martes, septiembre 07, 2010

Before and after the Barenboim cyclone

            Barenboim came and went leaving his audiences happily exhausted.  But before, during and after his visit there was plenty of interesting symphonic life. Some of it collided with his overwhelming presence and thus some events remained out of reach for this reviewer: the second visit of the Jerusalem Symphony under Yehuram Scharovsky, the debut of the Hong Kong Sinfonietta (first time that a Chinese orchestra visited us), Calderón leading Bruckner´s Seventh Symphony with the National Symphony. But there remain plenty of events to be mentioned in this survey.
            After Barenboim:I will give pride of place to the mighty endeavor of La Plata´s Teatro Argentino: Mahler´s Symphony Nº 8, "Of the Thousand", done only twice in Buenos Aires, in both cases under Pedro Calderón. And now, by another Argentine conductor, the greatly talented Alejo Pérez. The enormous score (80 minutes) demands eight vocal soloists, two mixed choirs, a children´s choir and an augmented orchestra. The First Part is a fantastically intricate setting of the hymn "Veni Creator Spiritus"; the Second is the vast setting of Goethe´s "Faust" ´s last section, in which Faust´s soul is led to Heaven by the Eternal Feminine (Margaret), in the way mixing anachoretes with angels, various Fathers (Profundus, Ecstaticus, Marianus) and such women as "Una Poenitentium"; "Magna Peccatrix" and "Mater gloriosa" (sopranos), "Mulier Samaritana" and "Maria Aegyptiaca".  The music goes from slow and deep to majestic and exalted, with a climax of towering grandeur. Only Schönberg´s "Gurrelieder" and Havergal Brian´s "Gothic Symphony" are comparable to this acme of Postromanticism.
            To say that this was a good version may seem faint praise, but considering the tremendous problems involved, it isn´t. No fault of the artists, the first of three performances started with the wrong foot, with a 7-minute video of the cultural accomplishments of the first thousand days of this government; it was roundly booed!  Except the third soprano, all (soloists, choirs and orchestra) were involved in the initial hymn, and the first minutes weren´t quite satisfactory: too much harshness and some sense of the pieces not quite falling into place; also, the new wooden and rectangular acoustic chamber doesn´t seem to be a full success, with a total effect of excessive stridency. But as the work went on, most factors improved, especially in the Second Part, providing some radiant moments and a very moving final section. Of the singers, tenor Carlos Bengolea was predictably below par, the voice is  run down and old; less predictably, the generally reliable soprano Soledad de la Rosa had an off day, with strained high Cs. Outstanding were bass Hernán Iturralde, mezzo Adriana Mastrangelo and sopranos Daniela Tabernig and Paula Almerares; correct, baritone Luciano Garay and mezzo Elisabeth Canis.
            The Choir of the Teatro Argentino under Miguel Martínez was joined by the Coro Polifónico Nacional under Roberto Luvini (has there been a previous joining of the provincial and the national choirs?) and by the Coro de Niños del Teatro Argentino (Mónica Dagorret); they found their feet gradually and as the work approched the final stretches they rang out powerfully and beautifully (though the kids were rather submerged). The Orchestra also overcame some initial unclean interventions and played with more and more involvement and lustrous sound until the fantastic final climax with the fanfare posted in the hall joining in. Alejo Pérez had his hands full merely coordinating the First Part; maybe slightly slower tempi would have been more convincing. But his grasp of the Second Part was more and more impressive, and his energy and knowledge were increasingly evident. The Eighth didn´t fail to provoke the audience to utter exaltation.
            During Barenboim: Andras Schiff had offered a magnificent debut recital (readers will remember the review) and his brief visit ended with an equally stunning interpretation of Beethoven´s "Emperor" Concerto; "magisterial" is the word for his commanding version, where with no forcing of the piano´s tone he gave expansion and strength to the first and last movements, but also provided a sensitive filigree in the slow movement. He was very well accompanied by the B.A. Philharmonic under Arturo Diemecke; the Phil also provided convincing readings of Mahler´s Tenth Symphony (the slow first movement, the only one he completed) and of Richard Strauss´ sprightly tone poem "Till Eulenspiegel´s Merry Pranks".
            Before Barenboim: the Teatro Argentino provided its own version of the Mahler Tenth, under the Colón´s old friend Stefan Lano, and it was typically well phrased and very musical. That interesting night gave us good Wagner: the Prelude and Love-Death of "Tristan and Isolde", with an unexpected and positive presence of mezzo Virginia Correa Dupuy, who was her sensitive self in splendid interpretations of Berg´s "Seven Early Songs". The programme was completed with the lovely "Liebeslieder" ("Songs of Love) by the Argentine composer Luis Mucillo, wonderfully sung by Víctor Torres.
            The National Symphony under Guillermo Scarabino accompanied one of our best pianists, Elsa Púppulo, in Ravel´s Left-hand Concerto, that quirky and very difficult piece. She put the accent into the structural aspects, giving us a very well-considered reading, played with her characteristic stamina and sense of purpose; I would have liked a bit more jazziness in the fast parts.  The programme had started with the exhumation of Alberto Williams´ "Marcha del Centenario 1810-1910", a rather curious, Elgarian composition. And it ended with a very good version of Brahms´ Fourth, led with sure hand and played with conviction.
For Buenos Aires Herald