lunes, junio 08, 2009

The Big Three hold their own

Yes, the Big Three are holding their own, and this is quite a feat in a crisis year. We are still on the radar of important groups and soloists, though the institutions have to do a lot of juggling with figures and sponsors to maintain their standards.

As has been true during the last conflictive decade, the Mozarteum Argentino is bringing to us relevant personalities in this season at the Coliseo . A case in point: the presentation at the Coliseo of Concerto Köln and the mezzosoprano Vivica Genaux giving us high-profile Baroque. They exist since 1985 and are surely one of the best historicist ensembles; she comes from Alaska, of all places, and is one of the most accomplished specialists of the Rossinian and the Baroque repertoires. The players gave us some wonderful Handel and Vivaldi, the singer (beautifully accompanied) offered gems by Handel and Hasse.

First the initial suite from Handel´s "Water Music" was done as indicated by natural horns, Baroque bassoon, oboe and strings with harpsichord. It was a beautiful performance, flexible, accurate and pointed, by all 19 instrumentalists; it would be churlish to note that a few of the horn sounds weren´t perfect, it is the very devil to play. "Sta nell´ircana" is a tough aria sung by Bradamante in that fantastic Handelian opera, "Alcina", unfortunately still missing from our city´s records; it showed the qualities of the singer: a very clean resolution of the divisions, a fierce sense of character and style, enough volume, but one could cavil at the excessively baritone-ish low notes. But she was refined and dreamy in the slow, lovely aria "Cara speme" from the same composer´s "Giulio Cesare" (his only opera staged several times in B.A.), accompanied only by cello and harpsichord. Some strong Vivaldi made for adequate contrast: Concerto No.23 for cello, strings and continuo (he wrote 27!), with very good work from the soloist, Werner Matzke. A stunning virtuoso aria from Handel´s "Ariodante", "Dopo notte", allowed for an impressive display of pyrotechnics from Genaux.

Another lovely Händel, Concerto grosso op. 3 Nº 2, showed the prowess of violinists Markus Hoffmann and Stephan Sänger and of oboist Saskia Fikentscher. Then, again from "Giulio Cesare", the difficult "L´angue offeso", where again Genaux showed herself an accomplished artist. Finally, an almost unknown composer here but a great name in his time, Johann Adolf Hasse (1699-1783), was represented by a typical "da capo" aria, "Di quell´acciaro al lampo" from "Solimano", allowing for further display from the mezzosoprano. Two contrasting encores from the same extraordinary Handel opera, "Rinaldo" (its success determined the composer to live in London), also absent from our stages: the expressive "Lascia ch´io pianga" (Genaux at her best) and the assertive "Combatti da forte", brilliantly handled. The orchestra gave magnificent support throughout.

The London Festival Orchestra is an old friend here; they have visited us several times, always led by its founder, Ross Pople; but he used to lead from his cello first desk, now he´s a full time conductor. His current group was invited by Nuova Harmonia for its cycle at the Coliseo, and they brought two first-rate soloists, flutist Alison Hayhurst and oboist Malcolm Messiter.

Bartók´s Divertimento for strings is certainly a masterpiece and it provided a fine start, though the orchestra was marginally less accomplished than I hoped, playing at first with small intonation blemishes that were gradually ironed out. Pople is a good professional but I find him lacking in charisma and electricity, which this music needs to be at its best. As to Bach´s Suite Nº 2 for flute and strings, Hayhurst played beautifully with a clean sound and very controlled vibrato. The orchestra was very agreeable to hear; however, I missed the presence of a harpsichord or a theorbo to give more weight to the continuo.

Attributed to Vivaldi, to Benedetto Marcello and finally to his brother Alessandro, it may be that the famous Oboe Concerto in D minor (by whoever it was) is the finest that instrument has, with its magnificent Baroque melodies and harmonies. Messiter gave us a memorable version, adding very apposite ornaments and displaying a lovely timbre complementing accurate and very musical phrasing. Again no harpsichord or theorbo, however, but fine string support for the soloist. Finally, Schubert´s wonderful Symphony Nº 5 sounded in style and sweet, though the last ounce of grace escaped Pople and the orchestra was too small (just 22 players is certainly not enough for a Pre-Romantic or even for a Late Classical symphony). There was a beautiful encore: the "Dance of the Blessed Spirits" from Gluck´s "Orfeo ed Euridice", where Hayhurst had another chance to show her liquid tone and impeccable taste.

Festivales Musicales gave us a standard Mendelssohn night in homage to the bicentenary of his birth. Again the Coliseo was the venue; the Buenos Aires Philharmonic played (it did a similar programme in its own subscription series) and the conductor was the 39-year-old Britisher Michael Seal, who made his BA debut last year in April with the same organism. He showed himself expert and energetic, obtaining good though not outstanding results in the Overture for "A Midsummer Night´s Dream", the Violin Concerto and the Fourth Symphony, "Italian". His talented soloist was the young Argentine Xavier Inchausti, a master of execution though not quite of enough interpretative depth. He played a fine encore, Ysaÿe´s Sonata-Ballad Nº 3.

For Buenos Aires Herald

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