martes, junio 30, 2009

Our orchestras do good work under bad conditions

Apart from a reference to the Buenos Aires Philharmonic´s first concert, I haven´t mentioned our two principal orchestras (the other one, of course, is the National Symphony) during these recent weeks. It´s time to take stock. The good news is that although both organisms are operating under difficult conditions, they are giving us appreciable quality and rather interesting programming. The Philharmonic is still run by Arturo Diemecke (Artistic Direction) and Eduardo Ihidoype (Executive Direction) and as it happened last year, they seem immune to the chaos that seems to touch almost everything that attains to the Colón. This year they have a better venue for their 16-concert subscription series (far too short, however), the Coliseo. The second concert was conducted by John Neschling, the distinguished leader of the Sao Paulo Symphony. The programme was quite valuable. It started with a clean and powerful version of one of Haydn´s best symphonies, Nº 88. Then we met a great player, Finnish cellist Anssi Karttunen, who did a magisterial execution of Haydn´s Concerto in C, with crystal-clear articulation and intonation. However, I disagree with the avant-garde cadenzas he played, operating on a completely different sound world. Karttunen also played what was probably a premiere, “Cantique” op.77a Nº 1 by Jan Sibelius, which has a subtitle: “Laetare anima mea”, lovely music lovingly played, and an unexpected encore probably of Karttunen´s authorship, a Fantasia on a Cobián tango, “Nostalgias”. The Second Part was appropriately all Brazilian, by two of their by now historic composers: “Enchantment” by Mozart Camargo Guarnieri (1907-93), a pleasant piece, and Villa-Lobos at his best, the “Chôros Nº 6”, wildly imaginative and personal music which I had the privilege of hearing under the composer in September 1953 with the National Symphony. Under Neschling it sounded splendid. Diemecke took over for an all-Czech concert that gave me deep pleasure. Two masterpieces were played to the hilt: Smetana´s Overture to “The Bartered Bride” and Dvorak´s Symphony Nº 5, “New World”. There was a special treat between both: the premiere of the individual and very charming Oboe Concerto written in 1955 by Bohuslav Martinu, magnificently played by a talented Spanish artist, Lucas Macías Navarro, who made his debut. The debut of Bartholomeus-Henri Van de Velde started unpromisingly, when he stepped down twice from the podium because cellular phones kept ringing, but a very pleasant interpretation of Haydn´s Symphony Nº 73, “The Hunt”, put things right. Two players of the orchestra, co-concertino Pablo Saraví and Hernán Briático, leader of the second violins, gave us two Concerti, a Baroque (Vivaldi´s op.3 Nº 8, “L´estro armonico”) and the premiere of Malcolm Arnold´s Concerto for two violins and string orchestra, first played by Menuhin and Lysy at the Bath Festival in 1962. It is, as always in this composer, very agreeable, succinct and Neoclassic. The players, of different but complementary sounds, had rehearsed both pieces well and played like the fine professionals they are, and the Phil accompanied likewise, although I missed a harpsichord or theorbo in Vivaldi (I don´t believe this repertoire should be played in symphonic programs). I disagree completely with the playing of Mendelssohn´s Second Symphony, “Song of Praise”, without the sung portions, which in fact take two thirds of the original 70-minutes length. The composer thought of the work as a unity, a symphony-cantata. It should be played by itself or left alone if no choir was available. The Phil will do all five symphonies as a homage to the two-hundredth anniversary of the composer´s birth, but the programmers haven´t taken the right path. As the slow “Adagio religioso” is an introduction to the sung sections, it was a pat ending to the concert, although Van de Velde showed himself an intense and convincing interpreter and the Phil responded well. The National Symphony is condemned this year to bad acoustics for its free concerts: the Bolsa de Comercio and the Facultad de Derecho UBA have unduly resonant halls and the Bolsa is small, only 450-capacity. The NS deserves far better, but they have lost access to the Auditorio de Belgrano because the authorities didn´t pay in 2006-7 the renting of the hall, and quite rightly the Auditorio´s people have lost all faith in the Culture Secretariat. But the players have a long history of disastrous handling by the functionaries and they keep admirably their spirit. The Orchestra is still our best. It should play in the main halls and not for free, which is demeaning (the Phil is quite expensive). But it should also have the money to pay for good conductors and soloists and for scores, and it is a scandal that their budget is constantly under-used by the authorities. A not irrelevant point: there are no programme notes… The Principal Conductor remains Pedro Calderón, seventyish but still in very good form. Their concert of April 17 at the Facultad started with a well-constructed interpretation of Mendelssohn´s Symphony Nº 3, “Scottish”, but it was the Second Part that impressed me: an intimate, tasteful rendering of the tender “Il Tramonto” (“Sunset”, on a Shelley poem), beautifully sung by mezzosoprano Gabriela Cipriani Zec, and in total contrast, the fantastically colorful “Feste Romane”, played with abandon and stark strength by a NS in splendid condition and led with a master hand by Calderón. I will be back in a couple of weeks with further comments on this orchestra. For Buenos Aires Herald