sábado, octubre 31, 2009

Interesting music from the National Symphony

I have often written of the admirable qualities of our National Symphony (Orquesta Sinfónica Nacional) firmly led by its Principal Conductor, Pedro Calderón. This organism has no decent acoustics to rehearse or to play, its concerts are free -which is demeaning- and it has no budget to hire valuable guests from abroad, exceptions apart. Nevertheless, their concerts either at the Stock Exchange (Bolsa de Comercio) or at the Law School (Facultad de Derecho) of the UBA are often first-rate and illuminating. They should have a quality auditorium and a decent budget, for they are surely one of the best orchestras in South America, but the Governments (not just this one but many before it) have obstinately refused to give them reasonable conditions; it is a measure of the cultural blindness that pervades our country at the official level. With the very welcome presence of pianist Marcelo Balat, they offered a splendid concert at the Bolsa on August 21. After a scintillating rendition of Mozart´s Overture to “The Marriage of Figaro”, Balat and Calderón tackled Rachmaninov´s best work, the Rhapsody on a theme of Paganini, a filigree of enormous imagination and accomplishment, played with admirable pianism and well-adjusted accompaniment. Although I was sorry that four of the twelve numbers of Prokofiev´s Suite from the ballet “Chout” were eliminated, the interpretation gave us all the sarcasm and precise savagery of this masterpiece. As there are never any comments in the hand programme, they should at least have the name right: they printed “Chauf”. David Handel is a dynamic American conductor who works regularly with orchestras at Mendo- za and La Paz. He presented a very ambitious programme and I think it was too much for the brass players, in particular provoking a fatal trumpet accident in Wagner. The First Part was dedicated to the arduous and complex Symphony Nº 2, “The Age of Anxiety”, by Leonard Bernstein, based on a W. H. Auden text about human relationships, and with such sections as “The seven ages”, “The Dirge” and “The Masque”. Musically it is very ingenious, in particular in the 14 variations of “The seven ages”, where each variation is based on an element of the preceding one (except the first, of course). It has a difficult piano obbligato part, very well played by Paula Peluso. Handel showed command and forceful views in his energetic interpretation, seconded with fine concentration by the orchestra. The Second Part was all-Wagner and too long, one of the Overtures should have been eliminated. It started with the Overture to “The Flying Dutchman”, stormy as it should be. “The “Entrance of the Gods into the Walhalla” is a concoction (by the composer) on the final minutes of “The Rhine Gold”. Preceded by the “Dawn” music, we then heard the marvelous “Siegfried´s Rhine Journey” from “The Twilight of the Gods”, quite convincing despite the terrible trumpet accident. And finally, the “Tannhäuser” Overture, where lip fatigue made it hard to hear balanced chords. But all in all, an exciting concert. Mario Perusso was the hero of the following great occasion, a not unblemished but still valuable rendition of Donizetti´s Requiem Mass, so much less-known than Verdi´s but very interesting and with some magnificent moments in its 75-minute duration. An inspired blend of bel canto and sacred music, this Mass is unfinished, and the hand programme didn´t help by stating that after the Offertory we heard the Sanctus, Benedictus, Agnus Dei, Communio and Responsory; we didn´t because they don´t exist… Fine jobs from the Coro Polifónico Nacional under Roberto Luvini and the Orchestra, and of course Perusso was his utterly reliable self. Both Ricardo González Dorrego (tenor) and Alejandro Meerapfel (baritone) had commendable moments, with Soledad de la Rosa (soprano) doing well the little she has to sing, and the small-voiced Laura Domínguez (mezzosoprano) correct in her music. Only Alejandro Di Nardo (bass) was weak, with insecure intonation. At the Facultad de Derecho, quite as bad in acoustics as the Bolsa but bigger, I heard on October 16 a fine programme conducted by Calderón. The start wasn´t promising; perhaps under-rehearsed, there were too many hesitations and blurred sounds in that magnificently unorthodox Overture by Berlioz, “Les Francs Juges”, which evokes the Judges of the Secret Courts of Germany in the Late Middle Ages. But Tchaikovsky´s Violin Concerto brought us the fresh talent of Lucía Luque, a 21-year-old “Cordobesa” with a fine European career. In this infernally difficult piece it is a “tour de force” to be able to solve every detail, and some weren´t perfect, but by and large she impressed with her accomplishment and commitment; she is both intense and refined. The accompaniment was mostly accurate. She gave an attractive encore: Kreisler´s “Recitative and Scherzo-Capriccio”. There was a further merit in this concert: Calderón never shirks from major challenges, and he gave us what was only the second performance in B.A. of Edward Elgar´s huge, Romantic, rambling but fascinating First Symphony. Melodically inspired, complicated texturally, ambitious and very noble in the Victorian way, this is fine music and I enjoyed it in Calderón´s ample, well-considered reading, followed with intelligent concentration by the orchestra. If under such restricted conditions the Orchestra can give us such valuable nights, think of what it could do with a little consideration from the authorities and some interest from the Congress. It´s a matter of politics and policy.

martes, octubre 27, 2009

Mozarteum and Festivales end their seasons

For me this is a melancholy time, the end-of-season time. It wavers according to institutions and circumstances but it tends to be between October 15 and November 15. As I don´t believe in seasonal culture, I can hardly tolerate the barren months of Summer; in Europe it´s different, there are plenty of musical festivals to assuage my thirst; but here… So it´s a time for DVDs and CDs, old and new, but my anxiety for live music becomes pretty unbearable as March approaches with its timid pre-season efforts.

The Mozarteum Argentino ended their year with less than glory, for the final balance of an Austrian musical embassy was too uneven for satisfaction. On paper it looked good: Haydn and Schubert by the Wiener Akademie Orchestra, the Chorus sine nomine, four imported soloists and the conductor Martin Haselböck. But doubts began to creep in soon after the beginning. In fact the arrogant statements of Haselböck in a BA newspaper didn´t bode well, with his claims of giving us entirely new views of those great classics or his affirmation that Schubert´s Mass Nº 2 and Haydn´s Stabat Mater are masterpieces; those few early minutes confirmed that this is still rather immature Schubert (he was eighteen), only picking up from the Benedictus (a lovely trio). But it also proved that the choir is a really poor one, both in the quality of their voices and in their accuracy, apart from being too few (eight women, six men). There was a positive side: the Orchestra (14 strings, one bassoon, harpsichord –not organ as stated in the hand programme) sounded quite well, Haselböck´s phrasing was musical (and traditional) and two soloists were worth knowing: Polish soprano Aleksandra Zamojska and Austrian tenor Bernhard Berchtold, quite mellifluous. Through the microphone it was announced that baritone Christian Hilz was affected by our climate, so it was logical that he sounded under the weather…

The big Haydn Stabat Mater dates from 1767, early for this composer; it is certainly fluid and accomplished, but rarely comes to greater things. Here two oboes were added to the orchestra, which again sounded quite nice. The Choir, however, was even shallower. The soloists as before, with some rather brilliant moments for soprano and for tenor; here we also heard the local debut of the young Austrian mezzosoprano Ida Aldrian, promising but still a bit green. Haselböck has the measure of this music, but no revelations came from him.

Although it wasn´t the end of Conciertos de Mediodía (there are still two concerts to come), the presentation of Marcela Roggeri and Elena Tasisto at the Gran Rex was of special quality and a good occasion to mention here that these concerts celebrate their fiftieth anniversary, quite an admirable feat: 50 years providing good music for free at the lunch break (1 to 2 p.m.). It was courageous to present such an innovative and profound combination of music by Sofia Gubaidulina and texts by Marina Tsvietaieva. Both are independent Russian voices of great value, clear-minded, intense and uncompromising. Roggeri´s immensely assured pianism and Tasisto´s moving diction complemented themselves perfectly..

I was fascinated by the debut of Les Sacqueboutiers de Toulouse ending the season of Festivales; the venue was the Avenida. These artists are dedicated to the noble art of playing wind instruments used in the Late Renaissance and the Early Baroque and three of them are wonderful players: Jean-Pierre Canihac in cornetto ( a wooden trumpet of sweet sound), Daniel Lassalle in tenor sackbut and Fabian Dornic in bass sackbut (being the antecessors of the trombone). I found Jean Imbert marginally insecure playing natural trumpet (although I agree it´s the devil to play). With the fine support of two local players (Manfredo Kraemer, violin; Federico Ciancio, harpsichord and chamber organ) and with the Argentine soprano Adriana Fernández, who lives in Europe, showing her admirable sense of style in several pieces, this concert was sheer delight and demonstrated how to be both entertaining and instructive.

The programme, concocted by Canihac, gave us the music of Kromeriz, where the bishop of Olomouc had formed a splendid capella; thus in this Moravian town worked admirable composers such as Pavel Vejvanovsky (Serenada; Sonata "Tribus Quadrantibus") and Johann Schmelzer (Sonata a 3 in C, Sonata in G "La Carolietta"). German masters such as Johann Theile from Hamburg (Sonata "Sublationis") were also heard. But there was also the Venetian influence: Claudio Monteverdi ("Laudate Dominum"; "Confitebor"; "Lettera amorosa") or Ignatio Donati (O gloriosa Domina) or Tarquinio Merula ("Su la cetra amorosa"), plus the Italian influence on Händel ("Occhi miei, che faceste") and the great master Heinrich Schütz who brought the technique of the Gabrielis to Germany (Buccinate in Neomenia Tuba). A truly exquisite night, one of the very best of the year.

There are plenty of Bach cantatas still unknown here, but Mario Videla with his Bach Academy keeps unveiling new ones at the Central Methodist Church. With nine admirable players (Soloists of the Academy) and two fine singers (soprano Mónica Capra, baritone Norberto Marcos) plus the Grupo de Canto Coral (Néstor Andrenacci) he gave us Cantata Nº 96, "Herr Christ, der ein´ge Gottessohn" ("Lord Christ, the only Son of God"), a splendid work with a very fine initial chorus and a demanding soprano aria. Claudio Barile played at the beginning Carl Heinrich Graun´s interesting Concerto in E minor for flute, two violins and continuo.