I will start this survey with a special event: the concert in which the audience met the winners of the First International Violin Competition Buenos Aires 2010. This initiative of Shlomo Mintz has been sponsored by rhe YPF Foundation and organised by AMIJAI. An international jury of high prestige accepted 23 candidates from all over the world and finally awarded six prizes; the first three played at the Colón accompanied by the Asociación de Profesores de la Orquesta Estable del Teatro Colón conducted by Mintz. First the prizes were received by the winners from the hands of well-known personalities. Then, although I certainly thank Enrique Eskenazi, President of the Fundación YPF, for this valuable sponsorship, I´m sorry to say he inflicted on the audience a long-winded, inaccurate and political speech that left standing Mintz in the podium for 20 minutes.
I wasn´t impressed by the Third Prize winner, South Corea´s Hyuk Joo Kwun, who played rather rigidly and with not enough virtuoso panache the last movement of Paganini´s First Concerto; probably the fourth prize winner, Argentine Xavier Inchausti, merited it more. On the other hand, I liked a lot the playing of Sibelius´ Concerto´s first movement by the American Nigel Armstrong; he is not only extremely proficient technically, but he also showed a poetic vein and a sensibility that should lead to an important career. But I must say that Jinjoo Cho (also South Korean) deserves her First Prize, for she was extremely delicate and musical in the marvelous initial "Andante sostenuto" of Bartók´s First Concerto and then stunned the audience in the pyrotechnics of the devilish Ravel "Tzigane". This was masterful playing. I do hope these competitions will be a staple in the future, and Mintz is to be congratulated. And by the way, he proved to be a good conductor.
Apparently the main piece in a concert of the Orchestra of the Teatro Argentino (La Plata) was Brahms´ Symphony Nº 1, led with sure hand by Alejo Pérez, but in fact what fascinated me was Alban Berg´s Three pieces for orchestra, op.6. They are the first Argentine orchestra and conductor that give us this seminal work, one of the best of the Second Viennese School, only heard here in a memorable session of the Cleveland Orchestra under Lorin Maazel. The enormous emotional intensity and fantastic workmanship weren´t completely solved (it is extremely hard to play) but the degree of accomplishment was high. I also got much pleasure out of Lucrecia Jancsa´s luminous and accurate playing of one of the best Ginastera scores, his Concerto for harp.
Giancarlo Guerrero conducted the Buenos Aires Philharmonic in a session with two mighty scores: Brahms´ Second Piano Concerto and Prokofiev´s Fifth Symphony. Both are masterpieces and got their due. Guerrero has a clear mind and good technique, and he showed an understanding of these very different styles. In the Concerto we had the privilege of hearing one of the best musicians around, the Brazilian Nelson Freire, in his full maturity; this was noble, thoughtful playing sustained by a masterful mechanism.
The young Israeli Ilan Volkov showed good qualities in a difficult and beautiful programme of Nordic music. The concert started well with an atmospheric performance of Sibelius´ subtle tone poem "The Oceanides". However, Alexander Panizza, normally reliable, had an off night in Grieg´s Concerto, with a grave accident in the first movement and a hurried, aggressive attack of the Finale; as he replaced the originally announced Rudolf Buchbinder, maybe he didn´t have enough time to get to grips with the score. Nevertheless he played an encore, much better: Mendelssohn´s Introduction and Rondo capriccioso. I find Nielsen´s Fourth Symphony, "The Inextinguishable", one of the most interesting works of the Nordic School, with its dramatic tensions between tonalities and innovative orchestration and construction. Neither Volkov nor the Philharmonic gave us the music´s full measure, perhaps because the acoustic chamber was lacking, for certainly the timpani duel didn´t register as it should.
The Czech Trio made its debut for Nuova Harmonia with a programme that sandwiched Mendelssohn (First Trio) between two Czech composers: Josef Suk (Trio op.2) and Dvorák´s famous Trio Nº4, "Dumky". Although cellist Miroslav Petrás had to be replaced for health reasons by Petr Nouzovský, the understanding of the artists seemed to be of long acquaintance; the others were violinist Dana Vlachová and pianist Milan Langer. Suk´s youthful Trio, written at 15 though revised later, was the pleasant novelty. Of the players Langer was the steadiest, Vlachová the wildest, and Petrás officiated as the vital link between dissimilar temperaments. Their playing, sometimes uneven, was generally convincing.
The Mandelring Quartet from Neustadt (Germany) proved to be a redoubtable ensemble in their debut for Festivales Musicales at the Avenida. It is a curious and unfair thing that the three Brahms quartets get played so little, for they are certainly admirable examples of his deep, serious art. The Mandelrings chose the Quartet Nº 2, op.51 Nº 2, in A minor, a 35-minute score traversed by the artists with beautifully burnished sound (the violist!), fine intonation and the most accurate give-and-take, an essential quality in a quartet. Three are Schmidt: Sebastian and Nanette (violins) and Bernhard (cello); the odd-man-out is the violist, Roland Glassl. I wasn´t so happy with Schumann´s overplayed Quintet, where they were joined by Carmen Piazzini; the performance was too forceful and hectic for comfort.