lunes, junio 21, 2010

Chamber music to the fore

            Chamber music has for many decades carried a contradiction to its own denomination: written for performance in small chambers, it is now played not only in appropriately restricted spaces but also in huge theatres and concert halls. And the same person that molds his or her performance to those intimate venues has to project the produced sounds in places that hold from two thousand to three thousand people. It probably isn´t fair, but how else can a name artist play and earn a big fee?  Or how else can a big institution like the Mozarteum, with so many subscribers, give its due to this essential repertoire?
            This introductory reflexion has occurred to me as a consequence of three recent concerts: the second visit to this country of ultra-famous cellist Yo-Yo Ma (this time accompanied by pianist Kathryn Stott), inaugurating the Colón´s Bicentenary Subscription Series (Colón, 3.000 capacity); the debut of the Eggner Trio for the Mozarteum at the Coliseo (2.000 capacity); and the Nuevo Trio Argentino for Festivales Musicales at the Avenida (1.400 capacity, I believe).  I have no doubt that the Avenida is the best venue for this sort of thing, but it is a fact that the Coliseo and the Colón will continue to be used for chamber music , as happens in so many other big halls in the world.
            When Yo-Yo Ma played Dvorák´s Concerto with the Philharmonic (more than ten years ago) he was already at the height of his fame. Then I deeply admired the musicality of his playing, the perfect intonation and articulation, but I missed a measure of roundness and volume, the sheer weight of the sound of Mstislav Rostropovich, who has also played that concerto here. Now Yo-Yo Ma was back at 55, and the reinauguration of the Colón is under perusal of its acoustics; we all discuss whether it is the same as it was prior to 2006. So, when I heard the cellist during the First Part playing with a small sound and deficient projection, and I even heard some slips of intonation, I was astonished.
  During the interval several theories were heard: a) that indeed he was diminished in his sound projection; b) that the acoustics aren´t as live as they were; c) that the drop curtain (for they played in front of it) absorbed too much sound (but that practice existed prior to 2006 and no one complained); d) that the piano´s top should have been lowered. Come the Second Part and matters were reversed to an impressive degree: the sound was much richer, and the artistic involvement certainly higher. Now we recognized the master cellist of yore.  Was it a matter of deeper concentration? Did somebody tell him that his sound wasn´t projecting enough? I can´t know, but for me the concert was saved by its second half, and it proved that it wasn´t the acoustics.
The concert had started with a bad artistic decision: three short pieces (played without a break) of low content: Morricone´s "Gabriel´s oboe" from the film "The Mission"; an ugly arrangement of Gershwin´s Prelude Nº2 for piano; and a very light "Crystal" of bossa nova character by Cesar Camargo Mariano. But then came a masterpiece, Brahms´s First Sonata; that at least showed that Stott, a Britisher of vast career making her local debut, is a redoubtable player and certainly dominated with impressive strength.  The Second Part started with the premiere of Graham Fitkin´s "L" (50 in Roman numbers, written for the cellist´s fiftieth birthday), an agreeable 7-minute busy piece, minimalist and of high energy, where the artist seemed to wake up. And Rachmaninov´s big Sonata provided the hoped-for transformation, with both Yo-Yo Ma and Stott playing with inspired phrasing and high technical level (she was amazing). The encores kept up the standard: Piazzolla´s "Le grand tango" and Saint-Saëns´"The Swan".
As the Trios played in two consecutive days, it made for an interesting comparison. The Nuevo Trio Argentino reminds me of such trios as the Beaux Arts, dominated by pianist Menahem Pressler. Fernando Pérez is a virtuoso player and a real powerhouse; his way with chamber music is  the right one: this is music with sinew and strength, who deserves as much commitment as the solo repertoire, and where one must not be afraid of the big sound.  But few string soloists can compete: I admire and enjoy the playing of violinist Elías Gurevich and cellist Myriam Santucci, but sometimes they were overwhelmed by the pianist. Within this limitation, however, they gave lively, intelligent and accomplished interpretations of Clara Wieck´s lovely Trio, of her husband Schumann´s First Trio and of Mendelssohn´s First Trio.
For those who enjoy a better balanced Trio and a lower level of electricity, the Eggners fit the bill. These brothers (clad in identical gray suits with no tie) are certainly good players, accurate and clean, but short in impact. Pianist Christoph blends easily but never excites; violinist Georg is always impeccable but adrenaline is kept low; only cellist Florian (histrionic also in gestures) gives stronger phrasing. They also played Schumann, but the Second Trio. They seemed more akin to the twentieth century, with a well-observed Shostakovich (the adolescent and fascinating First Trio) and the complex Ravel Trio, where they did manage some intensity at the trill-ridden ending. A piece for pedal piano by Schumann arranged by Feodor Kirchner was the curious encore.
For Buenos Aires Herald

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