workshop of Operatic Integration. In 2015 it was Ravel´s lovely "L´enfant et les sortilèges", so good that it was presented again in 2016 in the series of events for children of the Colón (another interesting initiative). Claudio Alsuyet as Director of the Institute is doing a fine job, and this was proved by the December première of Leonard Bernstein´s witty 45-minute one-acter, "Trouble in Tahiti" (words and music by the charismatic American artist).

            Tahiti is only mentioned by the couple of the Thirties (Dinah, soprano; Sam, baritone)  living in New York´s suburbia. Married for ten years, their relationship is in trouble; the taut seven scenes have a sweet/sour taste but finally the unraveled becomes whole again. The music mirrors every mood, more dissonant when they quarrel, smoother when things calm down. The touch of genius (and a reminder of Bernstein´s  musical comedy side; arguably "West Side Story" is one of the very best) is that each scene is followed by a brief interlude in which a trio of singing comedians bring back the Roaring Twenties carefree cabaret style.

            The brilliant staging by Romina Almirón gave us a slice of American Zeitgeist, with talented handling of the singers and funny, à-propos projections, plus intelligent stage, costume and light designs. With first-rate support of a 15-strong chamber orchestra combining students and professors and led by Emmanuel Siffert with unerring sense of style, the couple was sung and acted with professional firmness by Vanesa Aguado Benítez and Mariano Gladic, and the trio did their bits with hand-in-glove precision (Milagros Burga, Germán Polón and Luis Asmat).

            The venue was the Teatro 25 de Mayo, nicknamed the Little Colón, a nice hall at Avenida Triunvirato.   

            At the Colón the Resident (Estable) Orchestra offered a Christmas concert which featured Honegger´s "Une Cantate de Noël", a late work (1953) which starts rather grimly with a "De profundis clamavi" but in its second part, "Peace and joy to you, Israel", becomes gradually exulting, with quotes from famous German and French Christmas carols. Both baritone Alejandro Meerapfel, the Colón Choir (Miguel Martínez) and the Colón Children´s Choir (César Bustamante)  sang with conviction, fine voices and accuracy.

            Before and after, things were aesthetically worlds apart. Brazilian conductor Roberto Minczuk, of vast career, initially had the ungrateful task of accompanying the fluffy and badly orchestrated  Concerto for oboe on motifs from Donizetti´s "La Favorita" by Antonio Pasculli (1842-1924), a mere vehicle for the virtuoso playing of Rubén Albornoz.

            After the interval the Estable, generally confined to the pit, had the challenge of Brahms´ majestic First Symphony, and both conductor and orchestra acquitted themselves with a powerful, concentrated reading of what is probably the best First  in history. Alas, at the cost of leaving aside (no explanation) the long-announced Second Symphony ("Rome) by Bizet, very rarely done and not the equal of the astonishing First of the teenager composer, but still a score of charm and freshness worth reviving.

            The National Library has a cozy Auditorio Borges of good acoustics and it is the venue of a worthy project called Plural Music (Música en Plural) organized since many years ago by Haydée Seibert and Bárbara Civita. The idea is mixing different textures in  the same concert, as a way of showing the variety of chamber music. In 2016 there were nine concerts and I could only catch the last one, although some of them were very alluring.

            In this case, a song recital by mezzo Mariana Rewerski accompanied by pianist Valeria Briático was followed by the pithy, intense Elgar Quintet for piano and strings. The singer chose well:  fast Villanelle by Cécile Chaminade, a beautiful melody by Massenet ("Nuits d´Espagne"),  Reynaldo Hahn both in French ("Paysage", very evocative) and English (three of the Five Little Songs on clever texts by Robert Stevenson), showing the versatility of this Venezuelan who spent most of his life in Paris; "Dream Valley", one of the numerous songs by the Britisher Roger Quilter; and two fine Argentine choices: "Cita" by Guastavino  and "Canción de la luna lunanca" by Ginastera. Both artists are accomplished professionals who sing and play with style, good taste and accuracy.

            The Quintet (1919) is mature Elgar at its best, written immediately after his Quartet (1918): dense  Postromanticism with real substance and structure, it was admirably played by Graciela Reca (piano, from Entre Ríos) and string players of true knowledge and sound technique who happen to be great friends: Haydée Seibert Francia and Gustavo Mulé (violins), Elizabeth Ridolfi (viola) and Myriam Santucci (cello).

            Civita and Seibert Francia had another splendid idea at the same venue: two concerts, one instrumental and the other vocal with piano, called "The forbidden sounds", centering on the music that Hitler and Goebbels called "Entartete Musik" ("Degenerate Music"). I could hear the second, with Susanna Moncayo (mezzo), Víctor Torres (baritone) and Pierre Blanchard (piano).

            The first group, with Moncayo, was a selection of music from Terezin, the concentration camp of Jews in Czech territory used by the Nazis to mock UN envoys by making them believe that the inmates could create plays and pieces of music and were well treated, when in fact after the visit they were sent to Auschwitz...The hymn and the song of Terezin plus a couple of cabaret songs by Karel Svenk and Adolf Strauss were heard in this concert.

            Than, those composers considered degenerate but  in exile. Schönberg is the man who invented the twelve-tone system, but his funny Brettl-Lieder (Cabaret songs) are tonal and sarcastic and quite early (1901). Finally, the  songs of Berlin leftist composers who lived the decline of the Weimar Republic: Hanns Eisler, Paul Dessau ("Song of the great capitulation") and Weill: "The ballad of sexual submission" from "The twopenny opera", plus "Abschied" ("Farewell") , by Moncayo. Cynical, harsh, disenchanted songs.

            I was surprised that they ended with a funny Fred Raymond duet, for he belonged to the different world of light operettas during the Third Reich. But the afternoon was interesting, with Moncayo´s crossover way opposed to the more classical Torres, both finely accompanied by Blanchard.

            Have you ever wondered about whether there were cantatas extolling Hitler, paralleling those written for Lenin and Stalin? I have never found any reference to them; how strange in a megalomaniac regime if they were absent...

For Buenos Aires Herald

            




Buenos Aires Lírica and Juventus Lyrica announce their seasons

            The two principal private opera seasons have announced their programmes for 2017. Buenos Aires Lírica (BAL) innovates: only two titles will be presented at their tradiitional venue, the Avenida;  two will be at the Teatro Picadero, and one will be done jointly with Nuova Harmonia at the Coliseo (coproduced with the Teatro Regional de Rancagua, Chile).  Juventus Lyrica will stick to the Avenida and will stage just three operas.

            At the Coliseo: Monteverdi´s "L´incoronazione di Poppea" (produced by Marcelo Lombardero). April 22 and 23. At the Avenida: not an opera but incidental music to plays: Beethoven´s "Egmont" and Mendelssohn´s "A Midsummer Night´s Dream". June 4, 8 and 10. Picadero: Rossini´s "La scala di seta". Mondays: June 12, 19 and 26; July 3, 10 and 17. Avenida: Puccini´s "La Bohème", coproduction with Rosario´s El Círculo. August 11, 13, 17 and 19. Picadero: Offenbach, Ba-Ta-Clan. Mondays: October 16, 23 and 30; November 6, 13 and 20.

            Juventus Lyrica (JL). Bellini´s "Norma". May 12, 14, 18 and 20. Conductor (C): Hernán Sánchez Arteaga. Producer: Florencia Sanguinetti. Puccini´s "Turandot". September 1, 3, 7 and 9.  C: Antonio María Russo. P: Ana D´Anna. Rossini´s "Le Comte Ory". November 3, 5, 9 and      11. C: Hernán Schvartzman. P: María Jaunarena.

            Comments on BAL: two coproductions; Picadero on Mondays; inclusion of an operetta.  Applied to both BAL and JL: Puccini´s orchestra has to be strongly reduced due to the Avenida´s small pit.

            Suggestion: if BAL and JL can work with the Coliseo, in the future they should take advantage of that theatre´s big pit.

For Buenos Aires Herald


Great piano recital and closing concerts of the Phil and the National Symphony


            By the time to read this the season will be over. So here are the parting shots divided in two articles each covering five events. A Monday benefit concert provided the unexpected pleasure of witnessing a piano recital by one of the remaining great veterans: the Brazilian Nelson Freire, an old friend of this theatre, in his middle seventies still a redoubtable virtuoso of magnificent technique and style. Presented by Dar Cultura, Fundación de Acción Social de Jabad, Freire gave a masterclass, so to speak, in  his traversals of two fundamental Nineteenth Century Sonatas: Brahms´ Third, Op.5, and Chopin´s Second, Op.58.

            The Sonatas were played with scrupulous respect for the composers´ indications, readings of marvelous continuity, tonal beauty and control, which revealed the transcendent quality of both composers at their best. Before Brahms, some Bach (an Organ Prelude) arranged by Siloti; and before Chopin, Freire´s ideal way with the music of Villalobos: the beautiful Prelude from Bachianas Brasileiras Nº4 and three pieces from "A prole do bebé" ("The baby´s family").

            Encores: a lovely performance of an especially expressive Chopin Mazurka (Op.17/4) and a brilliant one of Grieg´s "Wedding Day in Troldhaugen", one of his most joyous pieces (he lived there).

            The penultimate concert (Nº 14) of the Buenos Aires Philharmonic was one of the best. We had the revelation of a talented conductor, Carl St Clair, and the best Argentine pianist of his generation, Nelson Goerner, playing Tchaikovsky´s First concerto with amazing firmness. St Clair is a Texan disciple of Bernstein and in his early sixties (I believe) he conducts with the intensity and concentration of his mentor. His career has had two very different high points: Principal Conductor in Weimar and in Berlin´s Komische Oper;  and for twenty years the PC of the Pacific Symphony; plus guest conductor with a host of first-rank orchestras. And he has recorded all the Villalobos symphonies.

            He started with what may be a local première, Bernstein´s "Slava!", subtitled "a political overture", a 4-minute dazzling homage to the composer´s great friend nicknamed Slava, cellist and conductor Mstislav Rostropovich, revered here in both capacities. Why political? Because his being named PC of Washington´s  National Symphony was a way to recognize both his musical talent and courageous anti-Stalin attitude; and at the time the Cold War was still on. St Clair made the Phil sound like a top rank USA orchestra.

            Goerner, as unassuming and non-charismatic as ever, played a supervirtuoso concert with such aplomb and exactness that one could only hear open-mouthed at such a display, always very musical; in some passages  the only thing lacking for perfection was the mercurial hobgoblin touch of Argerich. And St Clair galvanizing the Phil to offer Goerner the right give-and-take and rhythmic strength he needed to shine as he did.  The encore was a beautiful performance of Chopin´s Nocturne Nº15, Op.55/1.

            St Clair talked to the audience after the interval, an impassioned defense of Shostakovich´s Tenth Symphony as the expression of his pent-up suffering during the Stalin years. And the conductor then proceeded to prove it with an enormously concentrated and beautifully played performance of what is arguably the composer´s most important symphony. The impact of this great work in St Clair´s reading was one of the great moments of the year. He should come back.

            An unfortunate medical delay allowed me to hear only the second part of Leonid Grin´s concert with the Phil (last of the season, Nº 15). So I missed Weber´s "Oberon" Overture and Tchaikovsky´s Concerto with the Phil´s concertino Pablo Saraví, but I could hear a thrilling interpretation of the best Glazunov Symphony, Nº 5 (1895), warm, melodic and admirably structured music. Grin is Ukrainian, a disciple of Kyril Kondrashin, now in his early sixties. He has held posts at Saarbrücken, Tampere (Finland), San José Symphony (California) and currently at Santiago de Chile. Two decades ago he visited the Phil repeatedly. His solid métier and natural empathy with the Russian repertoire provided an exhilarating ending to the symphonic year.

            The special interest of the National Symphony´s concert at the Blue Whale conducted by Christian Baldini was the inclusion of  essential Sibelius: his last Symphony, Nº7 (1925), rarely done here; just one vast movement of consumate organic cohesion dominated by an unforgettable trombone theme, it crowns the career of the most eminent Nordic symphonist. After good performances of two standards (Beethoven´s Violin Concerto with the National´s concertino Luis Roggero and Sibelius´ "Finland"), Baldini showed his insight and fine technique in the Seventh, abetted by a great trombone player and a responsive orchestra.

            The final concert of the National Symphony was conducted by the Chilean  Francisco Rettig, much appreciated as a Mahlerian. He closed the season with some of Mahler´s extraordinary Lieder with orchestra, certainly the best in history. The orchestral work and Rettig´s sensitive conducting gave much pleasure, but alas, the baritone Luciano Garay showed a startling decline of his vocal means both in the wonderful "Songs of a wayfarer" ("Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen") and in the songs allotted to him in the endlessly varied "Des Knaben Wunderhorn" ("The magic horn of youth"). Mezzo Alejandra Malvino was her reliable, musicianly self both in her participation in "DKW" and in the "Rückert Songs" that end with a marvel, "Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen" ("I have retired from the World"), though more volume came amiss at several points.

            A sour note: the unacceptable policies of having no comments on the hand programme and even worse, no subtitles; this is the CCK´s fault, not the NS´, and I hope it is revised next year.

For Buenos Aires Herald

             






jueves, diciembre 29, 2016

Concert panorama: Contemporary, Mozart, Mahler

 

            The weekly format compels me to be very succinct in my reviews. Hence, panoramas. I will start selecting from a flood of concerts of contemporary music.

            Martín Bauer has led for twenty years the San Martín cycle of contemporary music (from next season there will be another curatorial view, for Diego Fischerman replaces him) and since its inception a few years ago (during the García Caffi regime) also the smaller cycle Colón Contemporáneo, sometimes overlapping both. As this year Bauer couldn´t count with the Sala Casacuberta (ideal for the genre), due to the restoration works at the San Martín, he had recourse to different venues. However, I found this year´s programming quite weak, and am only sorry that I couldn´t hear the great German violinist Isabelle Faust (Usina).

            Bauer has had a fixation with composer Morton Feldman and it´s no wonder that Colón Contemporáneo presented the première of "Coptic Light" as the main score of a concert that doubled as Nº 13 of the Buenos Aires Philharmonic´s thirteenth concert (tough material for its subscribers). The original announcement in March gave as conductor Emilio Pomarico and except for Feldman had a different programme: Busoni and Castiglioni. However, Wolfgang Wengenroth (debut) took over with an equally attractive proposal in the First Part: Ligeti´s well-known "Lontano" and the rarely played though fundamental scores by Anton Webern: Five Pieces Op.10 for chamber orchestra (extremely short) and Six Pieces Op.6, more expansive. Plus Webern´s fascinating orchestral arrangement of Bach´s Fuga (Ricercata) from "The Musical Offering" as "Klangfarbenmelodie" (Melody of colored sounds).

            Feldman´s "Coptic Light" has one saving grace: it lasts 25 minutes instead of more than four hours like other pieces played here; but it is just as boring: the material is exposed in seemingly endless repetition and minimal variation. The whole programme had some accidents: this is hard music for the Phil, accustomed to other musical styles.

            Much better was a finely programmed concert of the National Symphony at the Blue Whale conducted with  accuracy by Fabián Panisello and featuring a virtuoso pianist, Dimitri Vassilakis, in Panisello´s "Movements", an interesting piece in four moods written with full comprehension of current trends. Preceded by Luciano Berio´s "Requies" (première, as Panisello) and followed by Lutoslawski´s great Third Symphony, we heard first-rate music created by two masters who are no longer with us but are still very relevant.

            Ginastera and Stravinsky are no longer contemporary but in some of their scores are still amazingly modern. They were combined in a percussion-based evening at the Colón: the former´s "Cantata para América mágica" (1960) and Stravinsky´s "Les Noces" ("The Wedding", 1923). The Cantata is made up of six pieces with texts from the Aztecs, Mayas and Incas of strong dramatic power, and the dramatic soprano is accompanied by two pianos and ample percussion ensemble including autochthonous instruments.  This is Ginastera at his best, expressionist, telluric and with advanced techniques (serialism, complex rhythms). Instrumentally this was a splendid performance, coordinated by Annunziata Tomaro and Ángel Frette, but mezzo Virginia Correa Dupuy isn´t the right voice: she is refined and intimate; you need here a big soprano voice of intense projection.

            "Les Noces" is very important but rarely done; born as a choreographic cantata, it has been seen here both as ballet and in concert. Based on Russian folk poems dealing with the wedding ritual, it applies the rhythmic liberation of "The Rite of Spring" to singing of enormous complexity; relentless in its demands and rarely expansive, it was a demonstration of the great professionalism of Tomaro, the Coro Orfeón de Buenos Aires (Néstor Andrenacci, Pablo Piccinni), the four pianists, the percussionists; the soloists were uneven, only María Dolores Ibarra (soprano) quite satisfactory. It was sung in the Russian translation, and that is good.

            I was glad that Patricia Pouchulu, after the unexpected interruption of a concert season at the Brick Hotel organised by her, could find the support of the Austrian and German Embassies to present a valuable Mozart concert at the Avenida. As leader of the Association La Bella Música, since 1999 she has offered with a galaxy of artists eight hundred concerts; in recent years after strict training she has started a conducting career. Funding isn´t easy nowadays and has limited some symphonic projects that require big orchestras, but a night of Mozart remains a treat when you have a solid hand-picked orchestra of 32 players and two outstanding soloists (first desks of the Colón Orchestra).

            The loveliness of the Clarinet Concerto (K 622) and of the Oboe Concerto (alternative to flute) K.314 was in the very good hands and artistry of Carlos Céspedes and Rubén Albornoz; apart from minor accidents, the playing was beautiful and  musical, abetted by the clean and stylish conducting of Pouchulu. She then tackled the crown of Mozart´s symphonies: Nº 41, "Jupiter".  With scrupulous articulation and an attentive orchestra, the music flowed naturally, only lacking some intensity and rhythmic profile in the final movement, a masterpiece of counterpoint; but the battle was certainly won.

            The marvelous Mahler Second Symphony ("Resurrection") was the major challenge taken up by Mario Benzecry and his Sinfónica Juvenil Nacional José de San Martín, plus the Asociación Coral Lagun Onak and the Coro de la Facultad de Derecho-UBA, both prepared by Miguel Ángel Pesce, plus soprano Jaquelina Livieri and mezzo Alejandra Malvino. Not helped by the resonant acoustics of the Facultad de Derecho, nevertheless Benzecry showed his deep knowledge and command and built the enormous structure with unerring hand. Both the choirs and soloists were first-rate, but the Orchestra had some problems: mistakes by the brass and rather mushy violin intonation; however,  most of the playing was good and the climaxes were tremendous.

For Buenos Aires Herald

           

           

 




jueves, diciembre 22, 2016

Ballet at the Colón 2017: not enough innovation

 

            Although the Colón Ballet had been promised more performances for 2017, this won´t happen. And the programming, rather unusually, will offer four full-length ballets, all of them revivals, though attractive. Last year I welcomed the long-overdue presentation of Delibes´ "Sylvia", beautiful music that hadn´t been  heard for more than sixty years, this time with choreography (1952) of that great Covent Garden creator, Frederick Ashton; in this case the reprise is justified, to give audiences a new chance to meet this important ballet, and it will be with the debut of Isabella Boylston, from the American Ballet Theatre.  As usual, the orchestra during the season will be the Buenos Aires Philharmonic; the conductor on this occasion, Emmanuel Siffert. April 7 to 12.

            Then, "La fierecilla domada" ("The Taming of the Shrew"), the wonderful Cranko ballet on Shakespeare´s comedy first seen here by the Stuttgart Ballet and later danced admirably by Maximiliano Guerra, the current Director of the Ballet, who certainly chose it out of justified nostalgia. But decades have passed and it will be pleasant to see it again, with music by Kurt Heinz Stolze based on Domenico Scarlatti sonatas. Conductor, Darío Domínguez Xodo. June 25 to July 1.

            In recent years we´ve seen plenty of "Nutcrackers" and "Swan Lakes", but not "Swan Lake", the longest and perhaps greatest of the Tchaikovsky ballets. The very capable Mario Galizzi has donated his revision of the Petipa original to the Colón. Guests will be our Marianela Núñez, star of London´s Royal Ballet, and Anna Ol, from Holland´s Het Ballet. Although I will never forget the presentation of the Royal Ballet at our Luna Park decades ago, I will look forward to this revival, which I hope will be complete. Conductor, Siffert. September 30 to October 6.

            Finally, "Notre Dame de Paris", choreography by Roland Petit on Maurice Jarre´s music, based on the Victor Hugo novel. Although about 15 years ago I wasn´t impressed by Jarre´s music, I liked the inventive choreography and was sorry to know that Petit wasn´t paid; the conflict lasted until his death; apparently his succession has struck a deal with the Colón. Conductor, Javier Logioia Orbe. December 23 to 29.

            So the year will pass without either new works or very necessary revivals of choreographers such as Massine or Gsovsky. And without a composite evening of various ballets.

For Buenos Aires Herald  


Gershwin´s “Porgy and Bess” in uneven South African production

George Gershwin´s sole opera, "Porgy and Bess", is a memorable achievement. Last week the Herald printed an ample interview of Esteban Colombet with Stage Director Christine Crouse as a useful introduction to the last installment of the Colón season, but it refers basically to the parallels she sees between her transposition to Soweto around 1970 and  the original setting in Charleston, South Carolina, 1930s. She admits incongruities and cuts, but stresses the sociological  resemblance. She has a point, but I certainly prefer the libretto as it was written by DuBose and Dorothy Heyward and Ira Gershwin.

In both cases, there´s only one way to cast it in the main roles: with black singers.  And that´s the way it was seen in the two other productions  at Buenos Aires: a Teatro Astral by  Everyman Opera Company conducted by Alexander Smallens (who had led the Boston world première in 1935), August 1955; and the Colón by the Virginia Opera Company, April 1992.

George Gershwin was a first-generation American whose parents were Jews from Odessa, Ukraine. Hardly, one would think, the right genes for an opera on a black drama in the USA´s South. True, Gershwin had shown his affinity with jazz roots with such splendid works as "Rhapsody in blue", "Concerto in F" and "An American in Paris", but those were very much the work of a New Yorker. In the opera he penetrates the spirit of the Deep South with uncanny empathy and enormous inspiration: there are of course wonderful songs, like "Summertime", but even more admirable in this folk opera (so-called by the author) are the call and response Spirituals and the complex concerted numbers in general.

Charleston is a city of rich history: the largest Atlantic port south of Philadelphia in Colonial times; from Fort Sumter, in an island in front of it, came the spark that ignited the Civil War; and close to the sea still stands Cabbage Row, real name of the Catfish Row of the opera. Eartquakes and cyclones have ravaged it but the citizens always recover.

As depicted by Heyward, the inhabitants of Catfish Row are deeply religious (numerous mentions of the Promised Land) and a closely knit community. They are fishermen, stevedores, or cotton workers. Most are good sorts, but two characters will ruin the life of Porgy (a crippled beggar) and Bess, sensual and drug addict: Crown, powerful and murderous; and Sporting Life, a pedlar of "happy dust" (cocaine). But the people that live there, the chorus, are just as essential: this is an opera where the inhabitants sing and dance again and again, so you need choristers with swing.

There have been essential recordings of this opera: the Decca album with the highlights sung by the original cast (Smallens); the first "complete" one (with cuts) with excellent singers conducted by Lehman Engel (Columbia); and two admirable really complete recordings in CD with great conductors (Maael and Rattle) and casts. So there´s no lack of recordings that do justice to this astonishing music. By the way, there were two Deep South operas before: the charming folkish "Treemonisha" by Scott Joplin, the ragtime composer (1915), and Delius´ "Koanga" (1904, Florida plantation); both interesting but no match for "Porgy".

Now to the Capetown Opera´s presentation. Frankly, last year a horrid "Macbeth" (Verdi transported to the Congo) by a South African company had left a bitter taste in my mouth, but  fortunately this "Porgy..." even with its faults has its commendable aspects. Two singers were really good: Xolela Sixaba (Porgy) and Goitsemang Lehobye (Serena); and the chorus was always vital. Lukhanyo Moyake was a slimy, slithering Sporting Life, as he should be, but was far too free in his famous debunking Bible song, "It ain´t necessarily so". Nonhlanhla Yende acted well as Bess but vocally she was uneven, with highs that often were strident. Mandisinde Mbuyazwe as Crown looked the part but his timbre was arid.  Miranda Tini was a rotund Maria though with a broken voice. And both Jake (Owen Metsileng) and Robbins (Mthunzi Mbombela) were good. There was charm in the street vendors.

Both the choir from Capetown (Marvin Kernelle) and the Colón Orchestra (Tim Murray) were satisfactory. Christine Crouse handled the action with rhythm  and dramatic sense, though with too much noise and some licences, such as the death of Crown. Michael Mitchell´s stage designs were functional rather than attractive, though Kittiwah Island looked too much like Catfish Row; and his costumes were generally adequate. Interesting lighting by Kobus Rossouw.

Two final remarks: I was relieved that this "Soweto" wasn´t very different from Charleston; and of the several cuts, one was grievous: Porgy´s "Buzzard Song". Warts and all, this "Porgy" tips on the positive side of the balance and after 24 years it was time for its revival.

For Buenos Aires Herald

 

 

 

miércoles, diciembre 14, 2016

The Handel Society celebrates its 25th anniversary with “Deborah”

            The Handel Society has been led since its inception by Sergio Siminovich, and as they celebrate their 25th anniversary they must be feted, for they have given us all the oratorios written by George Frederick Handel. Most people know "Messiah", certainly the greatest, but there´s a lot to admire in many others, such as "Israel in Egypt", "Solomon" or "Samson".

             The Society has never had a steady place to present these big works and sometimes the acoustics were wrong, or the available artists weren´t quite up to the requirements. And Siminovich´s temperament, certainly a true believer, tended to exaggerations in gestures and phrasings. But in recent years he has managed to find both a more serene approach and collaborators of greater accuracy.

            In fact "Deborah" has only one recording in my CD catalogue and was quite new to me. In three parts and about two hours and a half, it tells the story found in Judges of Deborah and Jael who with the courage of male heroes defend their people against the Canaan army. The rather poor text of Samuel Humphreys belabor redundantly the same basic facts, but there are fine arias and choruses to compensate, and I was glad to hear them.

            One basic factor was for the best: they had this time the fine acoustics of the Iglesia Metodista Central, for decades the home of the Bach Academy. The choir numbered 68 and balance would have been better with not so many women, but they sang well. The historicist Baroque Orchestra, 22-strong, was good. The most experienced soloists were British tenor Philip Salmon, the veteran American bass James Marshall and countertenor Pablo Travaglino. The young fresh voice of Marita Novau as Deborah and the expressive Flora Gril as Jael were complemented by the promising Julieta Giordano and Helena Zudaire as Israelite Women. Eduardo Cavallo and Ricardo Cohen completed the cast as High Priests of Baal and Israel.


For Buenos Aires Herald

Mahler´s Symphony of a Thousand gets powerful performance

 

            What a gigantic change since my teenager years in the Fifties: then the Gustav Mahler vogue was just starting, propelled by the long-playing records. By the time the CDs arrived around 1985 the battle was won, with several integrals of the symphonies available, and our city had heard all of them. Nine  plus the initial Adagio of the Tenth written from 1888 to 1910, all of them in a style completely his own and each building a sonorous world of astonishing innovation in the final stretches of the Post-Romantic period, just before tonality would be smashed by Schönberg, starting a new era.

            Four of the symphonies add voices to the always big orchestra: Nos. 2, 3 and 4 require them in some movements, the Second having a stupendous Finale for soprano, mezzosoprano and an ample choir; but only the Eighth is completely vocal-symphonic and with the most vast array ever written up to that year (1907): eight soloists, two mixed  choirs and a children´s one. I know of only one symphony that even exceeds it: Havergal Brian´s "Gothic Symphony" (1927), never done here and recorded at least once.

            Mahler was a great conductor and his genius for orchestration comes from that absorbing profession; but he also knew everything about singing for he was the head of the Vienna Opera. The Eighth demands three sopranos, two contraltos, tenor, baritone and bass; everyone is sorely taxed by the composer but not beyond the frontier of possibility.

            There are only two parts, each enormously complex: the first, "Veni Creator Spiritus", on a hymn by the Medieval priest Rabanus Maurus, is an exalted motet of extremely difficult counterpoint and lasts about 25 minutes. The second takes an hour and is based on the last scene of Part II of Goethe´s "Faust"; its content is clearly metaphysical, and it´s worth consigning the Latin appellations of the soloists, although they sing in German: the sopranos: Magna Peccatrix, Una Poenitentium, Mater Gloriosa; the contraltos, Mulier Samaritana and Maria Aegyptiaca; tenor, Doctor Marianus; baritone, Pater Ecstaticus; bass, Pater Profundus. The music goes from the first slow, pianissimo minutes, to ever greater expansion until the glorious final chorus.

            Of course both the logistics and cost of putting on the Eighth are daunting. If I remember right, this was only the fourth time it was presented here: our great Mahlerian, Pedro Calderón, managed the prowess twice, decades ago; and Alejo Pérez, with the Argentino forces, dared the challenge both at La Plata and at our Luna Park. All three were meticulously prepared and much to the credit of the conductors. Now it was Enrique Arturo Diemecke, who has shown his mettle in Mahler both with the BA Philharmonic and the National Symphony, who was at the helm of the Colón Estable (Resident) Orchestra.

             Franz-Paul Decker was twice frustrated for there was no way to conciliate the rehearsal hours of the Philharmonic and the Colón Chorus. The way out was used now: the Estable has no such problem. As to the second chorus, current political conditions allow the collaboration of the Coro Polifónico Nacional.

            Diemecke again marvelled with his superlative memory and conducted by heart, always in command of even the toughest moments. The phrasing and tempi were mostly right and the inexactitudes few, and as he communicated his enthusiasm to all concerned, this was quite a success. I did feel that that the second choir was acoustically  relegated but I see no solution for that; perhaps the upper floors heard it differently, as the sound rises.

            The Coro Estable was prepared by Miguel Martínez; the Polifónico, by Darío Marchese; and the Children, by César Bustamante; all did their best. And the Orchestra was very good; concentrated, they responded with "esprit de corps" to the conductor.

            The soloists were surely the best that can be assembled here. Both Jaquelina Livieri and Daniela Tabernig rose to the frequent high Cs of the hymn and gave expression to their music in the Goethe characters; the short appearance in a loge of Paula Almerares  as Mater Gloriosa was purely sung. Both Guadalupe Barrientos and Alejandra Malvino were very accomplished in their contralto parts. Enrique Folger was strongly voiced though rather forced as Doctor Marianus; Alejandro Meerapfel sang nobly as Pater Ecstaticus; and Fernando Radó was splendid as Pater Profundus (he is having an important European career).

            The Eighth was offered twice, as is logical considering the effort, and will stand as a high point of the season.


For Buenos Aires Herald

             

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​​