domingo, agosto 30, 2009

Opera: new start for the Colón

An event marked the world of opera in our midst in recent weeks: finally, after interminable 22 months, the Colón presented an opera to its public, albeit of course at the Coliseo: Christoph Gluck´s "Orfeo ed Euridice". "Orfeo…" was the choice of Mario Perusso when he was last year in charge of the Artistic Direction during Horacio Sanguinetti´s tenure as Director General of the Colón; it was maintained in all its particulars by Pedro Pablo García Caffi, who now jointly holds the posts of General and Artistic Director. It was plausible to offer it, as our main opera organization hasn´t done it since 1977, and it is undoubtedly an important title in operatic history. And it seemed to have some substantial positive points: a title role (Orfeo) sung for the first time here by a countertenor (Franco Fagioli) instead of the habitual mezzosoprano; a cast made up of three international Argentine singers; a conductor making his B.A. debut after decades of specializing in the eighteenth-century repertoire (Arnold Östman); and a proved producing team (Roberto Oswald and Aníbal Lápiz). Nevertheless, I was partially disappointed.

Of course, the mere fact that the Colón is giving us opera with a decent level after such a long wait is something to rejoice about. But there were problems. First, the performing edition. The 1761 Vienna version in Italian, although initially unsuccessful, is a landmark: Gluck, with his librettist Raniero de´ Calzabigi, produced the first reform opera. Called "azione teatrale" (theatrical narrative), it shows in six succinct tableaux the story of Euridice retrieved from death by Orpheus, again dead through Orpheus´ disobedience to Hades´ strictures and finally saved by Amor (Cupid). Gluck, by then a seasoned operatic composer, had followed hitherto the general rules of the current florid and often superficial Italian style (the glories of Handel were decades in the past); he rebelled against it and produced a noble, lyrical, simple score, aiming for sincerity and musical lines true to the poetry. Although he made his point, there are flaws: too short (only 70 minutes), Euridice left with no singing at all during the first two acts, and a lack of contrast that made for monotony.

He rewrote it in French for Paris in 1774, certainly ameliorating it: he added a lovely aria for Euridice in the second act ("Cet asile aimable et tranquille"), and crucially in Hades the magnificent Dance of the Furies taken bodily out of the concluding part of his own reform ballet "Don Juan". Common practice during the twentieth century (the Colón included) added those pieces to the Italian version (translating the Euridice aria) and it was certainly for the better. The hand programme announced the Dance of the Furies and eight dancers, but with no explanation it was not performed. Internal problems or a last-minute Östman decision to stick to the strict Italian version? But he allowed a gross distortion: the inclusion of a florid Gluck aria of another origin adapted for Orfeo at the end of the First Act, which in the very words of Ramiro Albino (the author of the programme notes) "is impregnated by those Baroque elements so criticized by Gluck and Calzabigi". And Östman left out the Euridice aria.

Granted, the Colón Orchestra isn´t Gluckian in style, but I had hoped Östman would instill the right phraseology. No true historicist performance can be done without the proper instruments, and of course the Colón doesn´t have "chalumeaux" (old-style clarinets of limited register) or "cornetti" (wooden trumpets). But I had hoped for crisper articulation and some Baroque intensity; what I heard was bland and monotonous, though not unmusical. The Choir was correct under Salvatore Caputo (his swan song, for he is departing from his post).

Of course, Gluck couldn´t change in Vienna the fact that a castrato would sing Orfeo, and that was certainly against his desire for realism. Nowadays it is certainly more plausible, if we are to respect the original "tessitura", to have it sung by a countertenor rather than by a mezzosoprano. Franco Fagioli is certainly a good one; he´s having a brilliant European career. He certainly sings well and has a wide register, though his timbre isn´t always ingratiating. Virginia Tola is enjoying quite a success in concerts with Plácido Domingo, but that doesn´t make her an Euridice: her timbre and style are nineteenth-century and in such terms she is quite a good singer, but her vibrato and phrasing are not for Gluck. She looks beautiful and acts with conviction. Beauty is also a quality of Paula Almerares, though I don´t imagine Amor (or Cupid) looking like a lovely blonde in party dress. Her voice sounded diminished, as if her recent exertions as Lucia had tired her, but she sang nicely.

Oswald offered a handsome Greek unit set, hardly convincing as both Hades and the Elysian fields. The proceedings were glacial and conventional (except the crucial misstep of having Euridice enter majestically at the very beginning and suddenly drop dead). There were yards of white and black material in the clothes designed by Aníbal Lápiz, some agreeable and some absurd (a few of the dancers seemed to wear diapers). I disliked Orfeo´s outfit (maroon and black) and a black cape whose only purpose seemed to be something for the Furies to hold on.

The choreography by Lidia Segni followed academic lines, sometimes too mannered. The dancers complied.

For Buenos Aires Herald

lunes, agosto 24, 2009

A Philharmonic feast from Israel .

A "Philharmonic" is a person who loves music. When an orchestra takes that name, it doesn´t mean that it is any less professional than a Symphony, but it adds a sentimental element. Thus we have many organisms that have adopted it, among them the Israel Philharmonic (IP).

The IP is seventyish now (it was born in 1936), the same age as its for-life conductor, Zubin Mehta. Born in Bombay, Mehta has been associated with the IP since 1969; he was named Musical Director in 1977 and in 1981 he was given the above-mentioned high distinction, especially for a non-Israeli and non-Jew. Our city has received Mehta and the IP many times; in fact, no other foreign organism has visited us so often. Mehta has also come with the New York Philharmonic when he was their Musical Director, and even before that he conducted B.A. orchestras in his first visit, back in 1962. Although our city has never been able to appreciate him in opera, he has been at the helm of the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino for decades and has in recent years held the crucial post of Music Director at the Munich Opera. He has also been a conductor of star events such as the concerts of the Three Tenors.

So after five years Mehta and the IP were back to give two benefit concerts for three Jewish organizations at the Gran Rex and one concert at the Luna Park for COAS. Yes, I know, bad acoustics in both cases, but size was privileged (the Coliseo is better but a good deal smaller, and even better and smaller the Auditorio de Belgrano). Prices at the Gran Rex were very high in dollars, and more reasonable at the Luna (in pesos). The audiences were heterogeneous, not the usual concert crowd. It showed in lack of concentration, ill-timed applause and too much noise in Mahler. But by and large the concerts were successful and a high point in the season.

The first concert at the Gran Rex was surefire material: two brilliant and rather short tone poems by Richard Strauss –"Don Juan" and "Till Eulenspiegel´s merry pranks"- and Beethoven´s Seventh Symphony. Strauss specially suffered from the opaque, matte acoustics, making it very hard for conductor and orchestra to give us the full richness contained in the music. The interpretations were orthodox and safe and the playing was obviously very good, with virtuoso moments from the concertino and the first horn. The Seventh was more exciting, perhaps because the artists were learning to compensate the defects of the venue but the Beethoven orchestration is less heavy and was allowed to register better; the conductor´s sense of rhythm was a plus. The encores were splendid: Mozart´s Overture for "The Marriage of Figaro" and Johann Strauss II´s splendid polka "Unter Donner und Blitz" ("Under Thunder and Lightning").

Curiously enough, Mahler´s enormous and shattering Ninth Symphony was offered for the third time this season (after Calderón with the National Symphony and Diemecke with the BAP). I have unforgettable memories of the Second under Mehta in an earlier visit of the IP, but then, that was at the Colón…However, was it only the abysmal difference in acoustics or was it also that the outer movements didn´t have quite enough intimacy and metaphysical communication (it is the composer´s adieu to life) and the middle ones lacked bite and sarcasm? Yes, it was all very professional and serious (except a couple of minor mishaps) but I missed the depth of Abbado/Berlin Phil or Haitink/Concertgebouw. And Mehta was wrong in giving an encore, even as an exception to the unwritten rule: after that protracted Adagissimo dissolving into silence, nothing else is possible. Certainly not Piazzolla´s "Adiós Nonino", even in a tasteful string arrangement very well-played.

The Luna Park date was a happy and light occasion. Of course there the sound is amplified, but it was rather well done, except that the second violins were too backward (at least from my lateral seat, where plenty of street noise intruded: trucks revving up beat the orchestral pianissimo). A badly diagrammed hand programme, with no mention of movements, didn´t help the enthusiastic but not very knowledgeable audience to learn when to applaud. But all was well with the music, the orchestra always accurate, warm and fluent, and Mehta completely comfortable in all the scores he chose. The concert started with a tribute to an Argentine composer: Juan José Castro´s charming Overture to "La zapatera prodigiosa". Then, a beautiful and mellow interpretation of that loveliest Beethoven symphony, Nº 6, "Pastoral".

The Second Part started and ended with two Johann Strauss II masterpieces: the Overture to "Die Fledermaus" and the "Emperor Waltz", both played to the manner born (Mehta has always had a soft spot for Viennese music). A rather unexpected choice was Joseph Haydn´s Trumpet Concerto, being so classic and chamberlike, but the Orchestra gave beautiful support to the talented solo player, Yigal Melzer, who strung his notes immaculately, with pure sound and perfect articulation. Then, "Adiós Nonino" (the arrangement was uncredited) before the waltz. The encores: three polkas by Johann II: "Tritsch-Tratsch", a very rare one supposed to be called "Leichte Füsse" (but I couldn´t find it in Grove) and "Unter Donner und Blitz". We all went home elated.

A final remark: Mehta, energetic as always, has found a new welcome vein of tasteful elegance.

The wide world of singing

In music there's nothing quite as personal as singing. Our vocal cords are our own instrument and no two voices are exactly alike, although they can be imitated – still, no one has out-Callased Callas and no one ever will. In recent weeks we've had a wide variety of music made to be sung. This is a panorama, and I'll start with the recital of Handel's Italian cantatas and sonatas offered by María Cristina Kiehr at the Avenida for Festivales Musicales, accompanied by Les Goûts-Réunis. This is a fine instrumental historicist group made up mainly by Argentines, with such famous names as Juan Manuel Quintana (viola da gamba) and Manfredo Kraemer (violin), and its name refers to the blend of three musical "tastes": Italian, French, German. Although the complete ensemble is made up of ten players, their number varied from piece to piece. Three sonatas gave us the best chamber Handel. The Trio Sonata in G minor, HVW 390 (op. 2 No. 5), had fine work from Kraemer but some hesitant moments from oboist Diego Nadra; the ample continuo was played by Quintana, Shizuko Noeri (replacing Dolores Costoyas) in theorbo, Federico Abraham (bass) and Jorge Lavista (harpsichord). The Sonata in F, HWV 369 (op. 1 No. 11) for recorder and continuo featured beautiful playing from Rodrigo Calveyra. And the Trio Sonata in D, HWV 385, an early work, was played plausibly by recorder, oboe and continuo, again with very nice participation by Calveyra and rather faulty by Nadra. The two chosen cantatas (out of a great number), written in Rome around 1707-8, were clear examples of the early genius of the composer, who was then 22-23 yearsold. Armida abbandonata is based on Tasso's Gerusalemme liberata and the sad end of Armida's love affair with Rinaldo. Alternating recitatives and arias, this cantata for soprano, violins (Kraemer and Clara Krug) and continuo was dramatic and lovely. María Cristina Kiehr, who lives in Basel, is a specialist of this repertoire and her clear voice manages the stylistic difficulties quite well as long as either strong dramatic inflexion or strength at both ends of the register are not required, but in serene singing she warbles beautifully. To my mind she was much more comfortable in Tra le fiamme (Il consiglio), text by Benedetto Pamphili about Daedalus and his son Icarus, which has the curious condition that its initial aria is repeated at the end to stress its moral: don't go near the flames, you'll get burnt. She sang with abandon and freshness, very well accompanied by the whole ensemble. The success was such that she added two pieces; the first was Quel augel from Aci, Galatea e Polifemo (1707, on the same subject as his later Acis and Galatea); the second was a serene aria from the oratorio La Resurrezione. choral bachianas. Festivales' "daughter", the Academia Bach, presented an interesting session at the Central Methodist Church. Countertenor Martín Oro sang the premiere of Bach's Cantata No. 54, Widerstehe doch der Sünde ("Withstand Sin") as well as the brilliant Vivaldi motet Longe mala umbrae terrors ("Go away, evils and terrors of the shadows"). The cantata was written at Weimar in 1714 and is short – two arias separated by a recitative, on a Pietist text by Georg Lehms–, attractive music that can be sung by a mezzosoprano or a countertenor. The Vivaldi motet shows again that it is a mistake to confine him as an instrumental composer, when he wrote so much vital vocal music. This one, after many hurdles, ends with a resplendent Hallelujah. Oro's voice is full and satisfying in the center but often hooty in the highs, although he is a good stylist. The Soloists of the Bach Academy (six strings) under Mario Videla accompanied with crisp elegance. The concert had started with another premiere, Carl Heinrich Graun's Concerto in C minor for organ and strings: although I liked the music and Videla's playing, I disliked the sound of the organ. Scaling out. In the concert series called "La Scala fuera de La Scala," at the Auditorium Borges of the National Library, baritone Víctor Torres offered an enterprising Baroque programme accompanied by lutenist Igor Herzog. He chose sixteenth-century authors: an all-Purcell group, then three lute pieces (German Anonymous and two Italians, Alessandro Piccinini and Pietro Paolo Melli) preceding a Caccini bouquet. Although Torres wasn't in his best voice, he sang with his wonted expressiveness and good taste, and Herzog accompanied as the true artist he is. Another session in the same series provided the opportunity of appreciating a commedia madrigalesca, that late development in the history of the madrigal in which a story is told by five singers taking on a number of roles. The Conjunto Madrigalista Francisco Guerrero gave us a fine version of Adriano Banchieri's funny and stimulating Festino led with taste and humor by Néstor Andrenacci, who also sang. Two soprano recitals at the Manufactura Papelera allowed the audience to appreciate the fine vocal qualities and ample range of interests of Soledad de la Rosa and Natasha Tupin. The former gave us La mort de Cléopâtre by Berlioz, five lovely songs by Bizet and eight varied ones by Bernstein. The latter, more clearly a coloratura, stressed showpieces such as Philine's Polonaise from Thomas' Mignon or Bel raggio lusinghier from Rossini's Semiramide. Damián Ramírez (countertenor) contributed some roughish Handel and was better as Arsace to the soprano's Semiramis. César Tello accompanied poorly.

domingo, agosto 16, 2009

From Haydn to the avantgarde

Recent weeks have brought a wealth of new music, if you take that to mean "new" from any period. Not all were premieres, of course, but enough to make life interesting.

As you know, this is the year in which we commemorate the bicentenary of Franz Joseph Haydn´s death, and it´s a good thing that he´s being copiously remembered, for only Mozart can give us so much serenity and poise. There was the wonderful debut of the Haydn Trio Eisenstadt, which takes its name from one of the Esterházy palaces in which Haydn labored for three decades. They offered at the Gran Rex, for the Midday Concerts, two mature Trios, Nos. 29 and 27, and as an encore the 2nd. Movement from Nº 28, and I can´t conceive better playing from the pianist, always incredibly polished and nevertheless expressive. The string players were very good too, but they weren´t favored by the Gran Rex´s acoustics, which tend to eat up string sound. The novelty in this case was Lalo Schifrin´s "Elegy and Meditation", an agreeable surprise in which this artist, long associated with films, TV and symphonic jazz, proves himself a convincing creator of chamber music quoting Haydn´s Sonata Nº4 within a tonal texture of considerable refinement and beauty. The players: Harald Kosik, piano; Verena Stourzh, violin; Hannes Gradwohl, cello.

The Fundación de Música de Cámara has long accustomed us, through the wise Artistic Direction of Guillermo Opitz, to concerts programmed with talent, which means both renovated and attractive. "Solamente Haydn ´09", at the Museo de Arte Decorativo, was an almost complete success with three instrumental scores alternating with eleven vocal pieces in three languages, all of them very rarely played or presented as a premiere. Textures changed constantly. The Quartet in G for flute and strings, Hob II G/4, started proceedings. It was followed by four of the admirable late songs on poems by Anne Hunter, and by three duets from the enormous number of Scottish songs arranged by Haydn for voice (or voices) and piano trio, although they were sung in German .

The Second Part started with a very enticing work, dubious according to Grove (but no matter, it sounds so nice): "The Echo", "to be executed in two different spaces for two ensembles of three strings each"; the instrumental groups overlapped each other with perfect intonation and gave sheer pleasure. Two Duets and two Canzonettas on poems by Carlo Francesco Badini showed Haydn´s affinity with the Italian style, though I was sorry that an arbitrary staging by Betty Gambartes robbed them of their eighteenth-century charm. Finally, "Notturno in C major", Nº 1 of a series of eight written for London and originally for "lira organizzata", a now forgotten instrument replaced by flute and oboe; the orchestration also includes horns and strings. This is a lovely work from Late Classicism and it was very neatly played by the whole ensemble, both Fabio Mazzitelli (flute) and Marcelo Baus (oboe) being particularly ingratiating. The very musical young singers were María del Rocío Giordano (soprano) and Carlos Natale (tenor), well-accompanied by Miriam Bircher. All five string players and two hornists were first-rate.

Soprano Sylvie Robert has done wonderful work on behalf of the avant-garde in recent years, especially in scores by György Kurtág. Now she gave us admirable performances of two very different pieces at the Alianza Francesa. She started with "Lonh" by Kaija Saariaho, in fact derived from her opera "L´amour de loin", about the love of a Crusader and a Maghreb girl; if the opera is overlong and too morose for its material, "Lonh", for soprano and electroacoustic sounds, is just the right length for its hypnotic, sinuous music; barely lighted in the dark, Robert sang with involved and refined phrasing. I didn´t enjoy "Du noir des signes", an instrumental piece by the Argentine Santiago Díez-Fischer; harsh aggressive catalog of violent gestures without direction.

But "Voi(rex)" (2003) by Philippe Leroux (1959), a 25-minute premiere, was the main point of the night and worth knowing. An introduction and five movements deal with the same set of words; the musical material is contrasted with an electronic processing in real time. The interaction of the soprano and the instrumental sextet is quite complex; although not every fragment is of sustained interest, a good deal convinces and impresses. The sextet under José Amato played very well and Sylvie Robert gave a virtuoso performance; only the electronic realization wasn´t quite right .

TACEC is the new Center for Experimentation and Creation of the Teatro Argentino (La Plata) and its creator, Martín Bauer, is transporting to another city the principles he applied at the Colón´s CETC. The venue is more comfortable than the Colón´s , bigger and with no interfering columns, and with a plainer, less convoluted stage. Bauer had a success at the CETC with John King´s "La Belle Captive" and it was only logical that he should ask the composer for a premiere at the TACEC. This was "Galileo Galilei", an adaptation of Bertolt Brecht´s play. Specifically called "experimental opera" for two actresses, choir, string quartet and electronic sounds, it was partially successful. Too much talk, pointless casting of actresses instead of actors, relentlessly unpleasant string music, but beautiful choral fragments although in a style two centuries earlier than Galileo, and fine visual design of cosmic implications. An excellent feminine chorus (6 voices), imaginative work from Maguna/Bainbridge in the visuals.

For Buenos Aires Herald

sábado, agosto 15, 2009

"Giselle" and "Romeo and Juliet" start ballet seasons


            Our two biggest official ballet companies started their seasons. The Colón at the Coliseo offered "Giselle", whilst the Argentino of La Plata presented Prokofiev´s "Romeo and Juliet" in a new choreography by Maximiliano Guerra.

            Eight months have passed since the last appearance of the Colón dancers, an unconscionable amount of time by any standards in the art that most depends on keeping fit. In fact, the Colón Ballet has undergone a series of changes in their directors during the last eighteen months, with the consequent difficulties in performance plans. Guido de Benedetti lasted only six months before disagreements with the then Executive Director of the Colón , Martín Boschet,  forced his resignation. He was succeeded by a duet, Olga Ferri as general overseer and Jorge Amarante as Director of the Ballet. Their plans also were curtailed by gross mismanagement (both Boschet and Horacio Sanguinetti, then General Director of the Theatre). After Pedro Pablo García Caffi´s assumption as General Director of the Colón, he named Lidia Segni as new Director of the Ballet. She announced rather ambitious plans that were to start with "Le Corsaire"; but she didn´t do her homework: the Colón neither has a production of its own of that ballet nor had access to foreign productions of it. So, "Giselle" it was, the most overperformed of all ballets. To make things much worse, only three performances in successive days and with three different casts… The Ballet has twelve presentations planned for the whole year, certainly as meager a season as I can remember. A conservative calculation of the salaries of seven inactive months leads to the conclusion that at least two million pesos of taxpayers´ money went to naught.

            Segni is certainly able; she has had a long career as Principal Dancer and in recent decades has worked a lot as an organizer with Julio Bocca´s Ballet Argentino. Rather than a choreographer in her own right, she is a retoucher of old choreographies, and so she presents this "Giselle" as "her" version of the old nineteenth-century Romantic ballet by Jules Perrot and Jean Coralli as revised by Marius Petipa. I see little of interest or personal in her views, apart from good knowledge of tradition. The music by Adolph Adam, with the interpolated "Pas paysan" by Burgmüller and a fragment by Minkus, has charm and nice melodies. The story of the peasant girl fooled by Albrecht, an aristocrat, gone mad by the shock and collapsing dead at the end of the First Act, gets its fantastic counterpart in the Second Act, a "ballet blanc" where the Willis (the souls of betrayed girls)  led by their Queen want to take revenge on Albrecht,  but he is saved by Giselle, herself a Willi.

            I found the performance no more than correct, although I make allowances for the difficult rehearsal circumstances of a Colón in turmoil. But by the high standards by which the Colón must be judged (even in "exile") this was no more than acceptable. I would single out the special quality of Silvina Perillo as Myrtha, Queen of the Willis, the nice flexibility of Carla Vincelli and Federico Fernández in the "Pas paysan" and the good characterization of Hilarion by Vagran Ambartsoumian. But I found the main couple no more than professional: Karina Olmedo and Alejandro Parente weren´t expressive enough and lacked nuance in their steps. As to the Corps de Ballet, it looked rather disjointed in the First Act but the girls alone were much better as the Willis.

            Stage and costume design were blessedly traditional and ascribed to "Producción Teatro Colón". The Colón Orchestra under Carlos Calleja just went through their paces.

            I believe Prokofiev´s "Romeo and Juliet" to be the best full-length twentieth century ballet music. The Argentino took a long time getting round to it, presenting in 2003 a curtailed choreography by Oscar Araiz with the strange idea of three Juliets. Then there was a new choreography by Paul Vasterling in 2007 and a new production, with stage design by María José Besozzi and costumes by Alicia Gumá. This year there´s a change of Direction of the Argentino Ballet, Rodolfo Lastra, and though he maintained the 2007 production he asked  Guerra to provide another choreography, which seems unnecessary spending when the rights to the Vasterling are still held by the Theatre. But I must admit that I liked Guerra´s work even if heavily influenced by what is for me the best choreography, the wonderful Macmillan seen at the Colón with Bocca and A. Ferri many years ago. The action scenes were particularly positive, with plenty of able swordmanship (the dancers surely had expert specific training). And the Romantic ones had true sensitivity and tenderness.

            I was much impressed by the debut of Elizabeth Antúnez, who should have a fine career: a lovely body, fully flexible, a natural intensity and an already mature sense of style. The Romeo, also seen in 2007, was good: Bautista Parada. With very able work from Victor Filimonov as Mercutio, Javier Abeledo as Tybalt and Fabiana Maggio as the Wetnurse and the smaller parts  in the picture, the show was quite enjoyable, with a vibrant and attentive Corps de Ballet.  I was disappointed by the off-night of the Argentino Orchestra under Luis Gorelik, perhaps affected by recent labor troubles; but this is great music and deserves loving care.

For Buenos Aires Herald


One of the good points of the current season is that there has been interesting work from our orchestras. This is a panorama of recent weeks of the National Symphony (Orquesta Sinfónica Nacional) and of a concert by the Camerata Bariloche.

I lament the mediocre venue of the Bolsa de Comercio, but that´s that. I was surprised by the quality of conductor José María Sciutto, making his debut. He´s Argentine though he lives in Italy. He was very accurate and stylistic in an attractive programme with Mozart (his Second Horn Concerto, quite well played by Gastón Frosio) sandwiched between a Rossini overture (to "La scala di seta") and his magnificent Stabat Mater, an intense, dramatic and well-wrought one-hour score. With beautiful singing from the Coro Polifónico Nacional prepared by Roberto Luvini, three of the soloists were first-rate: Alejandra Malvino (mezzosoprano), Carlos Ullán (tenor) and Lucas Debevec Mayer (bass); only Susana Caligaris (soprano) was off-style, singing "verismo" instead of Rossini.

Probably Mahler´s Ninth is the greatest challenge the NS has had so far in this season, but the wise conducting of Pedro Calderón brought the project to an admirable result at the Facultad de Derecho. It´s the third time I appreciate him in this marvelous score, and he has the measure of it in tempi and phrasing; the orchestra was pliant and concentrated.

Back at the Bolsa, a pleasant French programme conducted by Calderón started with D´Indy´s Symphony on a mountain tune, for piano and orchestra, a lovely creation based on an Auvergne folk tune, endlessly varied in the three movements; it has long been absent (about two decades ago it was played by Gerardo Gandini) so I was a happy to meet it. It came out well, but no more, because Silvia Dabul´s piano sounded very backward; maybe the effect of the acoustics, but probably also a rather weak pulse from the clean pianist and a too sonorous orchestra. Saint-Saëns´ fine Third Concerto for violin came out quite better, with Luis Roggero in very good form and a professional accompaniment. A correct but hardly electric performance of Dukas´ "The Sorcerer´s Apprentice" rounded out the evening.

An all-Liszt programme at the Bolsa was conducted by Roberto Luvini, who also prepared the Coro Polifónico Nacional, and featured the premiere of the one-hour Missa Solemnis written for the inauguration of the Gran Basilica (modern-times Esztergom). Dated 1855, revised 1857-8, it is a mature work of impressive breadth, Romantic but very much in the sacred tradition, with admirable polyphonic textures. It will stand as one of the most important premieres of the year. Luvini showed fine command of his forces and he had an excellent group of soloists: Soledad de la Rosa (soprano), María Luján Mirabelli (mezzosoprano), Ricardo González Dorrego (tenor) and Luis Gaeta (baritone). In the initial Part, a conscientious interpretation of "Les Préludes" and an unfortunate one of the First Piano Concerto with a Viviana Lazzarin out of her depth.

Mexican conductor Enrique Barrios was at the helm in a mostly Russian concert at the Bolsa. The premiere of Mexican composer H. Hernández-Medrano´s "Homenaje a Copland" (symphonic fugue in one movement) passed without arousing much interest; it seemed to me rather anodine and poorly structured. The very difficult and long "Symphony concertante" for cello and orchestra by Prokófiev, a late score of intermittent grandeur, was played by a proficient José Alberto Araujo. Mussorgsky-Ravel´s "Pictures at an Exhibition" was offered with some moments of real impact, the "Great Gate of Kiev" appropriately majestic. I was told that Barrios wasn´t paid his fee nor his stay in BA…Can we expect foreign conductors to visit us if they are treated thus? Let´s hope that the new Director of Arts, José María Castiñeira de Dios, will put things right.

Back at the Facultad de Derecho, there was a praiseworthy concert under Andrés Spiller, the NS´ Assistant Conductor. The charming early "Spring" ("Printemps") by Debussy, and that towering masterpiece, Bartók´s Concerto for orchestra, were done with fine musicianship although with not quite enough virtuosity. But the special interest of the session was the premiere of Luis Mucillo´s "Liebeslieder" ("Love songs") on texts by Rilke, Heine, Hoffmannsthal and Novalis, luckily printed in the hand programme with their translations. It demonstrated yet again that Mucillo is a very special Argentine composer, of encompassing, deep European culture, a true humanist as well as a sensitive musician. The beautiful, transparent orchestration was the perfect foil for the attractive melodic word-setting. Although Víctor Torres has been in better voice in other occasions, there´s no gainsaying his intelligence and expression.

The Camerata Bariloche offered a concert at the Great Hall of the Hotel Panamericano, which has good acoustics and is quite pleasant. Due to the illness of Fernando Hasaj, José Bondar led it with real musicianship and command. The playing in J.S.Bach´s Concerto for two violins was hand-in-glove from Bondar and Elías Gurevich, with the ensemble not quite in tune. Mozart´s severe Adagio and fugue was well-interpreted but with some lapses. The Second Part, however, found the ensemble in top form, both in Suk´s "Meditation on the chorale St. Wenceslas" and in Dvorák´s Serenade op. 22: not only were they very professional but they phrased with taste and charm. The fleet encore was Mozart´s second movement from Divertimento K. 137. It was one of four concerts that benefit the Fundación Teatro Colón, certainly in need of help nowadays.
For Buenos Aires Herald

lunes, agosto 10, 2009

Guests from abroad enrich the musical season

From three continents came welcome guests that gave variety to the season. Fifteen years after her Colón "Carmen" we had a return visit from American mezzosoprano Denyce Graves; this was for the Mozarteum at the Coliseo. In a year that has seen many cancellations of orchestral visits due to the international crisis and A influenza, the presence of the Taipei University of Arts Orchestra (debut) allowed us to have contact with Taiwanese culture; this was at AMIJAI. The same venue renewed our acquaintance with violinist Shlomo Mint. Finally, Dutch clarinetist Geert Baeckelandt offered French music at Pilar Golf accompanied by our pianist José Luis Juri.

I have nice memories of Graves´ earthy Carmen. But that doesn´t make her a concert singer. She keeps her stunning looks (certainly stressed by her chosen wardrobe) and the voice remains ample in volume and register; alas, it has a good deal more vibrato than of yore. Add to that an insecure sense of style for the Baroque and for German Romantic Lieder, immoderate gestural histrionism and excessive ethnicity in her timbre, and it explains why I got only moderate pleasure from this recital. She is decidedly out of her depth in Handel ("Ombra mai fu" from "Serse", and especially "Hence, hence, Iris, hence away!" from "Semele") and although there were occasional felicities, neither R. Strauss (the overfamiliar "Morgen" and "Zueignung") nor Brahms ("Verzagen", "Der Tod, das ist die kühle Nacht" and "Botschaft") are her cup of tea. She showed herself closer to the French repertoire with two lovely Duparc songs, "Chanson triste" and "Le manoir de Rosemonde", though she wasn´t quite comfortable in the curious vocal "Danse macabre" by Saint-Saëns (I certainly prefer the tone poem). Finally in her true repertoire, I liked her in Dalila´s sensuous "Mon coeur s´ouvre à ta voix" from the same composer´s "Samson et Dalila", where her deep chest tones and enticing phrasing were convincing.

"Acerba voluttà" is the Princess of Bouillon´s perfervid aria from Cilea´s "Adriana Lecouvreur", a "verista" burst of temperament that is quite difficult to bring off as a recital piece; Graves managed it halfway. But from then on, she was on safe American ground and she gave pleasure. Robert Saari´s three-song cycle "When the forsythia bloom" (2006) was a premiere (she was its first interpreter); soft, sentimental melodies with sweet harmonies, they are agreeable to hear. From the longer set of "Old American songs" arranged by Copland, the hymn-like "Zion´s walls", the funny "Boatman´s dance", "At the river" (frequently quoted by Ives) and "I bought me a cat", an accretion song with onomatopoeic sounds in which Graves had a ball. Sandwiched between two of the above, the premiere of Gene Scheer´s sensitive "Lean away". Finally, three Negro spirituals: "Swing low, sweet chariot" (arr. Marvin Mills), "Prayer" (Leslie Adams) and the rhythmic "Git on board" (arr. Simpson); I prefer them sung more straightforwardly, but Graves´ approach was interesting. The inevitable encores: "Habanera" and "Séguedille" from Bizet´s "Carmen", still attractive though a bit mannered of phrasing. The impressive pianist was Jerry-James Penna (debut), well attuned to every style and technically impeccable.

The Taipei University of Arts Orchestra was founded in 1983 and it is of course a youth project, with for some reason a strong majority of women. Their programme included two standards (Tchaikovsky´s Violin Concerto and Mendelssohn´s Fourth Symphony, "Italian"), and a double homage to our country: Ginastera´s "Impresiones de la Puna" and "Prélude pour la fin du monde", written by our composer Claudia Montero López for Bahía Blanca´s Festival, a very tonal seven-minute melody (premiere here). Yi-Fang Huang, although Taiwanese, migrated to Argentina early in life and studied with Bajour and Spiller; he is now back in Taiwan. Technically correct, he was short in Romantic phrasing and juicy sound, things that Tchaikovsky needs. The Ginastera was played not in a normal flute but in an attractive Chinese flute, the "bandgi", quite accurately, by Ren Zong.

The Orchestra sounded rather stilted in Tchaikovsky under Chiu-Sen Chen (debut), but he found more animation for Mendelssohn, and curiously enough was at his best in the three encores: Weber´s Overture to "Oberon", a Taiwanese melody and an Intermezzo from Schubert´s "Rosamunde". In these pieces there was careful balance, adequate intonation and good style.

Mintz is a known quantity here; the originally announced quartet of Russian players who was going to play chamber music with Mintz didn´t come (the influenza scare?) and the Orchestra of Canal 7 with whom he was to interpret Mendelssohn wasn´t allowed to perform because as an official channel it had to comply with the influenza prohibition to play. So we finally had Vivaldi´s "The Four Seasons" with the group Estación Buenos Aires led by Rafael Gintoli. It wasn´t a historicist approach, of course, but it sounded quite well, with Mintz the true virtuoso we have often met, and the small string ensemble reasonably accurate. Gintoli with Paula Peluso (piano) and Jorge Bergero (cello) played with fine style Piazzolla´s "Las Cuatro Estaciones Porteñas" in an arrangement by José Bragato.

Geert Baeckelandt, after some initial hesitation in Chausson´s "Andante and Allegro", was splendid in sound and execution in Saint-Saëns´ late Clarinet Sonata op.167, Debussy´s Rhapsody and Poulenc´s Sonata, all for clarinet and piano. He had a partner of great quality in pianist Juan José Juri. The down side was that the programme was too short, only about 55 minutes.

For Buenos Aires Herald