martes, agosto 07, 2007

About pianists and chamber groups

Piano recitals aren't as abundant nowadays as they were three or four decades ago and the country's devaluation certainly hasn't helped in recent years, for the big names are quite expensive, but we do get some valuable visitors. Such is the case of the French artist Alexandre Tharaud, who was invited back by Festivales Musicales after his successful local debut last year. His task this time was very interesting: the complete traversal in two sessions of Maurice Ravel's creations for solo piano. I don't recall such a project being performed in recent years by any pianist, local or visitor, and it certainly is worthwhile. There were even two, perhaps three, premieres. And Tharaud has recorded the lot, so his concerts were promising. I could only hear the first, at the Coliseo, and I think Festivales has made a good choice.

In his piano music Ravel is at times Neoclassical ("Menuet antique", "Le tombeau de Couperin") but his most important music is Impressionist: "Jeux d'eau", "Miroirs". And his masterpiece, "Gaspard de la Nuit", is Impressionist in "Ondine" but Expressionist in "Scarbo". There's no end to his harmonic inventiveness and sometimes the music is devilishly difficult, taking the Lisztian grand manner as a starting point for adventurous forays into shimmering transparencies.

Tharaud is a typical pianist of our times: he has acquired a splendid technique and he can surmount any hurdle, but he doesn't get the equilibrium that famous Ravelians of yore knew how to obtain: Walter Gieseking, Monique Haas, Marguerite Long. He is at times too brusque ("Scarbo"); but he does obtain splendid coloristic hues and is certainly very professional. Some commented unfavorably that he read from scores, when habitually solo players know the music by heart, but I felt that it was just an "aide mémoire" and it didn't bother me, for it didn't affect his firm playing.

The concert I heard started with four short pieces, including the "Grotesque Serenade", his first piano work (1892-3), which may have been a premiere. Then, what is certainly one: "La parade", 1896, a curious quilt of waltzes, marches and a mazurka written for an intended ballet , and the disconcerting thing is that there seems to be a strong Satie influence (unique in Ravel's production). To close the First Part, those admirable "Valses nobles et sentimentales" evoking loosely Schubert but clearly Ravelian in its mix of Neoclassical and Impressionist; they were played with elegance and accuracy.

The Second Part started with the charming "Pavane pour une infante défunte" and closed with "Gaspard de la nuit", where I especially liked "Ondine". I disliked , however, the encores: an unnecessary Bach-Busoni Prelude and a fast and percussive piece by Rameau played too harshly. But the main thing was accomplished with distinction: a splendid panorama of Ravel's genius.

Chopiniana is a series of piano concerts taking as reference Chopin's music and organized by Martha Noguera. Thanks to her initiative our city has heard many valuable artists in recent years. In 2007 there will be two series; the first has started at a new venue, the hall "Los Jardines" at the Panamericano Hotel. It proved to have decent acoustics ; the seats are comfortable and the place looks nice. Curiously enough, the initial presentation included no Chopin, although the chosen composers were great admirers of the Polish composer: Schumann and Grieg. The player was Daniel Levy, a 60-year-old Argentine with a big European career and many recordings . He too read from the scores. Also, he expatiated at length on the music, which perhaps had some logic in this case for there was no hand programme: the pieces were announced by Noguera.

Levy chose no less than 21 of Grieg's vast amount of "Lyric Pieces", which seems too much of a good thing; probably a round dozen would have been enough to extend proper homage to the Norwegian composer , whose centenary of his death is being commemorated in 2007. From Schumann, his "Children's Scenes" op.15 showed Levy at his poorest level: excessive "rubati", a plethora of unmarked arpeggios, lack of rhythmic pulse, no regard to specificied dynamics and attacks that were too massive and harsh. Some pleasant moments didn't compensate. But although there were faults in Grieg (exaggerated rhythms, a shortage of delicate evocation) the pieces were generally well played and chosen. More Schumann to conclude: the "Intermezzo" from "Viennese Carnival" in a rather wild performance and the First Novellette, to my mind much better played than the other Schumann scores. The encore was a short Prelude by Scriabin.

Nuova Harmonia presented at the Coliseo the debut of the David Trio, founded recently (in 2004) . Two players are Italian: pianist Claudio Trovajoli and violinist Daniele Pascoletti; the cellist Philipp Von Steinaecker probably isn't. Their integration is very good and in their best moments the results were impressive. However, there was an excess of incisiveness in the violin and the high-lying harmonics of the cello in Shostakovich were flawed. The pianist was a tower of strength throughout. Haydn's Hob XV.14 had an interesting performance, with added ornaments and cadenzas, but the players seemed to go too far at some junctures. The splendid Shostakovich Trio op.67 had its gripping moments, and the artists found their full form in Brahms' marvelous Trio No.1, op.8 but later revised. The encore was a fine performance of the last movement from Dvorák's "Dumky" Trio.

Para el Buenos Aires Herald


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