From time to time I have touched upon an essential problem of symphonic concert life: the renovation of the repertoire. I even wrote an article specifically about this during the summer of 2010. The programming of these recent days has been quite positive in this sense.
The Munich Chamber Orchestra has visited us before but rather long ago (I first met her in the times when it was led by Christoph Stepp in 1955, and then by Hans Stadlmair in 1960 and 1965; he kept the post until 1990); this time around, it wasn´t conducted from the podium but led by concertino Daniel Giglberger for this tour; its Principal and Artistic Director is Alexander Liebreich. Mind you, Giglberger has a strong, electric personality, and he communicated that feeling to the whole orchestra. In BA the orchestra was a straight string ensemble plus a harpsichordist, 20-strong; but it has 25 permanent members, so it surely includes oboes and horns at least. Though I prefer that fuller ensemble (it has more variety), their programme was cunningly chosen and very interesting.
It featured pieces by great composers without avantgarde experiments, but managed to give us two premieres: the cantata "Orfeo" ("Nel chiuso centro") by Pergolesi, one of the few authenticated pieces by this short-lived creator famous for two diametrically opposed works: the intermezzo buffo "La serva padrona" and the sad "Stabat Mater". And the string ensemble version of Schönberg´s unusual Second Quartet, which features a soprano voice. In both sang Christiane Oelze in her local debut. But the other pieces included aren´t hackneyed: the arrangement by Rudolf Barshai (as Chamber Symphony in C minor op.110ª) of Shostakovich´s powerful autobiographical Quartet Nº 8, and one of the so-called "Hamburg symphonies" (Nº 1 in G, Wq. 182/1, H 657) by the most talented son of Johann Sebastian Bach: Carl Philipp Emanuel. The concert was offered by the Mozarteum Argentino as part of its two subscription series at the Colón.
I have to state that Oelze, a very well-considered singer in Europe, disappointed me in Pergolesi: the angular, uncomfortable Baroque lines of the very personal writing seem to have nonplussed her, for there were many unclean moments in her singing. But she came into her own in the two movements of the Schönberg quartet that are written on symbolist poet Stefan George´s texts: "Litany" and "Rapture"; in the second, considered the first step to atonalism in the composer´s production, she sings: "I feel the atmosphere of other planets", and indeed it is so aesthetically in this astonishing 1908 score, innovative both in its harmony and in its inclusion of a soprano voice. And here Oelze was very musical and intelligent, giving its full due to the meaning of words and to the intricacies of the vocality.
The orchestra was so homogeneous in its playing that I can only praise them in general lines, admiring their capacity to give us equally superb renderings of a Baroque (Pergolesi), a Classicist of very advanced ideas (C.P.E.Bach) and two very different Twentieth-century composers (Schönberg and Shostakovich). If my personal taste runs to the original quartet versions, I also enjoy these amplifications of texture. And the Munich Chamber Orchestra responded with quicksilver rapidity to the inflexions marked by its concertino, never missing a step.
The encore gave us in Oelze a poised soprano singing a famous Baroque slow piece: "Ombra mai fu" from Handel´s "Serse". It may be useful to remind veterans that this aria, so often bowdlerized as sacred, is in fact a serene ode to to a plantain with a sarcastic twist.
Due to a trip I couldn´t hear two concerts by the Buenos Aires Philharmonic, and I was sorry to miss Reinhold Glière´s imaginative and colorful Symphony Nº 3, "Ilya Murometz". On June 9 young Brazilian Carlos Prazeres took over with the same programme the concert assigned originally to Carlos Dourthe. The comparative rarity was Ginastera´s Concerto for harp (1964-5), a rather strange opposition between beautiful lyric passages quite apposite for the soloist and savage explosions in malambo style. Lucrecia Jancsa was the exquisite player, always musical and sensitive.
Prazeres proved to be a powerhouse of intensity and precision. This worked very well in Ginastera and in the wonderful "Dances from Galantha" by Zoltan Kodály, but admitting that it was very exciting, I do feel that Mendelssohn´s Symphony Nº 3, "Scottish", needs to be more expansive at times. The Phil was in fine fettle.
The following concert had been originally programmed to be the first of a subscription series, but this was cancelled due to the conflict between the orchestras and the Government. Now an uneasy truce prevails, and the Phil is playing, so that programme was offered on June 16. It featured the premiere of Michael Torke´s "Rapture", for percussion and orchestra. The composer (American, born 1961) is supposed to be a "post-minimalist", but I would take out the "post". The three parts, called "Drums and woods", "Mallets" (marimba) and "Metals", were brilliantly played by Ángel Frette, and the monotonous, relentless orchestral music, vaguely Caribbean, was "danced" by Arturo Diemecke on the podium.
But the substance was elsewhere, in the toughest Mahler Symphony, Nº 6, "Tragic". Diemecke again showed his amazing memory and command, though some liberties in rhythm seemed excessive (especially the "ritenutos"). The orchestra responded with concentration and accomplishment. No small feat in this gigantic score.