martes, julio 27, 2010

The Orchestras of the Teatro Colón

             The Colón is one of the few opera theatres in the world with two big orchestras and now a small chamber orchestra, the new Orquesta Académica.  The Estable is basically operatic but sometimes does ballets and concerts; the Buenos Aires Philharmonic is a concert orchestra but it also plays in ballets and during a brief period, many years ago intervened in some operas.
            This year the Colón´s General and Artistic Director has had the good idea of including five concerts of the Estable, though not as a subscription series. I believe this should be a permanent feature, for the Estable certainly benefits by the public exposure and challenge of being on stage instead of in the pit. Technical standards certainly improve when  they are the sole focus of interest.
            Their first two concerts held considerable attraction. The initial one was conducted by Stefano Ranzani, who had been in charge of "La Boheme", so the musicians knew him well. The programme was coherent: an early Romantic symphony (Schubert´s Symphony Nº 9, aptly called "The Great" and a masterpiece) and an all-Wagner Second Part featuring our soprano Carla Filipcic Holm. Ranzani´s concept of the symphony was orthodox and vital, the players responding with urgency to the tough requirements of the score, called originally unplayable. The two interventions of the soprano were very satisfying: "Einsam in trüben Tage" ("Elsa´s Dream" from "Lohengrin") and "Dich, teure Halle" from "Tannhäuser" were sung with appealing timbre, firm line and excellent German. I object the lack of the vibrant orchestral introduction to the "Tannhäuser" excerpt, as I question the decision of the conductor to do the purely orchestral version of Isolde´s Love-Death from  "Tristan and Isolde", for I´m sure the soprano was capable of doing it very well; also, if done without the voice it should include the Prelude, thus giving a feeling of continuity and of a symphonic poem.  There was also a professional performance of the Overture to "Tannhäuser". As the concert ended the Orchestra curiously paid homage to Ranzani and he referred to the current artistic difficulties in Berlusconi´s Italy!
            John Neschling, the Brazilian conductor who re-founded the Sao Paulo Symphony, has had a long career. After his "Don Giovanni" he went on to a concert with an excellent concept: four works concerning the sea. It started with Mendlssohn´s raraely played but lovely Overture "Tranquil sea and prosperous voyage" (on two Goethe poems), written at 18. There followed that fantastic example of Britten´s genius, the "Four Sea Interludes" from "Peter Grimes", endlessly inventive and beautiful. Then, a world premiere (played before the interval and not after, as the hand programme had it; wrongfully there was no announcement): Marco Betta´s "Mari Notturni", four episodes which combine minimalism with some attractive timbric textures; the composer was born in 1964 and is Sicilian. Finally, that emblem of the best impressionism, Debussy´s "La Mer".
            A difficult and variegated program, it was played mostly with a reasonable competence, but with weak points now and then (unisons that weren´t quite that, shrill high notes from cornets). Neschling is certainly able; however, he didn´t transmit all the drama in Britten or the mystery in Debussy.
            Now let us pass to the  B. A. Phil´s subscription series. It´s been long years since I´ve witnessed such an utter exercise of excentric degradation as Ivo Pogorelich´s "reading" of Chopin´s Concerto Nº 2. On this evidence I can´t even understand how is it possible that his career, at 52, continues. I do remember his long ago presentation of Tchaikovsky´s First Concerto where the music all but stopped in the initial Allegro, but this went much beyond that mark. No evidence of a basic tempo (speed); completely extravagant phrasing, tearing apart melodies; no sense of continuity; absurd stressing of irrelevant materials; amidst beautiful but almost inaudible "pianissimi", grotesquely misplaced "fortissimi";  passages of still impressive technique followed by others labored and with wrong notes. How Enrique Diemecke managed to accompany such a chaos is almost beyond comprehension, but he did.
            But the concert was saved by the premiere of Josef Suk´s Second Symphony, "Asrael", a deeply reflexive long score of almost an hour based in its five movements on homages to Suk´s father-in-law, Antonin Dvorák, and Suk´s wife Otylka. Asrael is the Angel of Death. Post-Romantic, melodic, dense in its ideas, a bit too diffuse, this is an important symphony of an author badly known here; the score dates from 1906. Diemecke showed again his amazing memory and grasp of the material, and the orchestra responded quite well.
            The following session was programmed in celebration of the bicentenary of the birth of Otto Nicolai and Robert Schumann. The same works were played in successive days, first for Festivales Musicales and then for the Phil subscription series. Conducted by Diemecke, it featured British cellist Natalie Clein in her third visit, playing Schumann´s late and rather dishevelled Concerto. The soloist has an important technique, though this time I liked her less than in Walton or Dvorák; her attacks were rougher, but especially her over-the-top gestuality was disturbing. Diemecke showed again his skill in accompanying, and gave after the interval a lean, strong version of Schumann´s starkest symphony, Nº 3, "Rhenish", in five movements; some horn passages should have been improved. The start of the evening was the lovely  overture imagined by Nicolai for "The Merry Wives of Windsor", in a very pleasant reading.
For Buenos Aires Herald