The two weeks preceding the May 25 Bicentenary celebrations were rather meager in quality concerts, but before that stagnant period and after the long-awaited date classical concerts were abundant and offered some memorable moments. None better than the presence of Argentine cellist Sol Gabetta (Córdoba, 1981) with the Basel Chamber Orchestra at the Mozarteum (Coliseo). This girl is radiant in every sense, a strong but charming personality, a fantastic player, a strange beauty and charisma; a real star. Her technique is simply amazing but what matters is her intense musicality; rhythm possesses her, and she has a natural instinct for phrasing arcing melodies with maximum effect. Her sound is lean and terse, ideal for the eighteenth century concertos she chose on this occasion.
Leopold Hofmann (1738-93) is little-known but worth the acquaintance: his Concerto in D major, Badley D3, may fall into the rococo period but it has an urgency and character that go beyond the easy charm of that style; it was probably a premiere here. Two cello concerti have been authenticated as Joseph Haydn´s ; the one in C major is less played than its companion, for it was found later, but fully its equal: we have here Classicism at its best, with a devilishly arduous last movement, played stunningly by Gabetta. She gave as an encore the same eerie piece by Peteris Vasks (1946, Latvia) I heard her play in Vienna, "Dolcissimo", featuring a passage in which she sang sweetly and purely. It was pure magic.
But the success of the concert went beyond the soloist, for the Basel Chamber Orchestra proved first-rate. It was born in 1984 and it currently has as concertino Andrés Gabetta (yes, Sol´s brother!) , who proved to be quite a player and an excellent leader of a very homogeneous and young orchestra numbering 27 and including not only strings but two oboes and two natural horns (which gave its rightful bite to Hofmann and Haydn). And with a very interesting sense of contrast they played Bartók before both eighteenth-century composers: the famous "Six Romanian folk dances" and the splendid Divertimento, of much greater density of thought than that associated with the genre. Although very accurate, I did feel some deficit of intensity in the latter work, and in the dances the risky solo in harmonics sometimes went awry. The Orchestra accompanied the soloist splendidly in the Concerti, always hand-in-glove in phrasings and details, and with clear, clean sound. The style, impeccable of its kind, might be called "moderately historicist".
On the following day (May 26) of the Gabetta concert I attended, a valuable group made its unexpected debut, for they were replacing another ensemble for Nuova Harmonia (also at the Coliseo) and at a different date. They call themselves the Russian Virtuosi of Europe because they are Russian expatriates; they were born in London rather recently (2004), with the leadership of concertino Yuri Zhislin, who is still with them. As they are only eleven players, they do lack some body, but as all are excellent players with fine timbre, one may feel that these eleven amount to more. Their interpretations are polished, in fine intonation, very euphonic, but they do lack some brio in their accents and dynamics (never a true fortissimo). And as they are only strings, one feels at times that it would be useful if they traveled with, say, an oboist playing a concerto, to provide some contrast.
I was sorry to hear Bruckner´s Adagio (arranged from his Quintet) from outside the hall (that darned B.A. traffic!). Johann Sebastian Bach´s Concerto for two violins had a very smooth performance, with discernible contrapunctal lines, and I agree with the idea of having soloists that match each other: the musical lines need this, not different colors. Both Zhislin and Natalia Lomeiko played beautifully. Then –a coincidence- Bartók´s very same Romanian dances of the day before, but in an interesting comparison they gave different accents to certain passages, and I found them equally convincing. The Second Part was all-Tchaikovsky: an arrangement of the lovely Andante cantabile from his First Quartet, and the justly celebrated Serenade, certainly one of the very best string musics ever written. The interpreters are Russians, and they feel this music deeply; I especially liked their gracious Waltz and the melancholy Elegy. Zhislin in good Spanish (he is Artistic Director of the International Festival Evaristo del Valle, Spain) announced the obligatory Piazzolla encore, but a good one: the expressive "Oblivion", with the concertino playing subtly.
With one exception, our historicist ensemble La Barroca del Suquía gave us an all-J.S.Bach concert at the Auditorio de Belgrano for Festivales Musicales, and it was as good as I supposed it would be, for this ensemble is of truly international quality. Not only its wonderful concertino Manfred Kraemer but all of them : 14 outstanding players of fine style doing authentic Bach; quite a treat. They too did the Concerto for two violins (Kraemer, Hebe Asrin). But the occasion also provided a chance to hear Dutch flutist Jed Wentz in Telemann (Concerto in E minor TWV 51 e3), Bach´s Brandenburg Concerto Nº 5 and the Second Suite (for flute and strings), and italian harpsichordist Luca Guglielmi as part of the continuo in all pieces and as soloist in the Brandenburg Concerto. Both were very good, though their tenuous sound sometimes didn´t register enough in the big Auditorio.
For Buenos Aires Herald