martes, noviembre 20, 2007

Foreign orchestras end Big Three's seasons

It has been a steady trend of recent decades for the Big Three to offer foreign orchestras as a substantial part of the seasons; this year they ended their activity with distinguished visitors from abroad. The Mozarteum Argentino with the Sao Paulo Symphony under John Neschling ; Nuova Harmonia with the debut of the Warsaw Philharmonic conducted by Antoni Wit; and Festivales Musicales with the Galicia Symphony (debut) led by Víctor Pablo Pérez in the two final concerts of that institution.

This was the third BA encounter with the "Paulistas". In their first they played a stunning interpretation of Mahler's "Tragic" Symphony that left no doubt on my mind: this was surely the leading Latin-American orchestra. The authority and stamina of Neschling, the discipline and quality of each sector of the orchestra, the intense drive, all were first-rate . I was a bit less impressed the second time around, and I'm afraid that was my feeling this time as well. Mind you, I still believe it is a fine orchestra, a pleasure to hear and an example of how to achieve results, but some of the intensity in both organism and conductor is gone and there were very minor but discernible fissures in the playing .

I couldn't hear their first programme, including Gomes' Overture to "Il Guarany", the Sibelius Concerto for violin and the Shostakovich Fifth. The second started with a rarity, probably a premiere, the so-called cinema fantasy by Milhaud on his ballet "Le boeuf sur le toit", an irreverent and funny concoction based on the composer's nostalgia for Brazil. I prefer the original to this arrangement for violin and orchestra (with an interesting cadenza by Arthur Honegger) but it was beautifully played by American violinist James Ehnes (debut), who also did very well in the devilishly intricate "Tzigane" by Ravel. Neschling and the players accompanied with fine transparency and rhyhm in both cases. The violinist was a fine Bachian in his encores, "Prelude" and "Gigue" from "Partita No.3".

I did have some doubts, however, about their version of Tchaikovsky's difficult, uneven but often fascinating programmatic symphony "Manfred" (on Byron's Romantic antihero). Marginally unstuck unisons, some lack of electricity, but also beautifully clear intricate textures, euphony and tasteful phrasing (too tasteful?).

Two finely chosen and beautifully played encores: the "Brazilian Dance" by Camargo Guarnieri , and what probably was a premiere, the "Entr'acte" from Korngold's "The Snowman", written at eleven! (a lovely, schamaltzy waltz in Zemlinsky's orchestration).

I certainly welcome the debut of the Warsaw Philharmonic under its distinguished principal conductor, Antoni Wit. The organism has a long and distinguished history; starting in 1901.

A mishap put in jeopardy their local debut and delayed the beginning of the concert a whole hour: for some not clearly explained reason the instruments weren't sent simultaneously with the players and they –as us- had to wait until their artistic tools got to the Coliseo. The instrumentalists had their work clothes but curiously Wit didn't get them (his baton was also left behind and he conducted with his hands and without a coat). Worse, they couldn't rehearse and so had to adapt cold to the hall's acoustics. I believe thay are very good players and Wit a most able conductor, but probably they couldn't quite give their best in such conditions.

Paradoxically what I liked best as interpretation and execution was a short Polish work, Lutoslawski's "Petite Suite": charm, wittiness and rhythm. Players and conductor showed a total assimilation of the idiom.Then, a worthwhile discovery: the 24-year-old Chinese pianist Mei-Ting Sun played that hoary chestnut, Tchaikovsky's First Concerto, with such impulse and breathtaking brio –but also such lyricism in the slow melodies- that he made it appear new. There were many stunning passages, and the orchestra accompanied well.

Brahms' magnificent First Symphony is nevertheless an overplayed standard; the orthodox and unimpeachable version was certainly good enough but didn't go beyond that. I disagree with the encore for I don't accept mutilation: we heard parts 3 and 4 of Rossini's Overture "William Tell", very well done however.

I attended the two concerts of the Galicia Symphony (created 1992) under their Principal Conductor since 1993, Víctor Pablo Pérez (debut), and was pretty well impressed, for this typically cosmopolitan orchestra (more Slavs than Galicians in it) responds to a professional and somewhat impersonal mold: well-paid first-rate professionals and generous budgets to function , coupled with an eclectic and capable conductor. Responding to the character of this year's Festival, the first concert was all-Brahms: the Violin Concert with the admirable violinist Julian Rachlin (known here), whose gorgeous lyrical playing just needed more bite in some passages to be memorable; and the Fourth Symphony, very judiciously expounded by Pérez. Among the orchestral encores I enjoyed the zarzuela fragments: the waltz from "La Tempranica" (Jiménez) and the Prelude from "El Bateo" (Chueca).

The final concert was all Falla except for the charming short Galician work at the beginning, Andrés Gaos' "Nocturnal impression". Beautiful and idiomatic playing of three great works: "Noches en los jardines de Espana" with the splendid Catalan pianist Josep Colom (debut) , the suite from "El amor brujo" and the Suite No. 2 from "El sombrero de tres picos". New encores: the Prelude to "Agua, azucarillos y aguardiente" by Chueca, the First Dance from Falla's "La vida breve" and a lovely anonymous Galician song, well arranged.

Para el Buenos Aires Herald


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