martes, mayo 01, 2007

Recent symphonic concerts: a mixed panorama

Symphonic life has yielded some pleasure in recent weeks, along with minor and major misadventures. Let's start updating the Buenos Aires Philharmonic season at the Gran Rex. Unfortunately, some of the announced works have fallen by the wayside and programmes have been far too short. The third session of the subscription series was conducted by the talented Chilean Francisco Rettig and the main score was splendid: Witold Lutoslawski's 1954 Concerto for orchestra takes its cue from Bartók's but the great Polish composer has a lot to say that is personal and attractive in this beautifully wrought composition. The Phil responded well to Rettig's intelligent and sensitive reading. Unfortunately the First Part of the concert was utterly changed; Eduardo Vassallo, the Argentine cellist who is first desk at the Birmingham Symphony, was announced in Lalo's Concerto but for some reason didn't play; Rettig replaced this with a fine version of Mozart's Symphony No. 36, "Linz". But unfortunately he decided to eliminate the Dvorák "Scherzo capriccioso", an endlessly inventive piece far too rarely done. So he gave us a bare hour of music.

I was sorry to miss Rettig's second concert (I was on vacation) for he did the attractive Late-Romantic "Lyric Symphony" by Alexander Von Zemlinsky, heard here only once (by the National Symphony); the soloists were Adriana Mastrángelo and Víctor Torres. Here again a score was eliminated: Antonio Tauriello's "Arlecchino"; written for 16 players, I was told reliably that it had been a problem of disagreement with the players, who thought they were entitled to extra payment in that piece; it would be good to have clear rules about such matters and abide by them. Fauré's charming "Masques et Bergamasques", not played here since the Twenties, made up in consequence the too short First Part.

Alejo Pérez is a 32 year-old Argentine conductor who is having a valuable career in Europe, where he is assistant conductor to Christoph Von Dohnányi at the Hamburg NDR Orchestra. Although he has done mostly contemporary music here, his tastes are ample, with a special liking for the period 1880-1920. This time we appreciated his work in three different styles: an agreeable Argentine work, "Viñetas porteñas", written by Pompeyo Camps in 1962; an important premiere, Luciano Berio's Concerto No. 2 for piano, called "Echoing curves"; and a standard Late Romantic symphony, Tchaikovsky's No. 6, "Pathetic". There was a change of interpreter in Berio, but both pianists are great artists: our Horacio Lavandera, and Dimitri Vassilakis, who took Lavandera's place and played magisterially, with utter command of the difficult music. It was written in 1989 for Daniel Barenboim; the orchestra surrounds the soloist in two concentric semicircles and the qualities of the music are well described by Julio Palacio: "for auditors sensitive to the timbric world, the composition is an authentic feast of sonorities oscillating between steely shining sounds and diverse deliquescent touches". Pérez, as far as I can tell without a score, got good results from the Phil and was well-attuned to the soloist. In Tchaikovsky, which he conducted from memory, his gestures were sure and expressive , and his interpretation was orthodox and well-conceived. It was a pity that some of the soloists made mistakes and that the Phil seemed to lack enough concentration for this wonderful work to make its full effect. Two general remarks: a) the bad policy of eliminating biographies of the interpreters in the hand programmes; b) the need for a true acoustic chamber: that bare ugly black wall behind the orchestra just won't do.

Another short programme, but this time from its inception, was the one conducted by Arthur Fagen, the American who led Britten's "A Midsummer Night's Dream" last year at the Colón. The works were well chosen but we had barely 62 minutes of music. Fagen is a profficient conductor and gave a strong and purposeful version (arguably a bit fast) of Mendelssohn's strong Symphony No. 5, "Reform". The concert had started with Luis Gianneo's tasteful "Overture for a children's comedy" (1937), written for wind players and celesta (I counted 14 people), and then, in homage to Edvard Grieg in the centenary of his death, one of his biggest scores, the "Symphonic Dances", far too little known considering its quality. Its mixture of lyricism and brusque utterance needs an orchestra sure of itself, and the Phil sounded half-baked in this music.

The National Symphony is currently paralyzed by a Kafkian conflict involving the technicians who assist them in a concert; they are in the midst of labor conversations affecting the Cervantes as well, and there's no sign of agreement. Before disaster struck, the NS played three concerts, I believe, and I attended half of one and almost the whole final rehearsal of another. I found the Orchestra in reasonable shape, especially in a sonorous traversal of Mussorgsky-Ravel's "Pictures at an Exhibition". They did two premieres of typical avantgarde scores by Argentine composers: Marcelo Delgado's "La luz del cenit" and Eduardo Kusnir's "Golpecitos para notificar". And the valuable premiere of John Corigliano's Oboe Concerto, well played by Andrés Spiller; an uneven work, it has a specially attractive slow movement. They also offered Nino Rota's Trombone Concerto, where Henry Bay was acceptable. The conductors were Pedro Calderón and Spiller, respectively Principal Conductor and Assistant Conductor of the NS. I can only wish the NS well.

Para el Buenos Aires Herald.