lunes, mayo 18, 2009

From the Suisse Romande to turbulent London

The Suisse Romande is francophone Switzerland and its capital, Geneva, is the resident city of the splendid Orchestra of the same appellation founded by the great conductor Ernest Ansermet in 1918, who remained at the helm almost fifty years; their prowess was firmly established by a great number of wonderful recordings, many of which still are necessary references. The SRO has just visited us led by their impressive Principal Conductor, Marek Janowski, and featuring the splendid French pianist Jean-Louis Thibaudet. Their two concerts with different programmes were offered by the Mozarteum Argentino at the Coliseo.

The succession of famous conductors at the helm of the SRO speaks clearly of the importance of the post: Paul Kletzki, Wolfgang Sawallisch, Horst Stein, Armin Jordan, Fabio Luisi and Pinchas Steinberg. The big orchestra (108) is very cosmopolitan in its integration. Janowski is much appreciated here as an opera conductor for admirable interpretations of R. Strauss ("Die Frau ohne Schatten", 1979) and Tchaikovsky ("Pique Dame", 1981). As to Thibaudet, he was Cecilia Bartoli´s pianist in her only BA visit and he came back several times as a recitalist or with orchestra. I´m sorry that the biographies of the artists almost always omit mentioning their previous visits.

The first programme had only two works: the quirky and virtuosic Liszt Concerto No.2 and Bruckner´s Sixth Symphony. Thibaudet has fantastically fleet and accurate fingers and his rendering was precisely articulated even in the wildest moments; his sound, as befits the French school, is clean but not meaty. I deeply admired the perfect rhythm and infinitesimal adjustment of orchestra and soloist. Thibaudet played as encore Chopin´s Waltz Nº 3, op.34/2, a quiet, reflexive piece.

The Bruckner Sixth is certainly less inspired than most of its companions, its rather dry mien far from the moving flights of the last three symphonies. But it remains a granitic monument with many fine instances of his style. The conductor showed complete mastery of the intricate textures and was abetted by a very disciplined orchestra with fine strings and brass; however, the Coliseo´s rather harsh acoustics conspired against the roundness Bruckner needs.

The second programme was curious, all Ravel except the initial score; the Swiss composer Michael Jarrell (1958) wrote a 17-minute piece with a long title: "Le ciel, tout à l´heure si limpide, soudain se trouble horriblement" ("The sky, a little while ago so limpid, suddenly is horribly troubled"). I found this premiere (not so indicated: premieres should be identified) rather interesting; it exhibits a wide and wise palette and it sounds coherent within its style, which seems to blend the Polish school with swaths of impressionism.

Thibaudet, as expected, was a marvelous interpreter of Ravel´s Concerto and the very difficult orchestral solos were beautifully executed in impeccable accord with the pianist. The soloist´s encore was Brahms´ Intermezzo op.118/2, very neat though not quite as deep as the German school´s better exponents.

Janowski did an effective combination in the Second Part: he conducted seamlessly Ravel´s "Valses nobles et sentimentales" and "La Valse"; it worked well and the orchestra played beautifully, even if the very last drop of virtuosity wasn´t quite there (I remembered Abbado with the Berlin Philharmonic). The encores were stunning: a surprisingly Italianate Intermezzo from Puccini´s "Manon Lecaut" and a brilliant "Farandole" from Bizet´s "L´Arlésienne".

From quiet Geneva to the turbulent London of Hogarth´s eighteenth-century "The Rake´s Progress", fashioned into an opera by librettists W.H.Auden and Chester Kallman and composer Igor Stravinsky. When premiered in 1951 in Venice, it marked the last stage of Stravinsky´s "Neo" period, in this case taking Mozart as his model. The result is controversial and not to everybody´s liking; personally I enjoy it a lot and was glad that Buenos Aires Lírica decided to present it at the Coliseo. The Colón offered it in 1959, 1977 and 2001, with an especially good cast in this latter date (Groves and Ramey).

I believe that "progress" should be translated as "carrera", not "progreso", as they decided at BAL. It´s an eighteenth-century use of the word, and both librettists and composer want a setting of that time, true to Hogarth´s inspired satirical engravings and oils. I feel producer Marcelo Lombardero was wrong in transporting the action to a vague mid twentieth-century, especially mixing up dates incongruously (there´s even a disconcerting 2025). There were, accepting the transpositions, grave distortions, such as the golf course at the beginning instead of Trulove´s house and especially the transformation of a cemetery with an opened grave into a container close to a subway station. Of course there were opportunistic quotes from the current economic crisis. The whorehouse was too garish and Luciana Gutman´s costumes tasteless. The Auction scene went better. The Bedlam seemed too simplified and conventional. Daniel Feijóo as stage designer went along with Lombardero´s ideas.

The musical side was much better. Alejo Pérez was the very effective conductor of a talented hand-picked 31-member orchestra and the choir solved well its part under Juan Casasbellas. Jeffrey Lentz made a valuable debut as Tom Rakewell; he has the right sort of voice, sings very musically and is a convincing actor. Gustavo Gibert was professional and firm as Nick Shadow. Evelyn Ramírez sang well her grotesque Baba the Turk and Ana Laura Menéndez was correct but rather pale as Anne. Christian Peregrino was stalwart as Trulove. Good jobs from Marta Cullerés, Santiago Bürgi and Walter Schwarz.

For Buenos Aires Herald

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