domingo, diciembre 21, 2008

Adventurous choral music

Recent weeks have given us a wealth of offbeat choral music with two high points: the revival after decades of negligence of two valuable twentieth-century scores: Arthur Honegger´s "Le Roi David" ("King David") and Benjamin Britten´s "Saint Nicolas".

I have cherished Honegger´s symphonic psalm ever since I first heard it live conducted by Albert Wolff in 1953. In 1956 I bought the version conducted by the composer; since then I obtained Leopold Hager´s excellent CD and heard it twice more in concert; but now it has been absent for almost three decades. It was high time for the audience to renew its acquaintance with this masterpiece written in 1921 when the composer was 29. Based on a drama by René Morax, it was initially conceived as a biblical drama or sacred opera but was soon transformed into an oratorio. There were two versions: the first had an orchestra of 23 player according to Zadoff´s notes, but the composer in his recording says they were 17; the second, a full orchestra. I had always heard the latter, but Néstor Zadoff, the conductor of this revival, chose the former and it was very interesting, although he further reduced the 23 or 17 to only 14, combining winds with percussion, alternated piano and organ and only two strings, cello and bass. The sound was stringent and salutary, providing quite enough support to the big (84-strong) veteran but fine-sounding Grupo Coral Divertimento. I take exception to the cuts Zadoff made, for after so much time we were entitled to hear the whole thing, and anyway it isn´t long; it lasted almost an hour with Zadoff, it lasts 66 minutes with Hager and no less than 79 with the composer conducting! Practical reasons may have led to the elimination of the contralto´s song of the handmaiden, but he also cut the choral Song of Praise and the psalm "In my distress". Nevertheless I hugely enjoyed the occasion, especially in the biggest number, the Dance before the Ark, which builds to a grandiose climax, and the final alleluias of pure "Bachian" beauty.

The choral and orchestral interpretation was very convincing. The Narrator (an innovation) was the excellent Augusto Morales, quite expressive and with perfect French diction. The very correct though not intense enough tenor was Ricardo González Dorrego, and soprano Rebeca Nomberto recovered from a weak start and went on to well-voiced melismas. The Witch of Endor was voiced with raucous, agonic projection by María Rosa Chiaravalloti.

I was present at the premiere of "Saint Nicolas" in our city: it was offered in 1954 by that wonderful institution, the Asociación de Conciertos de Cámara, conducted by Washington Castro. Since then I´ve been hoping for its revival (if there was one I missed it). It is a 50-minute cantata written in 1948 on the life of Saint Nicolas, converted later into Santa Claus, with an adequate text concocted by Eric Crozier. It assembles a mixed choir, a children´s choir and a chamber orchestra reinforced with organ and four-hand piano. Britten´s music is admirably fresh and varied, of course tonal, and it shows again his empathy with the sound of children. Premiered (and recorded) at the Aldeburgh Festival with Peter Pears as Saint Nicolas, it is the recording to have.

There were three performances in diverse venues; I heard the third at the church of Saint Ignatius, the oldest in BA. The subway strike and one of the habitual protests at the nearby Plaza 25 de Mayo led to an unconscionable delay of 70 minutes, but there was also bad planning: the local priest was still saying mass at 8,15 p.m. when the concert was announced at 8 p.m… Nevertheless I enjoyed this reencounter after so many years, for the combined Coro Polifónico Nacional (Roberto Luvini) and Coro Nacional de Niños (Vilma Gorini de Teseo) were quite good (the kids a bit overwhelmed in sound by the adults) and the competent ad-hoc orchestra (18-strong) were all led by Luvini with a clear hand . The weak link was tenor Pablo Travaglino, who doesn´t have the means for such a exposed part, although he read the music accurately.

Now to famous waters with Joseph Haydn´s mighty oratorio "The Creation" ("Die Schöpfung") offered at the Facultad de Derecho by Pedro Calderón leading the Coro Polifónico Nacional (Luvini) and the Orquesta Sinfónica Nacional, both in fine shape. The three Archangels were sung superbly by Soledad de la Rosa (Gabriel) and quite well by González Dorrego (Uriel) and Marcos Nicastro (Raphael), and in the last part Norberto Marcos was a fine Adam and Silvina Sadoly a well-sung but rather pale Eva. Calderón showed again his versatility and conducted with command.

It was nice meeting Juan Pedro Esnaola´s 1826 Mass for four voices. The score was found by Juan Florentino La Moglie and transcribed by Norberto Broggini and this was the premiere of this pioneer Argentine sacred score written in the Italian style at only 18-years- old. As the Mass is incomplete they added a Benedictus from his still earlier Requiem and in place of the Agnus Dei the motet "Agnus innocens". All the interpreters were good, though soprano Elena López Jáuregui and tenor Carlos Ullán were more sonorous than tenor Pablo Pollitzer and bass Walter Schwarz. La Moglie conducted with professional acumen the Cappella Vocale and the Orchestra "Proyecto Esnaola". The venue was the very full Cathedral.

For Buenos Aires Herald