lunes, marzo 23, 2009

Lemper fascinates, the National Symphony impresses

Ute Lemper is a diva of a special kind. About ten years ago she gave a recital at the enormous Gran Rex and she managed to give it an intimate feeling. Then and know, she was fulfilling what she considers her mission in life, as she stated it at her recent AMIJAI presentation: to keep alive the message of playwright Bertolt Brecht and composer Kurt Weill, the spirit of the Weimar Republic´s "Kabarett". Their high priestess for decades had been Lotte Lenya (Weill´s wife) and her "Berlin Theater Songs" remains the recording to have as indispensable reference. The harsh cynicism and bittersweet quality of the Brecht-Weill repertoire certainly need the German language and the Berliner accent, even if Lemper defends as an alternative the use of translations.

Sinuous, lanky and blonde, the now fortyish artist keeps well and is still a formidable exponent of the genre. Lemper is a deft linguist and feels completely at home singing in French and English, but still she is always at her best in her native German, where her strongly dramatic diction gives sense to every word. She is as much an actress as a singer, and her interspersions of stories between the songs can be very funny, as that of a red boa called Fifi which was around the successive necks –if we are to believe her- of Marlene, Lotte, Thatcher, Helmut Kohl, Eva Perón, Cristina F. de Kirchner, Hillary Clinton and Condoleeza Rice… She even made fun of AMIJAI´s rabbi. But she also got serious and mentioned the Holocaust, her need to sing in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv to atone the sense of collective guilt that Germans still feel.

Perhaps the audience didn´t care that she juggled the announced programme around in a totally helter-skelter way, eliminated whole authors (such as the admirable Belgian Jacques Brel) and added things such as the two Hava Alberstein songs in Yiddisch, evidently as a homage to the Jewish people that were of course in important number at the packed AMIJAI. They don´t have to review the concert…

Her voice is rather astonishing. She is a very sophisticated artist and nothing in her sounds spontaneous; she is thus completely different from Lenya´s direct style, which I certainly prefer; her vocal limitations are compensated by raw authenticity. Lemper is influenced both by traditional and cool jazz and by rock; her scats are imaginative and complex, the voice slides with ease into stratospheric heights and then descends to contralto depths. On the other hand, generally in her interpretations, if she can be sweet and "legato", she falls into excessive raucousness much too often.

I won´t attempt to establish the exact programme, but Weill dominated with three Brecht pieces both in German and English, two of Weill´s American creations, the lovely "Speak low" from "A touch of Venus" and that perfect "September Song" from "Knickerbocker Holiday", and the nostalgic "Youkali" in French. From the Dietrich "Fach", two Hollaender items, "Lola" and "Koffer in Berlin", done very differently from the model (Marlene sighed in deep contralto tones, Ute takes flight exuberantly in all directions). Two from Piaf´s songbook: "Milord" and "La vie en rose", "Lemperized" (Piaf was all heart ). The Communist composer Hanns Eisler´s "Ballad of Mary Sander" and a couple of Lemper´s own songs. And I have mentioned the Alberstein pieces.

She was marvellously accompanied by a topnotch jazz pianist, Werner "Vana" Gierig, who did wonders of his own. The announced guitarist Mark Lambert didn´t appear.

My other subject is very different: the season of the National Symphony (Orquesta Sinfónica Nacional) has started and it needs an evaluation. Readers know I admire the technical quality and the spirit of this organism, so often battered by the authorities. This year is like 2008, only worse: bad acoustics (the Bolsa de Comercio and the Facultad de Derecho), free, very few premieres (none important), third-line visiting conductors, scarce soloists of importance, no programme notes, unnecessary little concerts here and there, though I count as positive a short Cuyo tour. Still at the helm will be Principal Conductor Pedro I. Calderón and Assistant Conductor Andrés Spiller, who will take on about 2/3 of the total amount of concerts. The National Symphony deserves much, much more, but it won´t have it with this Government and this Secretary of Culture (José Nun).

Their two initial concerts at the Bolsa on Fridays at 7 p.m. had full, respectful and enthusiastic houses . Programmes were attractive. The first was conducted by Calderón: it included Beethoven´s Mass in C major (45 minutes), beautiful music rarely heard, with the splendid Coro Nacional de Jóvenes (Néstor Zadoff) and correct soloists: Silvina Sadoly (soprano), Alejandra Malvino (mezzosoprano), Maico Chia I Hsiao (tenor) and Martín Caltabiano (baritone, rather weak in the low notes). The purely decorative Concert Piece op.154 by Saint-Saëns was very nicely played by harpist Lucrecia Jancsa. Finally, four numbers from Mendelssohn´s music for Shakespeare´s "A Midsummer Night´s Dream", ending of course with the Wedding March, rousingly played.

Spiller offered another great Mendelssohn score, "The First Walpurgis Night", on a strange Goethe text, music of strong character played to the hilt and sung with radiant tone by the Coro Polifónico Nacional (Darío Marchese) with talented work from baritone Alejandro Meerapfel and tenor Ricardo González Dorrego and less involvement by mezzosoprano Laura Domínguez. A powerful rendition of Prokofiev´s masterful Fifth Symphony ended this rewarding concert.

For Buenos Aires Herald