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.