lunes, septiembre 24, 2007

Europe sends three admirable orchestras

These recent weeks have been a blessing for the amateur of symphony orchestras. No less than three have visited us from Europe and all gave deep satisfaction. It's no surprise that two of them could be heard at the Mozarteum Argentino , for they have a stunning record of distinguished foreign orchestras through the decades. Another valuable institution , Nuova Harmonia, shared one of the orchestras and presented another.

There was a wonderful debut concert by the Symphonica Toscanini under its founder, now 77-year-old Lorin Maazel, still fit and as usual a wizard of orchestral sonorities, as he demonstrated in his many visits with orchestras from the USA , France , Italy and Austria. The sense of the tour was to pay homage to Toscanini in the 50th anniversary of his death, and also because the 11-year-old Maazel, a prodigy, astonished the old master with his precocious conducting talent back in 1941. The Orchestra is very young; it was born on the 1st of May 2006; and enormous: 200 players alternate ; 109 came to BA. They have as antecedent the Toscanini Philharmonic, and their city of residence is Rome. The concert was non-subscription.

The programme was marvelous, a synthesis of Maazel's most apposite repertoire. Roussel's Second Suite from "Bacchus et Ariane", the Dance of the Seven Veils and the final scene from Richard Strauss' "Salome" and two Respighi masterpieces: "Fountains of Rome" and "Fountains of Rome". Fantastically colorful material done ideally by an extremely professional orchestra and a maestro who is always at his very best in this sort of music, with his uncanny ear for transparence and picturesqueness. And with the added pleasure of hearing Nancy Gustafson in her long-delayed debut ; thrice she was announced by the Colón, the first time singing the same Salome scene, and thrice she cancelled due to disagreements. A singer of immense versatility, she doesn't have the clarion voice of a Nilsson but the timbre is good and the volume acceptable, and these rather neutral assets are compensated by an acute musical and dramatic intelligence that gave us a believable Salome even without the stage action.I disagreed with the idea of having an offstage voice (Salo Pasik) telling the plot with melodramatic exaggeration to the audience. Supertitles broke off minutes before the end.

The other concert by the Toscanini was for Nuova Harmonia and I couldn't hear it; it seemed less interesting, with Beethoven's Fifth, repetition of "Pines of Rome" and two Italian overtures. It replaced the cancelled visit of the Verdi Symphony Orchestra.

For both subscription series the Mozarteum presented the Gustav Mahler Jugendorchester under Philippe Jordan in two different programmes with baritone Thomas Hampson ; all made their local debuts; it was one of the greatest occasions of the year.The Orchestra was founded by Claudio Abbado in 1986 in Vienna, who remains its Musical Director, and it is considered the best European youth organism. The players range from 18 to 26-years-old and there's a goodly proportion of girls. I couldn't hear the first concert, all-Mahler : a selection of his early songs and the Sixth Symphony. But the second was roundly splendid. Two of the greatest symphonic scores (among my personal favorites) were chosen by the conductor and had performances of superlative quality: Richard Strauss' "Death and Transfiguration" and Stravinsky's "The Rite of Spring". Immensely difficult music in deep contrast to each other (the strongest Postromanticism and the twentieth-century purest monument to rhythm), the orchestra showed extraordinary accuracy and enthusiasm under the guidance of the brilliant young conductor, certainly one of the best of his generation. The results were electrifying all the way.

But there was a further attraction, the belated debut of Hampson, one of the best lyric baritones of his generation (he is close to 50) along with Skovhus and Hvorostovsky, who were heard in BA years ago. Hampson's voice is very beautiful, even poetical, and he uses it with high intelligence and refinement. He sang four of the five Rueckert Lieder (why not all five?), enchanting in "Ich atmet' eine linden Duft", deeply dramatic in "Um Mitternacht" and almost metaphysical in "Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen". He also did two early songs in the fine orchestrations by Luciano Berio (probably premieres): "Ich ging mit Lust" from "Des Knaben Wunderhorn" and "Erinnerung" , text by Richard Leander; his "pianissimi" in the former were perfect.

I was pleasantly surprised by the return visit of the "Sinfónica de Euskadi" (Nuova Harmonia) who had been here in 2000 under its conductor Gilbert Varga, a Londoner of Hungarian extraction. Their return showed the orchestra in fine shape and very cosmopolitan in its composition (plenty of Slavs along, naturally, Basque players and from other places) and Varga a most proficient conductor. Their traversal of Shostakovich's desolate and turbulent Tenth Symphony had impact, accuracy and tensile strength, with very good playing from all sectors and intelligent, controlled conducting.

There was a further motive for joy: Bruno Gelber gave his best performance in years solving the difficulties of Rachmaninov's redoubtable Third Concerto with thorough professionalism. The Orchestra lacked some fine points, though. The programme was completed by Francisco Madina's short suite "Orreaga", which means "Roncesvalles"; I felt little sense of history in the pleasant enough music. Encores: a delicate Guridi piece, "Amorosa" (from "Ten Basque Melodies") and Dvorák's Slavonic Dance op. 46 No. 1.

Para el Buenos Aires Herald

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