sábado, noviembre 29, 2008

The special aura of recitals

There is a special aura of anticipation in instrumental recitals: concerts for one or two artists. The player stands either alone or accompanied by one other player, and in most cases, the accompanist is really a full-time partner for his music is just as exacting. There´s nothing to occult their mistakes or to minimize their perfection: they are exposed all the time. This is a survey of piano recitals in recent weeks.

The piano dominates this repertory area. A Vietnamese, Dang Thai Son, offered the recital for Chopiniana that had been suspended last year due to an intoxication. I was deeply impressed by his artistry. He won in 1980 First Prize in the Tenth Chopin Competition at Warsaw. He alternates concert giving with recordings and professorships in Montreal and Tokyo. Dang Thai Son is an exemplar of the astonishing adaptability of Orientals to a completely alien culture, such as Occidental classical music. Urbane and contained, he showed an admirably clean technique up to any challenges and an exquisite taste, being particularly stylish in Impressionist music. His version of Ravel´s marvellous and rarely played "Miroirs" ("Mirrors") was outstanding in every way. So were Fauré´s Nocturnes 1 and 2, on the road to Debussy parting from Romantic bases. His Chopin was very solid and with no mannerisms: Ballads Nº.3 op. 47 and Nº.1 op. 23, 4 Mazurkas op. 24 and Scherzo Nº2 op.31, and as an encore, the Waltz op.9/2. The witty "Golliwogg´s cakewalk" from Debussy´s "Children´s corner" was the other brilliant encore.

Veteran Argentine pianist Aquiles Delle Vigne, who lives in Europe, made a poor "rentrée" in Chopiniana after many years. A very fallible mechanism and a marked eccentricity in phrasing were evident in Chopin´s Mazurkas op.6/2, 24/1 and 68/2, and in his Second Sonata. The pianist´s work was better in Mozart´s Fantasia K.475. The Gershwin "Rhapsody in blue" was billed as arranged by Delle Vigne but it sounded pretty much like straight Gershwin and was erratically played. The encores were Liszt´s "Consolation No.3 "(we needed to be consoled…) and some Piazzolla. By the way, the originally announced program was tougher, for it included Beethoven´s Sonata No. 12 and Rachmaninov´s Second Sonata.

Elsa Púppulo has for long decades been one of our most accomplished pianists. However, in recent years she has been disconcertingly uneven for an artist of such impressive mechanism. In her recital for Chopiniana, moreover, she seemed ill. I know she can play to perfection the terribly difficult Chopin Etudes, but this didn´t happen this time ; also, she changed the order without reason and it wasn´t announced. After the initial Franck "Prelude, chorale and fugue", played with acumen, an unconscionable amount of time passed before she appeared for the Chopin pieces, and she looked out of sorts. The Second Part started quite well with strong performances of Liszt´s Hungarian Rhapsodies Nos. 13 and 11. She then played a selection of Rachmaninov´s Preludes, mostly very well, but it was inconsiderate to the public to do a different selection than the printed one in the hand programme. Such matters must be taken care of by Martha Noguera, the enterprising pianist who is at the helm of Chopiniana. Two short pieces by Grieg and Chopin were the encores. The venue for this and the preceding concerts was the Teatro Santa María, a rather mournful hall who tends to put a pall on the proceedings.

A small but attractive venue is the Museo Fernández Blanco, who gives an intensive amount of concerts a year, some of them quite good. The Israelite pianist Immanuela Grunberg, also a Doctor in Music and active in the USA, presented a commented Schubert recital. She played one of the three admirable "Pieces for keyboard" ("Klavierstücke")-Nº 2-, the Four Impromptus op.90 and the great Sonata Nº 20. She wasn´t note-perfect but showed herself a good stylist, lyrical and dramatic. In the Sonata she chose her tempi well, though she was a bit hesitant in transitions and had some memory problems. But in all it was an interesting traversal of fine music.

Volker Ziemendorff is another pianist who may have some missteps but shows intellectual comprehension of the finer points of style and is always thoughtful in his interpretations. The venue was again the Fernández Blanco. A First Part dedicated to the

Classic Era with fine sonatas by Haydn (Hob. XVI/49) and Mozart (Nº 14, K.457) was presented with understanding and sense of form but also with mistakes and memory failures. In the Schubert "Moments musicaux" the contrast was even greater between the stylistic and the executional sides. Schubert´s Impromptu op.142/1 went better. Followed a good selection of our senior composers: Gianneo´s difficult "Bailecito" (the pianist had a false start), Guastavino´s simpler one, the charming Tango from "Aquel Buenos Aires" by Pedro Sáenz and Ginastera´s sweet "Danza de la moza donosa" from "Tres danzas argentinas". Finally, Chopin´s Scherzo No. 2 was rather satisfying until the final dishevelled pages.

At an unexpected but interesting venue, the Aguaribay in Mendoza 3821, occurred a special event: the complete performance of "…aus Märchenzeit" ("…from fairy-tale times") by one of our best composers, Luis Mucillo. It is a vast, 75-minute, seven-part suite of immense intellectual accomplishment and often fascinating sounds, and was admirably played by three pianists, Aldo Antognazzi, Alexander Panizza and Mucillo himself. The biggest and most complex was "Hoffmannesque tale: the sounding glass". All showed a transcendent imagination.

For Buenos Aires Herald

domingo, noviembre 23, 2008

The richness of the choral-symphonic repertoire

In recent weeks the music lover has had occasion to appreciate a good deal of the best of the beautiful choral-symphonic repertoire , albeit in different levels of interpretation. Hereby a synthesis of events.

Pride of place goes to the end-of-season concert of Festivales Musicales at the Auditorio de Belgrano, where the much-loved veteran maestro Michel Corboz showed yet again his acumen as a specialist of this texture. The programme combined two scores of different composers: Francis Poulenc´s "Gloria" and Puccini´s 50-minute "Messa di Gloria". The former lasts about 25´, dates from 1959 and is typical of the author in its beauty of melody and harmony and its contrast between sublimated numbers and others of jubilant nature and syncopated rhythm, which accords with the celebratory character of the Gloria. The Messa on the other hand is an early work (1880) by the future master of opera and responds to the family tradition of sacred music at his home town, Lucca. It shows the sureness of hand of the composer, even in elaborate counterpoint, although what we hear is the 1893 revision, surely more polished than the original. As was to be expected, there´s ample melody and warmness in this music, not transcendent but surely very pleasant to hear.

The Colón Orchestra didn´t sound completely assured in some moments of the Poulenc but seemed good enough in Puccini. The Colón Choir under Salvatore Caputo was strong and brilliant though not quite subtle enough in slow hushed passages. Soledad de la Rosa was admirably musical and crystal-clear in Poulenc, and in Puccini baritone Víctor Torres sung with his wonted refinement and tenor Enrique Folger forced his fine timbre with verismo excesses.

Johann Sebastian Bach´s Mass in G minor is the most monumental work of the repertoire and one of the most difficult, only surpassed by Beethoven´s shorter but mighty "Missa Solemnis". In the last three decades Bach has gone though a historicist revolution and we no longer accept versions of admirable beauty and accomplishment but with a Romantic outlook such as Von Karajan´s. On the other hand I feel that interpretations with modern instruments but with Baroque "manners" such as Karl Richter and early Helmut Rilling are still valid and moving. Late Rilling, Harnoncourt, Gardiner and others give us swift tempi, historical instruments and very transparent textures. It´s a streamlined Bach, to my mind less communicative but attractive in its exactness and timbres, but it demands a very high grade of professionalism.

This marvellous Catholic Mass produced by a Lutheran , incredibly unitary although it is a patchwork of new music and recycled material from earlier cantatas, is always astonishing in its unbounded imagination and superlative contrapuntal technique. It´s a tall order to offer it, but La Bella Música resolved to present it. The institution has presented valuable choral-symphonic works in recent years, generally with good results. This time they were mixed. Andrés Gerszenzon conducted some time ago a "St. Mathew Passion" that followed historicist principles but was often devitalized, and this happened again with the Mass. His tempi were generally well-chosen, he used trumpets and horn on the mold of the Baroque period, he innovated by assigning to soloists (on the basis of sparse accompaniment) fragments generally done chorally, but there was little tension and expression in the phrasing. When one isn´t moved by the "Crucifixus", something is wrong.

Care had been taken to try to assemble good players and singers but results weren´t quite what was expected. I do single out the notable first trumpet Valentin Garvie, Argentine though living in Europe, for his precision and intonation, but the horn player, imported from Brazil, was lamentabl The Baroque Ensemble "de la Bella Música", 26-strong, had well-known players (Marchesini, R. Rutkauskas, G. Massun, Barile, F. Ciancio) but the total result wasn´t as satisfactory as the work demands; I was surprised by considerable lapses of intonation and some playing didn´t have the right timbre (Barile). The Coral del Siglo XXI (40 singers) conducted by Guillermo Dorá acquitted themselves rather well, though they were the victims of inappropriate phrasing.

It was audacious to assign the contralto parts to a countertenor, something that both Harnoncourt and Leonhardt have done in the casting of cantatas, so I suppose there´s some basis for it. The very young Damián Ramírez has a beautiful timbre and he did an expressive "Agnus Dei" but I found him hesitant in "Qui sedes". Víctor Torres was admirable in "Et in spiritum sanctum" and less so in "Quoniam", perhaps upset by the horn player. I found Ricardo González Dorrego charmless though accurate in "Benedictus". The participation of sopranos Silvina Sadoly and Marisú Pavón was correct and that of Lídice Robinson as second soprano, unnecessary. The venue was the Coliseo.

About 35 years ago Purcell´s semiopera "Dioclesian" had a good premiere, I believe under Raymond Leppard. Its revival by the Sociedad Händel led by Sergio Siminovich was warranted by the quality of the piece but unfortunately was very poor due to the quite mediocre orchestral ensemble (intonation was awful) and the amateurish though enthusiastic chorus. Siminovich´s technique was as always confusing in its ample but imprecise gestures, though I grant him the merit of bringing to us interesting and neglected pieces. There was good work from sopranos Silvina Guatelli and Natalia Salardino and countertenor Damián Ramírez, less good by tenor Mario Martínez and bass Francisco Bastitta.

For Buenos Aires Herald

miércoles, noviembre 19, 2008

Kodo, the name for wondrous percussion

Many years ago, in 1969, the Mozarteum Argentino brought us a superb ensemble, Les Percussions de Strasbourg, and they came back about a decade ago, giving us the very best resources of percussion music in the Occidental tradition. Now, closing their season at the Coliseo, they left the audience spellbound with a marvellous Japanese ensemble, Kodo, bringing the utmost perfection in Oriental percussion.

"Kodo" means two things: the heart-beat, origin of all rhythm, heard by the foetus in the mother´s uterus ; and "children of the drum", a reflexion of Kodo´s desire to play with a child´s simplicity of heart. Although they preserve and reinterpret traditional Japanese arts, they are also influenced by the frequent "tournées" that Kodo has made since its already far-off inception, in 1981. It has offered about 3.100 performances in 45 countries; their year divides into three equal parts, 1/3 to their voyages abroad, 1/3 to performances in Japan and 1/3 to preparing new material in Sado Island.

In their repertoire there are three main elements: pieces based on traditional popular art; works by friends and mentors of the organisation (Maki Ishii, Shinichiro Ikebe), the Kabuki artists Roetsu Tosha and Kiyohiko Senba and the jazz pianist Yousuke Yamashita, and creations by members of the group incorporating inspirations from their trips all over the world.

The Artistic Director is Mitsuru Ishizuka and there are 13 interpreters: 10 men and 3 women. They are listed in the hand programme heading, but not identified in the various numbers. The show was continuous and comprised eleven numbers.

Before I go on to describe individual pieces, a general impression. As a Westerner with a superficial familiarity with the Japanese ethos, I was deeply impacted by the tremendous discipline and visceral power of the players. My images of Japan come from their drawings which were such an influence on the Impressionists, by their films, especially those of Akira Kurosawa, and by some books. An insular country, it has kept fiercely to its traditions, particularly in rural areas, but in the big cities has had a powerful input from the USA MacArthur plan after World War II, so that Tokyo is a strange mixture of profoundly dissimilar views of life. The composite image is that of an ethos in which we find side by side powerful images of the samurai past with its code of honor, its martial arts, the command of every fibre in the body (in common with the Chinese), its hara-kiri or seppuku, its kamikaze soldiers, along with delicate paintings, exquisite and morose soft music from the koto or the flute and women in elaborate and beautiful kimonos and heavily whited facies.

Kodo asks from its players awesome stamina and total precision. They certainly give of themselves generously, with "esprit de corps". Their main instrument is the "taiko", a drum that comes in very different sizes, from small to a gigantic one that presides over the proceedings from the back of the stage. They are aesthetically beautiful and the artists elicit from them an enormous variety of sounds, from extreme "pianissimo" to granitic "fortissimo". The Artistic Director knows how to dispose them with a true sense of show. The massed sound is overwhelming, although there are segments where the unrelenting battering gets monotonous, for they tend to stay in one rhythm for long periods. But when the drums tend to outstay their welcome comes the contrast of a ruminative soft flute, or of sweet-voiced singing (not the nasalized shrillness of the Chinese).

The programme starts with a thrilling number, "The tribe" by Leonard Edo, a telluric outburst of fantastic power. Then, "Door to the unknown" by Tsubasa Hori, where a metaphysical contact with other worlds is attempted. "The woodcutter´s song" is traditional and has at first an antiphonal vocal structure which leads to "Miyake", where the men strike implacably drums set in the ground. "Monochrome", by Maki Ishii, is a mixture of regular and irregular rhythmic patterns in a constantly spiralling dynamic progression. "Cymbals", by Ryutaro Kaneko, is a subtle interplay of small cymbals linked to Buddhist religious practices. "Three cold days, four hot days", by Eiichi Saito, refers to the end of winter and is a powerful piece of strong contrasts. "Butterfly", by Saito, has a refined choreography by Ayako Onizawa and offers a moment of poetic respite. "The path of dew" refers to the journey through life and prolongs the charm and subtlety of the preceding work.

But now came the greatest possible contrast. In a display of extreme strength and endurance, a half-naked player, all fiber, played during about 15 minutes the gigantic drum mentioned earlier in this review with almost terrifying speed and enormous sound. Frankly I feared for his heart. The training of such players surely implies special techniques of control and concentration.

The final number, "Taiko in festive chariots", is traditional, and makes a grand celebration to crown a very special experience. The communication with the audience was vivacious and authentic, the success particularly important considering that these were people attending a subscription series of Occidental classical music.

In fact, this was quite a gamble for the Mozarteum, but their instincts were unerring: they gave us a show of marked aesthetic and cultural value, moreover quite accessible due to its paradoxically primitive impact. They got us in touch with the real Japanese character. Thanks for that gift.

For Buenos Aires Herald

lunes, noviembre 10, 2008

Worthwhile music from the XXth and XXIst centuries

Although the bulk of the concert repertoire remains the music of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, we certainly need to know –and know well- the music that is closer to us in time, if not in sensibility; some musics of recent decades ("recent" meaning the last ten) remain problematic for the average audience, and some are so even for those of well-honed taste. But it´s certainly aesthetically unhealthy for the listener to remain isolated from the music of his contemporaries and even from that of his grandfathers´ time.

Fortunately this year there has been a good deal of interesting music from the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. I will give pride of place to the concerts of the series "Classics of the twentieth century" organized by the Fundación Encuentros de Música Contemporánea which celebrates its forty years under Alicia Terzian´s direction. And her Grupo Encuentros commemorates its thirty years of activity. At AMIJAI they offered three concerts complementing the group with "friends" and totalling 17 players. I´m commenting on the first two; I couldn´t hear the third, dedicated to "Borges and the music of Buenos Aires".

Programmes were long and extremely varied. The first started with one of the most hermetic pieces of Ravel, the "Three poems of Mallarmé", sung by mezzo Marta Blanco rather reticently and accompanied by ten players. Seven instrumentalists gave us the fascinating "Chôros No. 7" (1924) by Villa-Lobos. Then, a world premiere, "Tenue brillantez" by Patricia Martínez (1973), a commission from Encuentros, deploying with professionalism the paraphernalia of the avant-garde. I was happy that one of the nicest pieces of our repertoire got a merited revival, Virtú Maragno´s "Baladas amarillas" (1952), well-sung by Blanco. The strangely called "Dramatic Polimaniquexixe" by the Chilean Jorge Antunes (1942) is a short suite billed as "largely erotic" and written for cello, clarinet and piano. Then, a very interesting experience, one of the first pieces conceived for quarter-tones, the Mexican Julián Carrillo´s "Cristóbal Colón" (1925) for voice and seven players. Followed the half-hour cantata "El martirio de Santa Olalla" created by Rodolfo Arizaga in 1952, a valuable composition in stylized Spanish archaism too long absent from our programmes (I was present at its premiere but had never heard it since). Finally, the clearly Armenian "Chant to Vahan" by Terzian herself, a suggestive composition with five small bells.

The often done "O King " by Luciano Berio is a homage to Martin Luther King and it started the second concert. The difficult "Dérive" (1984) is one of the few works by Pierre Boulez heard here, his symphonic works apparently beyond the possibilities of our orchestras; the ensemble played it well, quite a feat. The early "Cabaret songs" (1937-39) by Britten are light and agreeable and were well done by Blanco. Next, a revelation to me, the post-Romantic and very expressive "Der Wind" (1909) by Franz Schreker. Some of Shostakovich´s "Poems by A. Block", spare and stark, were heard, by voice and a piano trio that played separately or jointly in different poems. "Ascolta l´uccellino" is a commission by the Fundación Encuentros to Chilean composer Boris Alvarado and it mixed whistling, singing and avant-garde trademarks. I found Terzian´s "Les yeux fertiles" on Paul Éluard a bit too attuned to current European fingerprints, I prefer her in the Armenian-influenced scores; the piece is sung and spoken, a combination I find forced.

The ensemble is very professional and solid, and was well-rehearsed by Terzian, who also did the somewhat excessive comments. Make no mistake, these concerts were very useful and interesting and prove yet again that Terzian is a major figure in the promotion of the music I´m commenting on.

Apart from the AMIJAI concerts, the 40th International Festival of Encuentros included other sessions. I found particularly important the one dedicated to twentieth-century French music and basically featuring Olivier Messiaen. It happened at the Auditorium of the Consejo Profesional de Ciencias Económicas, a chamber venue of good acoustics at Viamonte 1549. The main work was the transcendental "Quartet for the end of times", an eight-movement instrumental work of moving mysticism written for clarinet, violin, cello and piano and composed at a relatively benign concentration camp in 1941, where it was premiered with the author at the piano. The proficient players were Claudio Espector (piano), Sergio Polizzi (violin, the only one with some difficulties not quite solved), Carlos Nozzi (cello) and Eduardo Ihidoype (clarinet). Also by Messiaen were "Three Melodies" from 1930 and "Le merle noir" for flute and piano. It was interesting to hear "Viens! Une flute invisible soupire…", a piece written for flute, piano and voice by André Caplet in 1900, and Roussel´s "Two poems of Ronsard" (1924) for flute and voice (without the habitual piano). Good jobs from mezzosoprano Marta Blanco and flutist Fabio Mazzitelli. Terzian coordinated.

An independent homage to Messiaen, and a very good one, was the premiere of his "Les corps glorieux", a 1939 score splendidly played by Argentine organist Diego Innocenzi, who resides in Switzerland. In 50 minutes and seven movements we hear "seven brief visions of the life of the reborn". This was at the basilica of the Santo Domingo convent, which holds a splendid organ of very full and varied registers, fully used by Messiaen. The work was impressive, especially in the "Combat between Death and Life". It was certainly useful to see the player via closed-circuit TV.

For Buenos Aires Herald

lunes, noviembre 03, 2008

Nuevo curso: Antonin Dvorak

A partir del próximo martes 4 de noviembre se dictará en el Club del Progresoun curso sobre la vida y la obra de Antonin Dvorak (1841-1904), a cargo del lic. Pablo Bardin.

Serán 4 clases los martes 4, 11, 18 y 25 de noviembre en el horario de 18.15 a 20.15.

Arancel total $100.

Sarmiento 1334

inscripciones: institucional@clubdelprogreso.com