domingo, julio 05, 2009

Three admirable duets and a fearless pianist

There are some weeks when Buenos Aires seems a really important city for classical music. Between June 16 and 23 three international violin/piano duos and a local pianist tackling avant-garde material gave me the feeling of being in Paris or New York.

I will give pride of place to the marvelous debut of Hilary Hahn and Valentina Lisitsa at AMIJAI: not only the playing was of almost unbelievable quality but the programming was fascinating. Hahn is certainly one of the very best young artists we have: the purest violin school (Jascha Brodsky, last disciple of Ysaÿe) but also a humanist education that shows her as much more than a greatly gifted player. There´s sheer pleasure at hearing her full, burnished, clean sound of perfect intonation and her tremendous variety in articulation, but, more important, you have the impression that the logic and sense of ultimate direction are unerring. She played a programme that was both long and very difficult as well as unendingly adventurous and unhackneyed. And she had the privilege of a distinguished partner, for the Ukrainian Lisitsa is an astonishing pianist whom I hope will come back for solo recitals. She is a powerhouse when needed but also plays with refined softness and relaxation.

To include three sonatas by Charles Ives was audacious and rewarding (probably premieres here), for this Connecticut yankee was one of the great pioneers of modern music and his sonatas, written between 1909 and 1916, teem with harmonic and rhythmic "trouvailles". We heard No.4, "Children´s Day at the Camp Meeting", Nº 2, with movements named "In the barn" or "The revival", and Nº 1, with normal appellations for the movements (Andante or Allegro) but plenty of novelties. Hahn also did two of the six sonatas for solo violin created by the Belgian Eugène Ysaÿe in 1923, tough stuff indeed in terms of the hurdles involved but very interesting as music, especially Nº4; the one-movement Nº 6 is less valuable. And it was a real pleasure to hear a selection of Hungarian Dances by Brahms, presumably in Joachim´s arrangements, and the famous Romanian Folk Dances by Bartok as arranged by Székely. The lovely encore was Paganini´s "Cantabile".

Last year the recital by Joshua Bell and Frédéric Chiu was a high point of the Mozarteum season. Now I felt the same about their session for Nuova Harmonia at the Coliseo. They did an impressive sonata programme, featuring two of the best-known, the Franck and the Brahms Third, as well as Beethoven´s No.4, surely the most valuable of the early ones. Bell on his own played Ysaÿe´s Sonata Nº2, pervaded by the "Dies Irae" so often used by composers, as well as by Bach´s Third Sonata; an imaginative work of much power. Their encore was the exhilarating "Souvenir d´Amérique on ´Yankee Doodle´" by Vieuxtemps.

Apart from a few strained passages in the Franck by Chiu, the playing was throughout of a very high standard and fully integrated. Bell is admirably smooth and orthodox; you are always assured of accomplished music-making and impeccable taste, as well as superlative technique. Although Chiu´s special field is the twentieth-century, he is worth hearing in Romantic music for his intelligent phrasing and sense of form.

Clara Cernat, a stunning Romanian blonde, and Thierry Huillet, French pianist, are a couple in real life and their musical duet started in 1996. Their programme for the Mozarteum at the Coliseo reached a pinnacle in the Ravel Sonata Nº 2, which showed them at their very best: although her teachers weren´t French she has assimilated the Gallic style perfectly, probably because Huillet sounds like an ideal specimen of that school (the cleanest articulation and attack, suavity when required, enough volume but never massive). Their inflexions in the Blues, or their virtuosity in the "moto perpetuo" Finale, are things to remember. They had started with a pleasant execution of Beethoven´s First Sonata, already quite characteristic of the composer.

I wasn´t happy with the program of the Second Part, all transcriptions except Huillet´s own "Sacromonte", a good Andalusian image in modern terms, with a sector of the piano prepared to give a percussive sound. But the arrangement of Saint-Saëns´ "Dance macabre" was poor (and uncredited), and Liszt´s Hungarian Rhapsody Nº 12, although arranged by the composer, sounds much better in its piano original. Massenet´s "Thaïs" Meditation was probably heard in the Marsick arrangement (again uncredited). Although the playing was mostly beautiful, I think the striving for glamour was excessive. Encores: Monti´s "Czardas" and Cyprian Porumbescu´s "Ballad" (only Romanian music in the evening).

The all-Stockhausen session of Horacio Lavandera for the Colón CETC at the Teatro del Globo was in its own terms quite a success, whether you like the music or not. The composer was a lifelong avantgardist and his piano music was always central in his career. Lavandera combined the works in a special way and used not only piano but also various synthesizers, including a small one that sounded like a cross between a celesta and a typewriter. His command of all the music was crushing. He alternated four pieces in the small synthetizer taken from "Tierkreis" (quite tonal little pieces) with the "24 Natürliche Dauern" (24 Natural Durations) and three of his "Klavierstücke" ("Pieces for clavier"), IX, XI and XVI, the latter combined with an array of electroacoustic sounds. It was fun to see and intriguing to hear.

For Buenos Aires Herald

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