martes, diciembre 27, 2011

End-of-season ballet standards

            Last year disaster struck the Colón´s Ballet Season when a prolonged conflict between the Ballet and the theatre´s director Pedro Pablo García Caffi led to the cancellation of the subscription series. One of the obstacles was the absence of a decent dancing floor. At the start of this year, after denying the need for it and the existence of dancers with lesions, García Caffi caved in and bought two Harlequin floors. The corps de ballet pronounced it acceptable, and although big problems remain unanswered, dancers are happy to be back on stage and are trying to give their best, with reasonable success.
            “The Corsair”, a famous ballet with a long history, was supposed to be back in the repertoire last year, and in fact the new production was ready. This season, with no subscriptions (at the start of the year both orchestras were on strike), “The Corsair” was reprogrammed.   
            Lord Byron wrote “The Corsair” in 1814, a typically Romantic text. Joseph Mazilier, long-time “maître de ballet” of the Paris Opera, made this full-length work in 1855 on an adapted scenario by Jules-Henri Vernoy de Saint-Georges, and premiered it on January 23, 1856. The music was by the author of “Giselle”, Adolphe Adam. When the ballet was revived in 1867, Mazilier made some changes and asked Léo Delibes (author of “Coppélia”) to provide some new music (the “Pas des fleurs”). But another version was concocted by Jules Perrot in Russia, based on the original by Mazilier; there were musical interpolations by Cesare Pugni. Perrot´s Conrad (the Corsair) was Marius Petipa, who in 1880 presented his own version,  modified in 1899, and with new musical interpolations by Riccardo Drigo (the famous “pas de deux”, often seen and heard here in ballet galas). Much later, in the 1950s, Piotr Gusev added in his choreography still more music, by Ludwig Minkus and by Prince Peter of Oldemburg (cousin of Czar Nicholas I), and changed the scenario with Yuri Slonimsky´s help. This version was premiered in 1955 and presented at the Colón in 1999. Finally, we now got to know Anne-Marie Holmes´ version, based on a later version by a Russian choreographer unidentified in the otherwise excellent programme notes by Enrique Destaville.
            And out of this puzzle, what has come out? An agreeable, not very dramatic, often humorous concoction with plenty of brilliant choreographic passages, without any attempt (and I agree) to make it “contemporary”. This is the version that Paloma Herrera danced with Julio Bocca years ago, and now she was Medora, whilst her Conrad was the Canadian Guillaume Côté.  There were three casts and I write on the first. Paloma, now 35, is a very accomplished artist of remarkable consistency over the years, and so she was again, although I have always felt in her some lack of poetry.  Côté was a very good partner, even if in this choreography some plum bits are given to his sidekick Ali, brilliantly danced by Juan Pablo Ledo. Two other artists were outstanding: the refined Silvia Perillo as Gulnara, and the elegant Federico Fernández as Lankedem, the slave trader. The Pasha was mimed funnily by Marcelo Antelo. Others who danced well were Edgardo Trabalón, Maricel De Mitri and Natalia Pelayo. The Corps de ballet was generaly accurate and disciplined, especially the ladies in the “Animated Garden” scene, and the dynamic pirates.
            The Buenos Aires Philharmonic played very well this light and agreeable music under the expert conducting of Hadrián Ávila Arzuza. Apart from some kitschy details, I liked very much the production, with splendid stage designs by Christian Prego, fine and varied costumes by Aníbal Lápiz and resourceful lighting by Roberto Oswald.
            Most ballet “habitués” have seen Delibes´ “Coppélia” though the decades, for this is the best French ballet of the nineteenth-century along with “Giselle”. But the change of title at the Argentino, “Coppelius the magician”, intimated that Marcia Haydée´s choreography would be innovative. Indeed, she has changed the plot deeply and put Coppelius rather than Swanilda as the protagonist. As time passed during the performance I saw (fourth and last of the run), I became convinced that she has aimed at the children (which were numerous in the audience), corresponding to the Christmas season (her version was supervised by Pablo Aharonian).  She has cut most of the Third Act (no big loss dramatically, for it is mostly a divertissement) and put the accent on a world of gypsies (First Act) and gnomes (the latter in the Second Act yelling and covering the often subtle music). And she has added some music from “Sylvia” (a splendid Delibes ballet shamefully neglected in our midst). What I disliked was the portrait of Franz (Swanilda´s suitor) as boorish and over-insistent. But otherwise a lot was fresh and humoristic, with interesting dance steps.
            Coppelius in this version is young, charismatic; the part was very well taken by Bautista Parada. Franz was danced by Benjamín Parada (are they kin?), fleet and accomplished as a dancer but much too mincing in his gestures. Julieta Paul was a charming Swanilda. Esteban Schenone was a lithe and humoristic Zimmo (dream gnome), Juan Manuel Ortiz was a strong Gypsy and Elizabeth Antúnez was beautiful and sensitive as the Fairy of Love.  The big ensembles went well with young, agile dancers doing their parts with enthusiasm and accuracy. The Orchestra played nicely under the accomplished conducting of Carlos Calleja. The effective stage designs were the joint debut of Lucas Borzi, Martina Urruty and Santiago Duarte; Gonzalo Giacchino did the imaginative costumes, and Rubén Conde lighted the proceedings with a fine touch.  

domingo, diciembre 18, 2011

A penultimate concert roundup: variety galore

The last concert of the Buenos Aires Philharmonic had an unusual programme, for the original one was changed. The description “colossi of rhythm” was appropriate to the combination of Stravinsky´s “Les Noces” and Orff´s “Carmina Burana”, but the former was scrapped and instead we had a First Part combining a string quartet first with the orchestral strings (in the splendid Elgar “Introduction and allegro”) and then with the full orchestra in the premiere of Ludwig Spohr´s Concerto for string quartet and orchestra in A minor, Op. 131. The Petrus Quartet didn´t play in their usual topological disposition but were in a line in front of the orchestra on the left. I felt that the orchestra conducted by Enrique Arturo Diemecke didn´t cohere with the quartet and the result lacked richness in Elgar and enough precision in Spohr. The Quartet played well but not quite at its best. Spohr is an agreeable composer mixing Classicism and Romanticism.
“Carmina Burana” is by now a hackneyed, constant presence in our seasons. Diemecke has a strong rhythmic sense and did it quite well, with the firm assistance of the Phil and excellent work from the Colón Choir under Peter Burian and the Colón Children´s Choir under César Bustamante. Laura Rizzo sang resplendently, Luis Gaeta sounded veteran in both senses, for his easy professionalism solved the problems but the voice isn´t fresh, and Damián Ramírez was too mannered in his countertenor rendition of the poor swan singing as he is roasted.
La Bella Música is an institution led by Patricia Pouchulu that has presented several series of concerts throughout the last decade but had as its big event a choral-symphonic concert at the end of the year. However, in recent years Pouchuku has been studying conducting, and she chose to be this season at the helm of an orchestral concert at the Avenida. It was a pleasant occasion. Vivaldi´s “The Four Seasons” was done with a rather large string group (24) and four different soloists, all of them concertini of our orchestras. They didn´t attempt to play as Baroque specialists (such as Manfredo Kraemer) but they added ornaments in the right places and played with sprung rhythms and accuracy. Freddy Varela Montero (from the Colón´s Resident Orchestra) was the mainstay of “Spring”; Luis Roggero (National Symphony) did “Summer” brilliantly; Nicolás Favero (La Plata´s Argentino) dealt with “Autumn”; and Pablo Saraví (B. A. Phil) solved with bravura the picturesque intricacies of “Winter”. Pouchulu accompanied tastefully.
I have a soft spot for Beethoven´s Sixth Symphony (“Pastoral”) and I was agreeably surprised by an orthodox, careful reading that let us appreciate the calm beauties of most of the music but gave its due to the Storm. The ad-hoc Orquesta sinfónica de La Bella Música, 49-strong, had Grace Medina as concertino and many prominent players.
The prestigious Pilar Golf concert series is certainly the best of Greater Buenos Aires; it has a good hall in a beautiful building and a faithful audience coming from the abundant country clubs of that region. Although the programming tends to have too much crossover nowadays, there´s still some interesting concerts. This year I was sorry to miss the combination of soprano Verónica Cangemi and the Orquesta Barroca Argentina, both at Pilar and the Colón; unfortunately their concert at La Plata (I had that date reserved) was cancelled. But I enjoyed a rather strange recital fusing the voice of mezzosoprano Virginia Correa Dupuy and the exquisite harp playing of Lucrecia Jancsa. Indeed there isn´t much repertoire for this texture and this meant some special arrangements as well as harp solos. It was a pleasure to meet some unknown Britten: “Evening”, “Morning” and “Night”, from Ronald Duncan´s “This way to the tomb” (1945). After Fauré´s harp Impromptu, Ravel´s “Greek popular songs” sounded very nicely with harp instead of piano, and Correa Dupuy and Jancsa were exquisite.
The Second Part started with Manuel de Falla´s “Soneto a Córdoba” (Góngora) and Guridi´s harp piece “El viejo zortzico”. Then, the well-written “Dos canciones provincianas” by the Argentine composer Ernesto Mastronardi. Afterwards, two arrangements on Villalobos: “Bachianas brasileiras Nº 5” (only the Cantilena, where the harp doesn´t make me forget the cello octet of the original) and “Melodía sentimental”. Finally, four arrangements by Marta Lambertini on Paraguayan pieces and Sosa Cordero´s “Anahí”; Lambertini´s refined versions are interesting; Correa Dupuy, normally so stalwart, faltered precisely in “Anahí”. The lovely encore was Ponce´s “Estrellita”.
The final concert, as usual in Pilar Golf, presented the Camerata Bariloche. For some reason, the leader wasn´t Freddy Varela Montero, but on this occasion the Albanian violinist (with Argentine residence) Demir Lulja (member of the National Symphony). After a nice version of Corelli´s Concerto grosso Op.6 Nº 8, “for Christmas”, a beautiful interpretation of J.S.Bach´s charming Nuptial Cantata, BWV 202, “Weichet nur, betrübte Schatten”, with perfect oboe solos by Andrés Spiller and the fresh voice of Soledad de la Rosa. The arrangement by Camillo Sivori of Bottesini´s Grand Concertante Duet for violin, bass and string orchestra (the original is for two basses) was well done by Lulja and bassist Oscar Carnero, whose part is the devil to play (extremely high for a bass). The very musical and precise playing of Dvorák´s charming Serenade Op.22 ended the concert, followed by fine catering, fireworks and dancing, as is traditional in their final nights of the season.

lunes, diciembre 12, 2011

The charm of Viennes operetta

            The makebelieve world of operetta first flourished during the French Second Empire and was interrupted by the Gallic defeat in the Franco-Prussian War; afterwards it recovered  but again World War I put an end to it. The Pax Britannica of the Victorian Age engendered the operettas of Gilbert and Sullivan (they called them “operas”). And the Austro-Hungarian Empire had a bright light in Johann Strauss II during the late Nineteenth Century but there were others: Von Suppé, Zeller, Millöcker. Later on, two Hungarians led the field: Emmerich (Imre) Kálmán with such pieces as “The Princess of the Czardas”, and particularly Franz (Ferenc) Lehár whose most famous operetta was “The Merry Widow” (“Die lustige Witwe”).
            I am sorry that the Colón chose “The Merry Widow” to finish its season, not that I don´t like it (far from it) but because it was very decently offered just last year by Juventus Lyrica and also due to the fact that the memory is still fresh of the splendid version offered by the Colón in 2001 with Frederica Von Stade, Thomas Allen and Paul Groves, conducted by Julius Rudel and with production by Lotfi Mansouri. In fact it was the first time that a Viennese operetta was offered here in German, as it should be; and if anyone doubts this, let him think about “La Verbena de la Paloma” done in that language! For knowledgeable people, it´s just as shocking and inappropriate.  Fortunately the present version was indeed in German, both in the spoken and sung parts. As I recently wrote about Joh. Strauss II´s “Die Fledermaus”, it´s certainly hard for non-German speakers to enact their roles idiomatically, but if they master the problem the results are enormously enhanced; so much so, that a bilingual version becomes intolerable.
            I believe that the chance was missed to present such Lehár hits as “The Count of Luxemburg” (“Der Graf von Luxemburg”) and especially “The Land of Smiles” (“Das Land des Lächelns”), whose Prince Sou-Chong was Richard Tauber´s most famous role (he was the finest singer of the Lehár repertoire). Or Joh. Strauss II´s “The Gypsy Baron” (“Der Zigeunerbaron”). And one of Offenbach´s best operettas, such as “Orphée aux enfers”. It would be audacious but worthwhile to bring over a specialised cast and do Sullivan´s “The Mikado”.  All would be “firsts” at the Colón even if they are very famous in Europe.
            The best point about this revival was the re-use of the “art nouveau” stage designs of Michael Yeargan, very handsome and functional;  at least the Colón didn´t spend on new designs. On the other hand, the  costumes by Mini Zuccheri were generally agreeable and in style. Good lighting by Roberto Traferri. The production by Candace Evans (debut) had some lapses of taste, such as the scene of the “grisettes”, but she followed the fluffy plot well, although the “trendy interventions” on the original text by Viktor León and Leo Stein (uncredited but of apparent “porteño” vintage) to my mind are counterproductive to the Belle Époque Parisian mood (such as a reference to Messi, of course wildly applauded). The choreography by Rodolfo Lastra was generally well done (excepting the “grisettes”). The long ballet at the beginning of the Third Act, sometimes cut, was welcome, for otherwise the act would be too short.
            On the musical side the best thing was the light, lilting pace obtained by conductor Gregor Bühl (debut), which shows his versatility for he has conducted a lot of Wagner. The Choir under Peter Burian was pleasant enough. I was very disappointed by Norwegian soprano Solveig Kringelborn, who used to have a nice lyrical voice, now strident and often unacceptable; although she moved well, you need vocal allure for “Vilya” or the famous waltz, and this was absent. Lyuba Petrova as Valencienne showed a small but accurate voice and acted with some charm. Baritone Mathias Hausmann (debut) has profited from his experience at the Viennese Volksoper; he sings with a serviceable voice but adds much style, and he moves elegantly, though some prefer more “devilish” Danilos. Though not a match for Paul Groves, tenor Benjamin Bruns (debut) sang a creditable Camille with firm highs (he and Petrova did  the rarely included duet “Zauber der Häuslichkeit”).
            Reinhard Dorn´s voice is rather worn but Baron Zeta speaks more than he sings and Dorn´s acting was very good. Evans exaggerated the rivalry of Viscount Cascada (the firm-voiced Norberto Marcos, who had to cope with many additions in Spanish of doubtful relevance) and St Brioche (tenor Carlos Ullán with diminished means and white hair). The Njegus, a sort of messenger for Ambassador Zeta of Pontevedro (the thinly disguised Montenegro), was marked by Evans with a grotesque body language endured by Gustavo Zahnstecher, who sang with humor a little ditty generally cut (this was a very full edition of the operetta).  I was astonished that the normally good Marisa Pavón did such a gross parody of a grisette in her Zozo. Parody is alright in the spoken role of the old cocotte Praskovia, funnily done by Rosmarie Klingenhagen. Others in the cast were in the picture: Ernesto Bauer, Natalia Lemercier, Alejandro Meerapfel, Oriana Favaro, Leonardo Estévez and Ariel Ramos. Good dancing from the Colón Ballet with such solo artists as Maricel De Mitri and Edgardo Trabalón. There was a second cast (changing the five main parts) which I didn´t hear.

domingo, diciembre 04, 2011

True and fake avantgarde

For fifteen years Martín Bauer has been leading the Cycles of Contemporary Music of the Teatro San Martín. During part of that time he has also been at the helm (in that case in collaboration with Diana Theocharidis) of the Colón´s CETC. And when Marcelo Lombardero took the post of Artistic Director of the Teatro Argentino he created the TACEC naming Bauer as its head. So Bauer´s taste has had vast influence in the formation of a generation. Alas -and I stress that I tread dangerous and controversial ground- I feel that his choices have very often been wrongly oriented and I do hope that someone with ampler and more central ideas should take over these tasks. For his exaggerated concentration on certain pet composers such as Cage, Feldman and Sciarrino and on experiments of doubtful value have given a distorted and clique-ridden image of contemporary music.
Also, “contemporary” isn´t the right tag of what these concerts should be; I would propose for them (and for the CETC and TACEC) variants of titles such as “XX-XXI music”. For the object should be to give an authentic panorama of music of both centuries in every style. That´s what Gandini used to do, and I find his orientation the right one.
In what is surely an absurd decision, Pedro Pablo García Caffi, the Colón´s Director, is basing a new venture called “Colón contemporáneo” in a mere redundancy of Bauer´s Cycles. It would be a good thing if it brought -independently of the San Martín- new music worth knowing. But now I´ve said all this, I will have to eat my words concerning one very special concert dedicated to Edgar Varèse, true avantgarde indeed and a signal service to the information of music lovers, as the start of Bauer´s cycle and parting shot (this year, the only one) of the Colón Contemporáneo. I am happy to say that I find this project a fantastic success, a case where both Bauer and García Caffi are completely right.
For Varèse, as has been belatedly recognised, is the purest avantgarde of the Twenties and Thirties. His music was either ignored or savagely attacked, but he did have such a champion as Leopold Stokowski, and with good reason, for he was the pioneer of a new concept: without quite abandoning the traditional parameters of rhythm, melody and harmony, his stress was on pure sound, a precursor of what the Polish School would do after World War II. His ideas on texture are still amazing and new eighty years later; moreover, they are exciting and convincing.
The concert was wrongly billed as the integral Varèse; he wrote very little, for the general rejection forced him into a silence of many decades, but several pieces weren´t in this programme. A First Part of chamber music was followed by two big orchestral pieces: “Arcana” (1925-7) and “Amériques” (1922); I have never before heard them in concert and they may be premieres. The First Part started with the 4-minute “Hyperprism” and then “Ionisation”, well-known here, not quite the first score for percussion but certainly the first important one. Then, “Octandre” (1923) and “Intégrales” (1923-5) are splendid and intricate examples of chamber music (also known here). The two great orchestral pieces were overwhelming in their novelty and richness, especially “Arcana”.
This “tour de force” wouldn´t have been possible without the presence of Alejo Pérez, probably the only local conductor capable of solving the immense problems present in these pieces. He got admirable performances out of the Uruguayan Ensemble Perceum (percussion), fifteen Argentine chamber players and the Buenos Aires Philharmonic, all playing with fierce concentration. I was happy that a big audience gave them all a resounding success.
But afterwards, with rare exceptions, the Cycle fell (as it has in former years) into arid nihilism. I skipped many of the concerts simply because I knew what to expect and didn´t feel like exposing myself to a masochism session. Just for the record, I mention the visit of German creator Peter Ablinger, six composers played by the Ensemble Lucilin (Luxemburg), an experimental opera by Carola Bauckholt (“A keen ear”), percussion pieces by James Tenney with Alexandre Babel, again percussion (including Cage, Gubaidulina and Xenakis) by the famous Robin Schulkowsky, the Prometheus Quartet in Fedele, Reich and Ghedini, and with Carolin Widmann the Schönberg “Transfigured Night”(I count five players but this is a sextet) –Widmann also played violin solo scores-, Lionel Marchetti in “Electroacoustic improvisation around Varèse”, “Homage to Christian Wolff” (USA composer of the Cage school) and Satie´s “Vexations” (a 2-minute piece written in 1893 played 840 times according to the wish of this proto-Dada composer).
I was sorry to miss two concerts, one with valid Argentine composers (Tauriello, Gandini, Lambertini, Kröpfl, Viera), the other a chamber opera by Marcelo Toledo, “La selva interior”, on the writer Horacio Quiroga´s dying last minutes. I will leave Salvatore Sciarrino´s chamber opera “Luci mie traditrici” for a further article, and close this one with a reference to a debilitating experience, symbol of what I call “fake avantgarde”: the “Piano and String Quartet” by Morton Feldman. Its exact description: 80 minutes made up of slow piano arpeggios answered exasperatingly by slow string chords. Perfect boredom in music for me, “a masterpiece” for at least one colleague…The players seemed expert (pianist Emanuele Torquati and the Prometheus Quartet).

The Colón´s ill-conceived “Ring” and internal rumblings

 A) THE COLÓN "RING".
            Last May 14, when the Colón in a general way announced its project about a condensed Wagner "Ring", I wrote an article roundly condemning the idea. I hoped then that the project could be stopped by public opinion, but the general apathy of our milieu prevailed, and the thing will definitely be done. In fact, the Colón´s Director, Pedro Pablo García Caffi, invited the two people responsible to the press conference announcing the 2012 season, and in fact the last half-hour was given over to the presentation of the so-called "Colón Ring" (the  official denomination!) by García Caffi and the two "perpetrators": Cord Garben has done the musical condensation and Katharina Wagner will be the producer. There were also questions, quite poorly answered.
            In a second press conference Wagner and Garben were the expositors, and the latter gave expert examples at the piano of details about his work. There were further questions (in which I intervened); later refreshments were served and I dialogued with Garben. I won´t repeat here arguments already made clear in my article, but some facts and opinions must be added as the result of the mentioned exchange of views:
            .) I said it is basically nonsensical to give as a reason that the Ring is too long, for it is always offered as four separate evenings; the longest opera is "The Twilight of the Gods" (around 4 ½ hours); but the condensation lasts seven hours and you see it in one day. Plus two intervals you spend nine hours in the theatre, and some of the shows will take place in working days!
            .) The answer to this was very lame: it is an alternative version, they don´t intend to supplant the original. My riposte: there is a market for long sagas (Harry Potter, "The Lord of the Rings") and any true Wagnerite is quite willing to go along with occasional longueurs for they are an indissoluble part of the Wagnerian method and the music is always interesting.
            .) It became apparent that big chunks were cut not because of musical considerations but out of lack of empathy of Katarina Wagner with certain sections which she feels are unstageable (most of the big love duet in "Siegfried"!); and viceversa, she didn´t admit the cut of Siegfried´s Funeral March (there I agree with her, terrible judgment on Garben´s part). Also, Katarina disavowed Garben´s statement that he had eliminated all the philosophical bits (along with the redundancies, some of which aren´t, such as the ill-advised cut of Waltraute´s narrative). So, even the collaborators don´t see eye to eye!
            .) It will be quite expensive. Although sensibly opera subscribers have the option of buying the whole eight-title lot or only seven leaving the Ring out, the Colón Ring will cost in the best seats $ 2.600 up to December 19, and $3.000 from January on, although that will include catering in the intervals (one of them lasts a whole hour).
            .) The Colón holds the rights and will try to sell it worldwide, as well as to record it. There´s always a commercial side to any cultural event, but it seems to be paramount in this case.  
            B) THE INTERNAL RUMBLINGS.
            My last report on the Colón´s internal situation was published on April 12 and was called "The Colón: light at the end of the tunnel". In a sense it was true, for the season took place; but unfortunately it came about as a result of devious management of very human problems, in a word things were kept quiet by unfair duress.
            Judges emitted favourable sentences forcing the Colón to accept workers it wanted to fire but they couldn´t avoid such things as discounts to orchestral players that had participated in street protests and were consequently cowered into submission. When the players in conflict accepted to go back to work they did so on the promises of negotiations to solve the irritating problems, but they weren´t kept, so the players ceded and obtained nothing; instead, they were sanctioned.
            Macri won a new term, he has more legislators than before and García Caffi apparently stays, so things look dire for the workers. In this context there was recently a strange bit of news. Máximo Parpagnoli, of ATE, head of the resistance during these past years, was a candidate in several elections to cover the fifth post of the Colón Directorate as representative of the workers. Several times the quorum of 60% stipulated by the Autarchy Law wasn´t obtained. Last February Sutecba, the rival labor union, argued that Parpagnoli couldn´t be a candidate for he was sued by the Government  who wanted to fire him and seven others, and García Caffi accepted this, so he postponed the election six months.  But now, for some unexplained reason, Parpagnoli´s candidacy was accepted, the election took place, and I´m quite sorry to inform that he lost to Sutecba´s candidate. It was a close election but apparently a fair one, so now García Caffi is going to cohabit with a friendly labor candidate. Very bad for those who are quite unhappy with the way the Colón is run, like myself.
            So the unrest and rumblings will go on but apparently there will be no new strikes and all the announced subscription series will take place. Unfortunately most people think all is well at the Colón and only care about strikes if they are affected by them; public opinion isn´t disposed to analyze matters and is all too ready to attack labor. On the other hand, savage strikes such as happened last year are indeed unacceptable. Structural matters will remain unattended and no plans to finish the restoration of the building are known. The workshops still are at La Nube in Belgrano and working conditions are  bad. Nothing is known about the future installation of the Museum or the Library. The Salón Dorado remains unused. There are no plans to cover vacancies or to solve pension problems. And opera production is diminished and with second-rate casts but with Met prices. However, most people still think highly of Macri and García Caffi. This is a topsy-turvy world.

miércoles, noviembre 30, 2011

An overview of symphonic and piano music

The Buenos Aires Philharmonic went on with its season at the Colón. Concert Nº 16 had as conductor Ira Levin instead of the Phil´s Principal Conductor, Enrique Arturo Diemecke, originally announced. Rachmaninov was the star, with his Second Piano Concerto and Second Symphony, two masterpieces.   Pianist Vladimir Feltsman has visited us before; his comeback was very welcome, for this Muscovite born in 1952 is at the peak of his quite considerable powers. Poised, very professional and sensitive, his playing was a model of technique applied with style. A pity that Levin chose to accompany in too heavy a manner, altering the necessary equilibrium. But he came into his own in the ample, complex symphony, maintaining control and intensity throughout the 50 minutes packed with interesting incident. The players were fully up to par.
José Miguel Rodilla is Spanish and looks fortyish; his biography shows a varied career in many B-class orchestras of the world. His debut showed a good command of the music but little finesse. The programme was rather light. It began with an early work of Armenian influence by our Alicia Terzian: "Three pieces for strings"; it sounded under-rehearsed with poor intonation, though the modal harmonies may have given the players some difficulty. The charming and very Gallic Flute Concerto by Jacques Ibert was brilliantly rendered by Claudio Barile and acceptably accompanied. The Second Part was given over to the five pieces from "Iberia" by Albéniz that were orchestrated by Fernández Arbós; a pity that another piece, "Polo", in the orchestration by Carlos Suriñach, wasn´t played, though the concert was quite short (the "Polo" had been announced, and was commented by Claudia Guzmán in her programme notes). Rodilla was more comfortable in this style, but both transparency and charm eluded him (I remember a splendid version of "Triana" by Mehta). Some bits were very strident, even if the fault is partially the orchestrator´s.
Concert Nº 18 had a long programme with a weak First Part and an important Second. I´ve heard veteran Argentine pianist Luis Ascot in much better shape in the past; although he knows the style of Liszt´s Second Concerto very well, his technical level was shaky; also, there were many moments of disagreement with the orchestra. But the enormous and transcendent Mahler Ninth showed Diemecke and the Phil at their best. Here there was a deep comprehension of the message –a resigned sublimation in the composer´s way to the extinction of life. Again the fantastic memory and command of the conductor was in evidence, but also that curious dichotomy that makes him both an inspired leader of metaphysical contents and a clownish celebrator of his contact with the audiences. The symphony  was a moving experience.      
Now comes a chapter dedicated to recitals by pianists. Festivales Musicales ended its season with the local debut of the 38-year-old Ukrainian Valentina Lisitsa. By the end of the First Part, all-Chopin, I had no doubt about the marvelous dexterity of the artist, both in the fast bits of the Fantasy op.49 and in the immense challenge of the 12 Etudes op.25, but unfortunately there was much evidence of a mannered approach that meant unwanted stops and goes and quirky changes in rhythm as well as sleek rather than meaningful phrasing.  But the Second Part, all-Liszt, would change matters. I can cavil at the quality of a mere display piece like the "Fantastic Rondo on a Spanish theme, El Contrabandista" (a melody by Manuel García, father of la Malibran), but there´s much imagination in the paraphrase on Verdi´s "Aida" ("Sacred Dance and Final Duet"), and both the Second Ballad (based on the legend of Hero and Leander) and the terrifically difficult piano solo version of the "Totentanz" ("Dance of Death) are pieces of real content and absolutely ground-breaking challenges of mechanism. I don´t hope to hear them played better than by Lisitsa, who was simply stunning in speed, accuracy, weight and sensibility. In Liszt she is a great pianist, for there her style and technique mingle ideally. The encores were ideal: the Schubert-Liszt "Ave Maria" and Liszt´s Hungarian Rhapsody Nº 12. A great pianistic discovery at the Colón.
Another special Colón night was called "Family secrets" and put on stage the whole piano-playing family made up of half-brothers Sergio Tiempo and Karin Lechner, their mother Lyl (De Raco de) Tiempo and Karin´s 11-year-old daughter Natasha Binder. Again the First Part, played by Sergio, wasn´t convincing in style, although the pianistic means were all there: Liszt´s three "Petrarch Sonnets" take more easily to Sergio´s very free (to the point of distortion) version of what is written, but his mixture of 12 Chopin Etudes from op.10 and 25 was disconcerting: violent accents, too speedy, unmarked arpeggios, clangorous chords; Chopin can take some of these characteristics in some Etudes but it ruins others.
However, the Second Part compensated and was at times moving. Six of Schumann´s "Scenes from Childhood" were charmingly played by Natasha, a true talent, and were followed by two delicious renderings of Brahms Waltzes by mother and daughter in four-hand piano. Then, a rarity, an expressive Rachmaninov Romance for six hands, by Karin, Natasha and Sergio. Splendid playing by Sergio and Karin in Ravel´s virtuosic "La Valse". And all the family in Bach´s Four-clavier Concerto based on Vivaldi´s original for four violins: a true celebration of family love and music.
For Buenos Aires Herald

sábado, noviembre 19, 2011

Operetta and children´s opera have their turn

This is a coupling of reviews on operetta and opera for children. I start with Juventus Lyrica´s final offering, a welcome vindication of the greatest of all operettas, Johann Strauss Junior´s “Die Fledermaus” (“The Bat”), in its original German. The institution had done it years ago with such poor results that I remember it as their all-time fiasco. This time the result was honorable, though scarcely ideal.
Mind you, operetta in German is for Argentines quite as difficult as a zarzuela is for Germans. For, along with other genres as zarzuela and opéra-comique, it has the added problem of spoken sections and it is notoriously more difficult to be idiomatic speaking than singing. It certainly showed on this occasion, and although they all tried hard, it wasn´t idiomatic enough, it sounded phonetically learnt in most instances. But I certainly prefer that to a bilingual version, with sung parts in German and spoken bits in Spanish.
As producer Ana D´Anna showed last year in “The Merry Widow” that she has a knack for the genre, and although this “Fledermaus” wasn´t as successful, it was certainly pleasant. There was somewhat more parody than needed, for this is in fact a refined comedy, but especially in Laura Penchi´s assumption of Adele and Eernesto Bauer´s of Dr. Falke, the result was communicative fun. They both sang quite well, in addition.
Chilean soprano Macarena Valenzuela is beautiful and moves with elegance, though not with natural comicality. And she managed the difficult Czardas with musical accuracy. Mariano Spagnolo sang Eisenstein with metallic forthrightness and too robust physique. As Alfred is supposed to be an Italian tenor, accent didn´t matter in Sebastián Russo´s performance; it was liberally sprinkled with snatches of arias introduced by D´Anna and probably conductor Carlos Calleja; his acting and singing are a bit green yet but promising. Prince Orlofsky´s trouser role was well taken by mezzo Griselda Adano with appropriate spleen. Frank, the jail director, was convincingly done by Fernando Álvar Núñez. Norberto Lara was a good singer-comedian as Dr. Blind, Carlos Kaspar was quite funny in the spoken part of Frosch, the jailer, and Claudia Montagna was a charming Ida.
The 34-strong Choir sang agreeably under Miguel Pesce and made their moves with enthusiasm. D´Anna had as stage designer Daniel Feijóo, whose structures were less attractive than expected, lacking airiness and sheer beauty, though functional enough. María Jaunarena´s costumes were mostly handsome and varied. The lighting by D´Anna and Fernando Micucci was especially good in the jail scene.
D´Anna followed tradition by adding an ad-hoc Divertissement in the Second Act. It started with a Johann Strauss Junior polca in a rather charmless choreography by Igor Gopkalo with a protagonist girl and four men escorting her. Then, three singers accompanied by Susana Cardonnet on the piano: octogenarian Gui Gallardo sang Gounod´s Mephisto´s Serenade from “Faust” with little voice and lots of style; tenor Darío Schmunck made a wise choice, the lovely “Ach so fromm” from Flotow´s “Martha”, done with nice lyricism; and soprano Soledad de la Rosa opted curiously for an old tango, “Nostalgia” by Cobián and Cadícamo, done with musicality as a “tango-canción”.
Calleja conducted his Orquesta Académica de Buenos Aires and the result was less good than last year´s “The Merry Widow”; Viennese character was lacking, as well as some technical polish, though acceptable in the whole.
July 1922. The famous puppet company of Vittorio Podrecca presented here Respighi´s opera “La bella addormentata nel bosco”. In 1933 the composer revised it and called the new score “La bella dormente nel bosco”. The 1922 version is lost, so there´s no way to compare it. Written for a chamber orchestra (in this case, 21 players) and intended for children, the Ensamble Lírico Orquestal premiered the 1933 work, on a libretto by Gian Bistolfi, in a trial performance last year at the Roma (Avellaneda). This year the ELO gave a whole run of performances at the Teatro del Globo of our Capital; only the first performance was in Italian, all others (including the one I saw) in an uncredited Spanish translation. Gustavo Codina was the conductor, and the stage production was done by his wife, Cecilia Layseca (who also sang beautifully as the Blue Fairy), with colourful scenery by Atilio de Laforé, Eliana Aramando and Adriana Torossián, lighting by Ernesto Bechara, charming costumes by Mariela Daga and simple choreography by Mariel Weselowski.
The piece is very worth knowing, done by an eclectic master composer with the right touch to communicate with children. The music follows the modified Perrault tale and I was particularly interested by one of the characters, the wicked Spindle that pricks the Princess and sends her into the long sleep. The libretto spans the centuries and thus we meet a “Mr. Dollar”.
Layseca´s production was fluid and reasonably professional, keeping the natural touch that attracts children. Codina got good playing from his orchestra and acceptable results from an amateur choir. Of the singers I liked (apart Layseca), Christian Casaccio as the Prince, María José Valerio (Spindle), Alicia Alduncín (Old Woman), Leonardo Menna (Woodcutter), Elena Deanna (Nightingale and Lilac Fairy), Enrique Borlenghi( the sad King), Sebastián Russo (Buffoon) and found poor Rocío Cereceda (The Princess) and Milagros Seijó (Cuckoo, Rose Fairy). Others were in the picture: Andrea González Cortiana (Duchess), Ariel Suárez (Mr. Dollar), Alfredo González Reig (Ambassador), Karen Paz (Queen). The dancing was very basic.

miércoles, noviembre 16, 2011

From Vivaldi to Shostakovich: a world of organised sound

Recent concerts have proved once again the immense variety of music, the noun for organised sound.  We are at a moment when the concert season is coming to an end, although I´m still overwhelmed; so straight to the point. 
            The Mozarteum Argentino closed its year with a substitute concert: the Liège Philharmonic rescinded due to a cut on Belgian subsidy. But a specialist Baroque group that had visited us before made a welcome comeback with a programme called "Le donne di Vivaldi", concentrating on opera and oratorio interspersed with some purely instrumental music.  They are called Sonatori de la Gioiosa Marca and they consist of 16 strings (more than the habitual number in this sort of ensemble) plus on this tour Dorothee Oberlinger in flute and piccolo, Manuel Tomadin in harpsichord and chamber organ and Ivano Zanenghi in lute and mandolin. "Marca Gioiosa" is a Veneto region whose capital is Treviso. As to the "donne", they were Gemma Bertagnolli (soprano, debut), Manuela Custer (mezzosoprano, debut) and Susanna Moncayo Von Hase (the well-known Argentine mezzosoprano). 
            Vivaldi operas are still a big question mark for most music lovers, although they are many and were successful in their time. But except for a very interesting version of "Il Giustino" about three decades ago, Vivaldi has been ignored here. a pity, for the music is very attractive.  The chosen pieces were from "Ottone in Villa"; "Arsilda, regina di Ponto"; "Orlando finto pazzo"; "Griselda"; "Andromeda liberata"; and "Orlando furioso". And also from the oratorio "Juditha Triumphans" (it has been done here) and from the "Beatus Vir" (a trio). The best singing came from soprano Bertagnolli, a rather soft voice but very well used in the difficult florid passages. Custer started badly but later found her best form and was an interesting interpreter. I disliked Moncayo´s style, too gusty and lacking line. Most of the music  may have been a local premiere.
            On the instrumental side, the Sonatori started with the Concerto for strings RV 127, nicely played though rather too serenely. Of course the conductor, Francesco Fanna, is a specialist, but I prefer a sharper Vivaldi. Oberlinger had a wild success in the Concerto for piccolo RV 443, applauded unfortunately between movements; she is very good though not quite perfect, and she added tasteful ornaments in the middle movement.  Starting the Second Part we heard the Concerto for lute RV 93, where Zanenghi showed fine technique, although the instrument sounds very small at the Colón.  The players, both in the Concerti and the vocal pieces, responded quite professionally to Fanna´s tasteful though mild phrasing.
            I found the connecting texts by Myriam Zerbi an unnecessary addendum, worsened by unexpected explosions of the amplification process, and an exaggerated narrator (Filippo Plancher). 
            On paper, the idea of giving us Händel´s oratorio "Samson" was excellent; the Colón last saw it in 1962 conducted by Richter. So, as  I have long admired the complete recording conducted by Leppard, I was happy with the prospect. Alas, what Mario Videla gave us at the Colón for Festivales Musicales wasn´t even a condensed version: to call it highlights is more accurate. Consider: we heard 85 minutes; the Leppard lasts 214! I accept some pruning but not such wholesale elimination of important passages, which e.g. deprived Virginia Correa Dupuy (Micah) of all her arias (and she was the best singer). At least one hour more of music should have been heard. For "Samson" is one of Händel´s greatest oratorios, and to be given the bare bones after half a century just won´t do. There´s also a double standard, for Videla wouldn´t dream of giving Bach a similar treatment.
            However, what we had was well done, although in a very contained mood. Richter and Leppard showed that this music is more dramatic than the clean, cultured and manicured view of Videla the conductor, notwithstanding the good ensemble and plausible tempi we heard throughout.  An augmented (26-strong) Camerata Bariloche and the Orfeón de Buenos Aires (Néstor Andrenacci and Pablo Piccinni; 52 voices) played and sang very properly, though not in a historicist mold. The solid team of singers gave us  Carlos Ullán as Samson (prematurely white-haired), Soledad de la Rosa as Delilah, Hernán Iturralde as Harapha (excellent), the mentioned Correa Dupuy, Sergio Carlevaris (Manoah) and Matías Tomasetto (Messenger).
            The two final offerings of Nuova Harmonia were the Trio Modigliani (debut) at the Coliseo and the Saint Petersburg Symphony at the Colón. The Trio is made up of two brothers: Francesco (cello) and Angelo Pepicelli (piano) and violinist Mauro Loguercio. I liked a lot the chamber music sense of the brothers and their impeccable technique; I found Loguercio too emphatic even gestually, playing in a different style that affected the total balance and with some off-color notes. But the final result was enjoyable in the rarely played "Phantasiestücke" Op.88 by Schumann and two standards: Beethoven´s Trio Nº 4, "Ghost"; and Shostakovich´s Trio Nº 2. The encore was a humoristic movement from Bernstein´s Trio.
            We had a return visit from the St. Petersburg Symphony, less famous than their Philharmonic but almost as good, with a typically Russian sound: brash but exact brass, characterful winds, brilliant strings. Under their capable conductor Vladimir Lande (debut) they gave us an exciting but rather heavy version of Bernstein´s Overture to "Candide" prior to a good accompaniment in Tchaikovsky´s First Concerto of an unacceptable pianist, Maxim Mogilevsky (debut), a bad mixture of arbitrariness and wrong notes. Absurdly he gave us three encores (the audience applauded far too much). But the splendid performance of Shostakovich´s Fifth Symphony saved the day: great music played with total authenticity. The best encores: more Shostakovich (the fascinating Tango from "The Bolt"), and Glinka´s Overture to "Ruslan and Ludmilla".

martes, noviembre 15, 2011

Two Verdian masterpieces in awkward stagings

La Plata´s Teatro Argentino ended its season with an important first: the South-American premiere of the French original version of Verdi´s “Don Carlos”. And Buenos Aires Lírica closed their year with the composer´s “Macbeth”. In both cases there was considerable pleasure to be had from the musical point of view but not from the stagings, quite inadequate and wrongly conceived.
            “Don Carlos” started life in Paris, 1867, on a Schiller-based libretto by Joseph Méry and Camille Du Locle. It is a complex, long opera in five acts following the precepts of the “grand´opéra” as imposed by Meyerbeer; with enormous talent Verdi manages to synthesize that emblematic style with his own deep, complex dramatic-musical ideas. The result is a fascinating blend of romance, political and ecclesiastical turmoil. All in eight variegated tableaux originally including a 15-minute ballet, “La Peregrina”.
             Verdi later made a four-Act version in Italian (1883-4) and this has been the standard  in the Twentieth Century; however, in 1886 Verdi added the First Act in an Italian translation, and this has been sporadically offered (also at the Colón). I only got to know the French version in the Abbado recording of 1985 and by then the Italian version was in my bones, but I came to like the  original a lot, and some dramaturgical points are clearer in the French libretto (although it still has some faults). Of course, the non-historical liberties are already in Schiller.
            Even before the first performance, Verdi had to cut about 25 minutes of the gigantic score to allow suburban patrons to catch the last train before night closure! Well, in La Plata´s version the ballet and a good deal of that extra music is cut, but fortunately not the expressive initial Chorus sung by a famined populace in a winter-time wood near Fontainebleau. We still heard close to four hours of music and it was a long evening adding two 15-minute intervals and a 17-minute delay before the opening bars.
            The Italian Francesco Esposito (debut) was the producer and costume designer; the Argentine Enrique Bordolini did the stage designs and the lighting plot. I was amazed by the lack of common sense and gross mistakes. Just a few essential ones (for space is a tyrant):  the producer converted the opera into a festival of voyeurism at the most inappropriate scenes; the stage designer gave us a heavy unit set of fake wood with several stories of lateral stalls  and we were supposed to accept that as a proper setting for a garden with a fountain or for an immense open space for the auto-da-fe, grotesquely done with a huge fan that blocked the view and where at the very end some poor devils were supposed to broil. Unbecoming costumes and makeup and a shaky sense of historical ambience plus very weak dramaturgy completed a sorry panorama, worsened by technical snafus.
            The hero was Alejo Pérez conducting a very convincing and strong performance with an orchestra that responded quite well, save for some doubtful intonation of the offstage band at one point. The Choir was good under Fabián Martínez. The best voice was soprano Carla Filipcic Holm, who did lovely things in soft high attacks and very musical phrasing. Spanish bass Rubén Amoretti (debut) sang with a light though well-focused voice and a sense of drama, but was strangely dressed and had to tolerate unbecoming long hair.  Bulgarian baritone Krum Galabov (debut) has little volume in the center and low range and for long stretches his voice was a distant murmur, but he had isolated good moments. Tenor Luca Lombardo dealt with good technique and firm high notes with his difficult part (Don Carlos), even if neither his timbre nor  presence are alluring. Presence on the other hand is the strong point of Siberian mezzo  Elena Sommer (debut), who had some doubtful phrasings and a couple of dicey high notes but was a real character as Eboli. José Antonio García (Grand Inquisitor; debut), a bass from the Canary Islands, though rather woolly, gave dramatic sense to his terrible priest. Mario de Salvo was acceptable as the Monk (Charles V) and the young fresh voice of Victoria Gaeta offered a beautiful moment as the Voice from Heaven. Fabiola Masino was rather strained as the page Thibault.
            There was no need for a “Macbeth” from BAL for they had presented it in 2004.  Two points in this revival: it eliminates the ballet of the witches (I agree) but it cogently adds the arioso of Macbeth´s death from the 1847 version. I was disappointed by producer Fabian Von Matt´s profusion of added alter egos and ghosts (especially the irritating King Duncan). And by his bad judgment at several key points: the reading of the letter, the death of Macbeth, Banquo´s death, etc. His colors are right: black and red. The witches are passable, though why only three in the first scene, and why many small cauldrons instead of a huge one as specified in their second scene? Bad makeup for Macbeth, uneven costumes vaguely Medieval by Daniela Taiana, mediocre lighting by Alejandro Le Roux.
            Firm, rather fast conducting by Javier Logioia Orbe and good choral work prepared by Juan Casasbellas.  Strong dramatic characterisation and skillful singing from veteran baritone Luis Gaeta, and stunning looks as well as reliable high-range singing from Mónica Ferracani, a bit weak in her lows and much too soft in the letter reading, but still an important achievement. Too much vibrato although stark projection from bass Christian Pellegrino, and open, emotional singing from Arnaldo Quiroga (Macduff). 

jueves, noviembre 03, 2011

Two Phaedras bridge the centuries

             Greek tragedy is an inexhaustible reservoir of great human stories; in fact it´s hard to think of any meaningful basic situation that hasn´t been imprinted in our lives by those fantastic tragedians Aeschylus, Euripides and Sophocles. In the case of Phaedra, wife of Theseus and stepmother to Hippolytus, the reference is Euripides´ "Hippolytus". The other great classical play is Racine´s "Phaedra", which completes the quartet of principals with Aricia, in love with Hippolytus. Modern visions of the conflict come from Gabriele D´Annunzio and Miguel de Unamuno.
            By rare coincidence, two operatic versions of the story have been premiered here within two weeks: Jean-Philippe Rameau´s "Hippolyte et Aricie" by the Compañía de las Luces at the Museo de Arte Decorativo, and Mario Perusso´s "Fedra" at the Colón.
            Jean-Philippe Rameau came late to opera; after a brilliant career and recognised as a major figure of his time, he wrote his "tragédie lyrique" at 50 in 1733. It was a great success and he was launched into an operatic career that he would crown at 80 in 1764 with "Les Boréades". Here most of his production is unknown, but at least we saw "Castor et Pollux" and a semistaged condensed "Les Indes galantes". We still owe him a full-scale complete staged version of one of his major operas at the Colón and with a specialist team able to give full due to the dance.
            I am sorry that Simon-Joseph Pellegrin´s libretto, based on Racine, changes and softens the end, depriving Rameau and us of a suitably tragic ending. Nevertheless, what magnificent music we hear during two hours, with the composer´s flights of orchestral imagination very apparent, as well as his highly dramatic continuous seesaw in his vocal writing between heightened recitative and arioso, almost never seeking vocal display but instead psychological truth.
            The Gods in Racine intervene less than in Euripides and what matters most is Phaedra´s irresistible passion, but the Furies, especially Tisiphone, are part of that drive. There are also parts for Pluto, Diana and Mercury. In Daniel Birman´s version (he is the founder and leader of the Compañía de las Luces) there are some cuts. It is a pity that he cut the first scene of the Fifth Act, a dialogue between Theseus and his father Neptune after Phaedra´s death. Other cuts: the final two scenes of Act One; in Act Three, a short scene, a duo, and some scenes in different order from the recording of reference conducted by Anthony Lewis.
            Birman and his Compañía de las Luces have done yeomen work for the French Baroque with several premieres by Lully, Rameau, Charpentier, Gluck and Salieri, several of them at that very special venue, the Museo de Arte Decorativo. It has a unique beauty and splendid acoustics, but of course it lacks a stage and productions must perforce be minimal. I don´t agree with producer Pablo Maritano´s ideas, few and unconvincing, especially the continuous carrying in and out of seats. And some absurd movements for the chorus were negative. The costumes by Emilia Tambutti were reasonably good, especially Phaedra´s. The few dances were played but not danced.
            Four singers were really good: Marisa Pavón as a dramatic Phaedra in singing and demeanor; Sergio Carlevaris as an anguished Theseus showed a splendid bass; Pluto was sung forthrightly by Norberto Marcos; and Nadia Szachniuk was a charming Shepherdess. Aricie was done rather pallidly by Ana Moraitis; Pablo Pollitzer had his slim vocal means in better shape than in recent years and sang his Hippolytus with style. I found Beatriz Moruja miscast as Diana and I disliked the wild exaggeration and timbre of Esteban Manzano as Tisiphone.  Apart from poor singing from Soledad Molina, the others were in the picture: Damián Ramírez, Cecilia Arroyo, Luciana Milione, Martín Benítez and Juan Feico. The Chorus was correctly prepared by Marcelo Dutto and participated with much good will. The 24-piece Orchestra was simply splendid under the knowledgeable conducting of Birman, they all played with fine style and professionalism.
            "Fedra" is Mario Perusso´s fifth opera and maybe his best. He is now septuagenarian but his composing powers seem at their zenith. The orchestration is resourceful and there are strong melodies of real persuasive power; alas, they are mostly in the orchestra and a lot of the singing is too arid, but the end result is communicative. His language oscillates between tonality and free atonality.
              His son Marcelo is the librettist, producer and stage designer. I find some faults in his work  in the first capacity, for the text is at times too rhetoric and even ungrammatical. But some scenes have a raw power that seem influenced more by D´Annunzio and Unamuno than by Racine . As producer he got excellent perfomances out of a picked cast. His massive blocks evoke Mycenean times and his costumes were quite adequate. The intelligent lighting by Rubén Conde always heightens dramatic impact. And the expressionist choreography by Guillarmina Tarsi blended easily with the action in the proper places.
            Of course, no one could conduct better this music than the author, and the Colón Orchestra responded admirably. There is no choir.  The lead roles were taken with uniform high vocal and dramatic quality by Alejandra Malvino (Phaedra), Marcelo Puente (Hippolytus), Daniela Tabernig (Aricia), Emilio Estévez (Theseus) and Haydée Dabusti (the Wet Nurse). Other roles were well taken by Florencia Machado, Alicia Alduncín and Gustavo Feulien.

lunes, octubre 24, 2011

A dance panorama: the Colón Ballet and visitors from abroad

This writer, stunned by the passage of time, had quite a shock at the recent gala at the Colón commemorating the “40 years of the tragic disappearance of the members of the Colón resident Ballet on October 10, 1971”. For such dancers as Norma Fontenla, José Neglia and the other seven who died had been an essential part of my experience in the Fifties and Sixties. As so often in our country, the responsibility for this disaster was diluted and the culprits never had their deserved chastisement. And a long period of reconstruction followed for our main ballet company. The current authorities mounted an international gala in homage to these artists. It had its good points as well as some mistakes.
            I won´t write about the Second Part, for it was merely Act III from the production of Tchaikovsky´s “The Sleeping Beauty” I reviewed some weeks ago. It allowed the public to see most of the best dancers we have and verify that things have picked up after the severe 2010 crisis the Ballet went through.
            One bad thing was that in a theatre with two orchestras the public had to put up with recorded music. At least the recordings were good and sounded reasonably well.
            I suppose that “Chopin Nº 1”, the ballet by Mauricio Wainrot on the Polish composer´s First Concerto, originally covers the whole score, but we only heard (no enlightenment from the hand programme) the slow Second Movement. It is an agreeable Neoclassic piece of choreography, and was brilliantly danced by two soloists of the Ballet Contemporáneo del Teatro General San Martín (Wainrot´s home company): Sol Rourich andn Leonardo Otárola.
            “Diane and Acteon” is a hoary old pas de deux of the best Russian tradition, in famous dance steps designed by Agripina Vaganova on Cesare Pugni´s music. It needs virtuoso dancing and it got exactly that from a pair of Argentine siblings who work in the USA and were making their belated debut at the Colón: Erica Cornejo (Principal Dancer Boston Ballet) and Herman Cornejo (Principal Dancer of the American Ballet Theatre). She has charm and refined moves; he shows a powerful physique and the sort of aggressive positiveness one expects from Acteon the hunter.
            “Adagietto”, from Mahler´s Fifth Symphony´s, is one of the best pas de deux of Oscar Araiz, an excellent example of intertwined, earthy movement. It was beautifully performed by members of the Ballet Nacional del SODRE (Uruguay): Lara Delfino and Sebastián Arias.
            Then came a piece identified with José Neglia: “El niño brujo” (“The Witch-boy”), by Jack Carter on Leonardo Salzedo´s music. Again the programme didn´t specify that we were only to see the pas de deux: I do feel that the whole ballet (lasting a half hour) should have been staged, for it is in the Colón´s repertoire. But there was a special point of interest: José´s son Sergio, Director of the Buffalo Ballet, danced the part identified with his father and thus made his Colón debut at 46. He did very well and his age was nowhere in evidence, although the special charisma of José is still sharp in my memory after more than four decades. Sergio was abetted by Silvina Vaccarelli in what used to be Fontenla´s role, and she was very good; both she and Ricardo Ale as the Sorcerer are members of the Colón Ballet.
            Again without acknowledgment in the programme, which merely said “Nutcracker”, we saw the big pas de deux with the splendid Tchaikovsky music in an orthodox choreography by Toer Van Schayk and Wayne Eagling (never seen here) with two dancers of great quality: Maia Makhateli (from Het Ballet of Amsterdam) and Marijn Rademaker (Stuttgart Ballet).
            For me the end of the First Part was an anticlimax: we had a male swan instead of a female one in what is one of the best short solos of the repertoire: the marvelous Fokin choreography to Saint-Saëns´ cello melody “The Swan” (from “The Carnival of the Animals”), called by the choreographer “The Death of the Swan”, is associated with many of the great female dancers, but here particularly with Maia Plissetskaya of the immaterial fluttering arms. The rough, angular paces imagined by Mauro di Candia are a poor substitute, and Vladimir Malakhov (absurdly clad), Director of the Berlin State Ballet, was ill-advised to make his local debut in this travesty.
            I have only one negative observation about the Sao Paulo Companhia de Dança led by Iracity Cardoso and Inês Bogéa: their programme at the Avenida for the FIBA (Festival Internacional de Buenos Aires) was too short. It is a chamber company of high level, with flexible, versatile dancers, and the chosen ballets were very interesting. “Gnawa”, “by Spanish choreographer Nacho Duato, is inspired by the world of the mystical Islamic fellowship, the Gnawas, who employ songs and movement ro reach a state of trance”. An exact description of strong, characterful dance.
            A curiosity followed: the version of Marie Chouinard of Vaslav Nijinsky´s choreography of Debussy´s “Prelude to the afternoon of a faun”, a sensual solo with simulated phallus and with strictly lateral, angular movements, danced by a woman! (I. Sarmiento).
            Finally, “Six dances” by Mozart as seen humoristically in a parodied bellic context by Jiri Kylian, brilliantly done by artists who have a sense of theatre married to their natural language of movement. 

domingo, octubre 16, 2011

Another round of concert life

Still trying to catch up…Another round of an intense and often interesting concert life. I´ll start with the Colón Resident (Estable) Orchestra. Ira Levin led a curious concert in which all three scores either included organ or were organ-derived. It featured the new Colón instrument, which of course isn´t the noble kind of tube organs but an electronic one, rather good of its kind but always artificial. I dislike them as a family, but that´s all we can have at the Colón. If the new auditorium of the ex central Post Office (Correo) as rumored includes a tube organ, it will be the first time in BA that we will be able to hear orchestral works that include organ in their proper setting.
            Levin as orchestrator presented his very professional view of Liszt´s organ original “Fantasy and fuge on the name of BACH”, a splendid 12-minute contrapuntal tour-de-force (premiere). Then, the world premiere of Mario Perusso´s “Drama sin palabras” for organ and orchestra. Prelude, Interlude and Postlude, 20 minutes, an ample orchestra and important participacion of organist Ezequiel Menéndez, an Argentine who is Musical Director of the Archdiocese of Hartford, Conn. In a freely atonal style, this is theatrical music without  a plot, well-written, with a tendency to exaggerated effects (what we call “tremendista”). It was apparently well-played.
            The splendid Saint-Saëns Symphony Nº3 is along with Franck´s Symphony the best of the French School. Unorthodox in form, incorporating an organ in some key passages, with imaginative orchestral features such as a four-hand piano, this is a winner. Ira Levin showed here his impressive command and obtained a very good result from the Colón Orchestra, who after five “Lohengrins” knows him well; Menéndez collaborated as a real pro.
            During September the National Symphony had some uneven offerings. The concert led by Mario Perusso wasn´t a success. The Concerto for tuba (world premiere) by Roberto Pintos is very light, crossover, but it allowed Patricio Cosentino (the Orchestra´s tuba soloist) to demostrate that this instrument has a right to center stage if the player knows how to obtain a smooth cantabile in the higher reaches; Cosentino certainly does, and it was a pleasure to appreciate his easy command.  However, Richard Strauss´ Suite from “Der Rosenkavalier” (in itself quite inferior to the marvelous opera) showed a disinterested and unstylish conductor and a tacky orchestra.
            Emilio Peroni, an Argentine working in Germany (Rostock) chose a tough nut to crack for his rentrée: Brahms´ enormous First Concerto. Although here Perusso was in much firmer ground, it proved too much for the pianist, who certainly has a good technique, but not the personality nor the huge sound for this massive work.
            As usual when the National Symphony is led by its principal conductor Pedro Calderón, matters picked up substantially in their execution of the vast Bruckner Symphony Nº 5, certainly his toughest. Specialists also think it one of his very best, and I tend to agree, but there´s no gainsaying that it needs a lot of concentration as well as affinity on the part of the listener. With Calderón´s proverbial sense of form much in evidence (he is a master builder) the orchestra was in a good night, apart from incidental fluffs, and I was happy that we finally heard the Fifth after two cancellations (last year and this season). A complaint: I wrote the programme notes and by mistake they didn´t print it.
            An all-Beethoven programme (again without programme notes) was conducted by Carlos Vieu with great acumen. It featured the Mass op.86, 50 minutes against the almost 80 of the Solemnis, and certainly less important, but nevertheless a valuable work. As it is rarely performed, it was my reason to go to this concert. Very good work from the orchestra and the Coro Nacional de Jóvenes (Néstor Zadoff). The soloists were paradoxically best from the lowest-voiced: very good Norberto Marcos (bass baritone), good Maico Chia-I Hsiao (tenor), passable Laura Domínguez (mezzo) and shrill Fabiola Masino (soprano).
            Very recently heard from the B.A. Phil, I´d have preferred another symphony than the Fourth, but it was quite well-played and conducted. There was also a good “Egmont” Overture, always trotted out to fill up an orchestral night (it happens again this week at the Phil).
            As I intimated, the Solemnis is a masterpiece; in fact, the greatest Mass we have along with Bach´s. Terribly challenging especially for the sopranos,  rarely done, it was another demonstration that nothing scares conductor Alejo Pérez. With the forces of the Teatro Argentino (choir and orchestra) trying to give their very best, Pérez led with clarity and fortitude, although without that special aura that we get from the great performances. One soloist seemed to me world-class: soprano Daniela Tabernig, the register sweet and true up to high C. Correct work from the others: mezzo Gabriela Cipriani Zec, tenor Arnaldo Quiroga and bass Hernán Iturralde.
            It´s been years since I last heard the Sinfónica Juvenil Libertador San Martín, founded and led for 17 years by Mario Benzecry. I found them in good form at the Midday Concerts of the Mozarteum at the Gran Rex, with agreeable performances of Mussorgsky´s “A Night in the Bald Mountain” as orchestrated by Rimsky-Korsakov and of the First Suite from Grieg´s “Peer Gynt”. The teenager from Tucumán Maximiliano Zelaya Cardoso showed promising possibilities in Bruch´s Concerto Nº 1, though still rather green. 

A feast of orchestral and chamber music

The musical season is offering numerous oportunities for good and varied music. This is  a survey of the Colón orchestras plus a small chamber addendum.

The Buenos Aires Philharmonic (the Phil)  in the Concert Nº 13 of its series was under Pavel Kogan (son of the great violinist Leonid Kogan), who made his debut in a  programme featuring the admirable Lithuanian pianist Muza Rubackyte in her third visit. In the pompous five-minute "Solemn Coronation March" by Tchaikovsky he unleashed tremendous power and precision. Then  he accompanied very well the soloist, who gave a magisterial, memorable lesson in two Liszt works: a rarity (the pleasant 11-minute "Fantasy on Beethoven´s ´The Ruins of Athens´") and a standard (Concerto Nº 1). In both she showed not only stunning virtuosity but  extremely musical phrasing and self-assurance. Her encore was splendid: of the same composer, "Liebestraum Nº 3".
In the Second Part came the "pièce de résistance" for the conductor: Mussorgsky´s "Pictures from an Exhibition" in the hallowed Ravel orchestration. Although I differ with some details and the playing wasn´t quite impeccable, the version was strong and colorful, showing the mettle of the currently Principal Conductor of the Moscow State Symphony. By the way, I disagree with the policy of bringing over conductors for just one concert, they touch and go just when they´ve had their first contact with the orchestra and the public. 
   Maximiano Valdés, Chilean, has had a long career though he looks young; for long conductor of the Buffalo Symphony, he is now at the helm of the Asturias Principate Symphony.  In Valdés I saw a good baton technique but an excessive soberness, and it showed in such a difficult and long score as Liszt´s important "Faust Symphony", an intricate characterological essay in its three parts (Faust, Margaret, Mephistopheles). Joins were weak and climaxes petered out. And the decision to play only the orchestral movements without the last part for tenor and chorus was surely wrong. I don´t know if this was imposed on the conductor by the lack of a choir. Valdés also did one debut concert and went away.
The session had started with the intense Shostakovich Cello Concerto Nº 1 with the debut of Tatiana Vassilieva, Siberian, born in 1977 and beautiful. The girl can certainly play and gradually warmed up to round off a very professional rendering. A certain lack of tone apparently was due to the acoustics of the fourth row of the stalls completely to the right, for people posted centrally and around row 15 heard her very well. Valdés accompanied well, although there´s more punch in the work than delivered.
One of our best conductors is Carlos Vieu. He led a rather strange programme which contained two concerted pieces for piano plus two symphonies; certainly too long. It started with the charming "Eight Russian folk songs" by Liadov, very well done. Then, a "Concierto breve" by the Argentine Máximo Flügelman, who lives in New York, with the debut of a talented pianist from a country that generally doesn´t provide them: Morocco. He is Marouan Benabdallah and he played with fine technique the 13-minute, three-movement continuous Concerto by Flügelman, in a tonal idiom, hardly individual but well-written. And then, the splendid "Burlesque" by Richard Strauss, the first score in which he displayed his inimitable style; although there were minor smudges, Benabdallah mostly played finely and with the right instincts. His encore: three miniatures by Bartók,very motoric.
The two symphonies were standard: the Nº 38, "Prague", by Mozart, where a bit more transparence wouldn´t have come amiss; and the Nº 8, "Unfinished", by Schubert, sensitively done.
In what seems to me a good idea, some of the conductors of the opera season have also done concerts with the Resident Colón Orchestra ("Estable"). Stefano Ranzani opted for a traditional German-Austrian programme: Mozart´s Overture to "The Marriage of Figaro" and Symphony Nº 40; and Brahms´  Nº 4. Masterpieces,  of which Ranzani has orthodox and musical views. Abetted by an Estable on its toes, the concert was enjoyable if uneventful.  
  Violinist Shlomo Mintz is a respected artist in our midst; he has visited us often. In his recital this year for Nuova Harmonia at the Coliseo he brought along a very talented young Swiss pianist, Béatrice Berrut. As it happened, she was a revelation:  professional and firm, her impressive mechanism is complemented by a particular sense of phrasing and trained taste. And in true chamber fashion, she interacted with her partner at all times. They tackled that towering Sonata, Beethoven´s Nº 9, "Kreutzer", with a cohesive, integrated  concept that gave us the true spirit of the music as well as the letter. Alas, timbre is an essential quality in a violinist, and in each successive visit Mintz seems to be losing a bit more of what used to be a very beautiful sound; yes, the articulation, the intonation are still there, but the timbre is now sometimes harsh. A pity, for he is a major artist. They also played the expressive Romance by Dvorák (though I prefer it with orchestral robing) and two Saint-Saëns pieces: the agreeable and rarely played Sonata Nº2, and that old warhouse, "Introduction and Rondó capriccioso". Both in this last piece and in the encore, a fabulously difficult potpourri on Rimsky-Korsakov´s "The Golden Cockerel", Mintz was at his best, thus crowning the celebration of his half-century career.