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.