jueves, mayo 24, 2007

Mozarteum starts season: brilliancy and controversy

The Mozarteum Argentino has a long tradition of quality. Their season this year has the Coliseo as its venue due to the Colón's closure. More limited acoustics, to be sure, but acceptable. The parting shots of its new season were certainly in the Mozarteum's tradition of high level artistry but are also open to controversy in the case of the Britten Sinfonia.

Some years ago the Budapest Festival Orchestra under Ivan Fischer made a very good impression in its first visit here. Their return was certainly impressive: after twenty years together the conductor and the organism he founded form an indissoluble unity of very convincing technical and interpretative standard. In two quite different programmes they never put a foot wrong. There are two special characteristics worth stressing: their brio and concentration, the homogeneity and beautiful intonation of strings and winds. Concerning Fischer, he's a no-nonsense conductor of great drive and a clear view of the overall picture, but also a polisher of details and phrasing .

Their first programme offered two fine works. First Part: the Concertante Symphony K. 297b for winds and orchestra by Mozart; some consider the work doubtful but I don't: only Wolfgang could have written this wonderful music.Conducted with impeccable taste and played with superlative accuracy and tone by oboist Dudu Carmel and hornist Zoltan Szoke and very well by clarinettist Akos Acs and bassoonist Tamás Benkócs, the score was sheer delight to hear. Second Part: the mighty Bruckner Seventh Symphony, maybe his best and the one least revised by the composer. The music unfolds with majestuous amplitude, rich in melodic and harmonic beauty. Certainly the Fischer approach was rather swift; it lasted about an hour, whilst most versions clock about 65 to 70 minutes. There was plenty to impress and attract in the careful moulding of phrases and in the contrasted intimacy of chamberlike passages with others of granitic strength, but I did miss some mysticism, a mysterious aura that the best interpretations have. Encore: an exhilarating performance of Bartók's fast final Romanian Dances.

The second concert was as satisfactory as the first in its two dissimilar parts: the first brought us rarely heard works by Weiner and Schumann, the second to famous and dense creations by Beethoven. Leo Weiner (1885-1960) was a Hungarian contemporary of Bartók and Kodály but his music is lighter and conservative in style, though written with excellent workmanship and some fine ideas. His four-movement Serenade op.3 goes like a breeze, and it felt that way in the hands of Fischer. The Schumann "Concertstueck" (Concert Piece) is scored for the unlikely combination of four solo horns and orchestra; it is fiendish to play and very Romantic, in three connected movements. The Hungarians were able to field four very able players who justified the election of the score: Zoltán Szoke, András Szabó, David Bereczky and Zsombor Nagy. Only a very good orchestra and a forceful conductor can make it worthwhile for me to hear yet again Beethoven's "Coriolan" Overture and his massive Fifth Symphony: both conditions were met and I found myself enjoying the music. Encores: a very inflected interpretation of the Gavotte from Prokofiev's "Classical Symphony", and a marvelous one of that dynamic fast polka by Johann Strauss Junior with the complicated name: "Vergnuegungszug", translatable as "Train of Pleasure".

I said that the Britishers were controversial: I'm writing about the Britten Sinfonia, conducted by Joanna MacGregor, who also leaves a generous part of the programming to her piano playing. The lady's appearance is exotic for the classical music scene, with her Rasta dreadlocks veiling half her face , but this is anecdote: what matters is the variability of her musical taste. The Britten Sinfonia was formed in 1992 and is a 24-player string ensemble of undoubted professionalism, boasting fine soloists in Jacqueline Shave (concertino) and Martin Outram (viola).

Johann Sebastian Bach was in both concerts, in the first with Concerti 1 and 5 for harpsichord, in the second with No. 1 (only repeated work). I was bothered in each session by the high level of amplification, redolent of popular music. This made the piano sound metallic, perhaps in agreement with very mechanical though accurate playing by MacGregor. I found pretty terrible the arrangements by MacGregor of three John Dowland pieces which sounded twentieth century instead of the world of the greatest lutenist of Elizabeth I's time. "Lachrymae" is a set of variations by Britten for viola and strings on a Dowland piece, and this is real composing, though a trifle arid (good work from Outram). On the basis of what I heard in this concert, Osvaldo Golijov is overpraised: "Levante" is based on a chorus from his own "St Mark Passion", "where a drunken priest is stimulated by Latinamerican dance rhythms"; it sounds like a banal tango. And so is also "Last round", marked "macho" (!) . For me they are crossover pieces. In the Second Part I heard the saving grace of this evening, Stravinsky's lovely Concerto for strings, impeccably done. Back to crossover with two Gismonti pieces: "Forrobodo" and "Frevo".

I preferred the second concert due to the presence of Arvo Part's "Cantus in memory of Britten" and Britten's own Prelude and fugue op.29 (premiere), strong and imaginative. James MacMillan's Piano Concerto No.2 was also premiered: combining Scottish reels with waltzes, clusters and "Lucia di Lammermoor" quotes, it's fun but very minor.

Para el Buenos Aires Herald

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