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