We are having a good run this year in pianists and chamber groups. This survey covers only some of the better ones.
Nelson Goerner had the richly deserved privilege to be the first pianist to play at the reopened Colón: two sessions with identical programme for the Mozarteum Argentino. And again he proved to be our best artist in that category (no, I don´t forget Argerich and Barenboim). His programme was a homage to Chopin´s and Schumann´s bicentenaries of their births, and he showed himself a past master of these quintessential Romantic composers. From Chopin, superb interpretations of Polonaise Nº 15, op.44; Nocturne Nº 17, op.62 Nº 1; the Berceuse, ideally tender and refined; and one of the best performances I´ve heard of that tough piece, the Second Sonata, where even the weird Finale made sense.
Goerner chose one of Schumann´s grandest works, the Symphonic Etudes, with the welcome bonus of the five posthumous variations hardly ever played, and he was stunning throughout. The pleasure was prolonged with Rachmaninov´s Prelude op. 32 Nº 5 and a glittering Chopin Etude op.10 Nº 4.
Zhu Xiao-Mei deeply moved the audience of Festivales Musicales some years ago when she played an intimate and limpid version of Bach´s Goldberg Variations. The Chinese artist´s view is completely convincing in its own terms, the work of a true artisan polishing each phrase to perfection but always with introspection of almost metaphysical dimensions. In her fourth visit she repeated the Goldbergs, as a straight concert for Festivales at the Colón, but also (the one I heard) in the Colón series "My first concert" before an audience of kids, where she played the score in two big sections, with previous comments by Eduardo Barrientos on a scheme elaborated by himself and by Festivales´ Artistic Director, Mario Videla. It was quite a success, and as the children behaved themselves admirably, I think it showed that a score supposed to be for adults (considering its intricacy) can be enjoyed by kids if they have a proper introduction.
Two Midday Concerts at the Gran Rex showed to advantage the talents of the Ukrainian Julia Botchovskaia in her second visit and of Antonio Formaro, one of our most solid artists. She too paid homage to Chopin and Schumann, with four works of the former (Ballad Nº 2, Etude op.10 Nº 3, Waltzes Nos. 1 and 5) and the charming "ABEGG variations" of the latter, all in fleet and very agreeable performances. I liked her less in the first work she played, Beethoven´s Sonata Nº 21, "Waldstein", not quite as steady as that style needs. The fine encore was "Widmung", a Schumann Lied from "Myrthen" arranged by Liszt.
Formaro is that rare thing, a quality pianist who is also a scholar and a professor of musical history. And it shows in his performances of Romantic music. Although his specialty is Mendelssohn, his views of Schubert and Schumann are deeply thought out. He chose a Schubert Sonata: Nº 14 in A minor, op.143 (D.784), with one of the most dramatic and tense first movements he wrote; his reading was very well structured , each fragment having its place in the overall canvas. He too played Schumann´s "Symphonic Etudes", with noble and musical phrasing as well as fine technique; he didn´t play the additional movements, but he gave us a surprise, by doing the original version (not the later revision) of the Finale. Formaro does have a small handicap: he is too cautious at times, and Romanticism always strikes a difficult balance between literalness and fantasy. The charming encore, beautifully played, was one of the "Cantos de España" –Nº 2, "Oriental"- by Albéniz.
The Zukerman Chamber Players are old friends here. They now came not as a pure string group but also with a splendid pianist: Angela Cheng, Canadian. The ensemble offered a subscription concert for Nuova Harmonia at the Coliseo (the one I heard) and a different programme at AMIJAI. The others we all heard in their previous visit and are all admirable: first violinist Pinchas Zukerman, second violinist Jessica Linnebach, violist Jethro Marks and cellist Amanda Forsyth (Zukerman´s wife). The First Part was dedicated to Brahms and was interesting, for they chose scores not often played: the juvenile Sonata Movement from the collective Sonata FAE (written with Dietrich and Schumann), a dynamic Scherzo; and the ample Second Quartet for piano and strings, op.26 (Second, not First, as wrongly stated in the hand programme; my notes, if the audience read them, clarified the error), a ruminative, very Brahmsian score. The vastly known Schumann Quintet for piano and strings had a splendid performance,as had happened with Brahms.
Pía Sebastiani recently had her 85th birthday, pretty incredible as one saw her performing at a concert in her homage at AMIJAI. With the fine collaboration of violinist Rafael Gintoli, she gave a performance of Brahms´ Third Sonata op.108 for violin and piano with all the wise phrasing and impeccable taste of a lifetime of performing and teaching. Then her finest disciple, Marcelo Balat, gave us sensitive renditions of Chopin´s Nocturnes op. 62, a fleet "Goldfishes" (Nº 2 of "Images" by Debussy), and a powerhouse execution of Rachmaninov´s devilish Second Sonata in the revised edition. Finally she and he played as an encore five of Brahms´ melting Waltzes for four-hand piano, and we all went home happy.
For Buenos Aires Herald