In recent weeks we´ve had some interesting visitors: singers and players have given us their artistry and our medium has been enriched by their presence. Austrian mezzosoprano Angelika Kirchschlager is having an important European career; she recently made her BA debut at the Colón in the misnamed “Abono del Bicentenario”, where she was accompanied by an accomplished group, the Camerata Bern. The innovative program gave us a contemporary premiere by a Swiss composer, a group of Händel arias divided by a Vivaldi concerto, and a dense Schubert Second Part.
Martin Wettstein, born 1970, offers in “Verdis Traum” (“Verdi´s dream”) an oniric traversal of themes from the Italian composer´s “Macbeth”, cleverly done with writing that suggests nightmarish views. The Camerata Bern visited us long ago with the great oboist Heinz Holliger; it is a string ensemble, now led by a lady concertino, Antje Weithaas, that combines technical proficiency with communicative energy.
The Händel arias came from “Giulio Cesare” (the fast “Svegliatevi nel core” and the slow “Cara speme”), “Berenice” (the virtuoso “Sì, trai i ceppi”) and the oratorio “Theodora” (the contemplative “Lord to Thee each night and day”). Kirchschlager showed a good timbre and a sense of line, as well as awareness of different psychologies; she is an extrovert singer with well-honed professionalism. Between the operatic fragments we heard a short Concerto grosso in C major by Vivaldi, with the unacceptable absence of catalog number.
The Camerata Bern was very concentrated and intense in Schubert´s Quartet Nº 14, “Death and the Maiden”, in the Mahler version (mostly the adding of basses). Schubert Lieder are normally heard with piano; if the idea of orchestrating them isn´t absurd, it must be done with much more imagination than demonstrated by Gregor Huber in the seven sung by Kirchschlager. She was pleasant in “Ganymed”, showed a nice legato in “Geheimes” and “Du bist die Ruh” and was charming in “Heidenröslein”. However, the tremendous “Der Erlkönig” is surely a man´s song. She ended with “Ellens Gesang”, which is none other than the famous “Ave Maria”; this piece, wrongly believed to be sacred, is one of the three songs from Walter Scott´s “The Lady of the
Lake”. The artist sang it appealingly. Her encore was nice, the expressive Romance from “Rosamunde”.
The Britten Sinfonia paid us a first visit in 2008 with the eccentric pianist-conductor Joanna MacGregor; now they are back, again for the Mozarteum and this time at the Colón. They were led by the Finnish violinist Pekka Kuusisto (debut). The First Part was given over to British composers and had a very high spot: the magnificent performance of Britten´s “Les Illuminations” by an English tenor of admirable subtlety, taste and musicianship: Allan Clayton. He was pretty well accompanied in this score which shows the composer at his best in the setting of Rimbaud´s fascinating poetry. I didn´t relish the two Purcell Fantasies, for to my mind they need the sound of a viol consort. A somber vocal piece by Purcell, “Let the night perish”, is an adaptation by Jeremy Taylor of the Book of Job; Clayton showed his command of the style. Michael Tippett was represented by “A lament” from a Divertimento on an old tune, “Sellinger´s Round”, written with other composers; it sounds like Purcell with wrong notes.
I dislike American minimalism, maybe you disagree: the playing in the Second Part was very good, but I was bored by the repetitions of Steve Reich´s “Duet” (which at least was blessedly brief) and by a rather famous score by John Adams, “Shaker Loops”. The encores were a fragment from Sibelius´ “Rakastava” and what might be called a variety number: Kuusisto alone whistled (very well) and played on the violin as a mandolin what he called (in good Spanish) a Finnish tango. Hardly the usual Colón fare, but fun.
The Buenos Aires Philharmonic gave a splendid concert where he met for the first time the Polish conductor Antoni Wit and we welcomed back after a long absence one of the best French pianists: Pascal Rogé. Wit has recorded about a hundred CDs and proved to be a vehement and concentrated artist well worth knowing. Liszt´s “Mazeppa” was the rousing start of the First Part; a fine and powerful tone poem rarely heard. Then, the Fifth and last of Saint´Saëns´Piano Concertos, the so-called “Egyptian”. This is charming though rather diffuse music, with some modernist touches as well as Orientalisms. It was a useful choice by Rogé, who bowled over the audience with his crystalline playing in the best French tradition.
I believe Karol Szymanowski´s impressive Second Symphony was a local premiere. Its 35 minutes are a testimony to the Polish composer´s German training, important and complex music that ends with a monumental Fugue. In the skilled hands of Wit the music communicated strongly and was quite well received by the audience.
Finally, a reference to Schubert´s tough but transcendent cycle “Die Winterreise” as interpreted by two Argentine artists of high rank: baritone Víctor Torres and pianist Fernando Pérez. It was at the Avenida for Festivales Musicales. Although I prefer a bass-baritone rather than a lyric baritone such as Torres for this dark music, the singer fully understands the meanings of the text and gives us fine diction and dramatic acumen. He wasn´t in his best voice and seemed nervous, however. Pérez played with marvelous adaptation to every mood and was technically perfect.