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.

lunes, octubre 10, 2011

Private organisations offer fine concerts

            The Mozarteum, always at the Colón, offered the  visit (their third) of the Vienna Piano Trio. I still feel as I did in the previous instance, that pianist Stefan Mendl dominates the proceedings. Both he and violinist Wolfgang Redik were founding members back in 1988, so they obviously agree with each other, but I feel that it is a negative factor. Redik is self-effacing to a fault, with a thin though true sound that can´t compete with Mendl´s firm pulsation. Cellist Matthias Gredler, incorporated in 2001, is halfway between Redik´s tenuousness and Mendl´s affirmation. So we have a dynamically unbalanced trio, which is a pity for otherwise they are fully professional: impeccable intonation and articulation from the strings, exact ensemble and fine style. So, even with that fault, I derived considerable pleasure from their traversal of a well-contrasted and unhackneyed programme.
          They started with early Beethoven, the Trio op.1 Nº2, played with crystalline clarity. Then, curiously enough (for it had been premiered a week earlier by another group), Mauricio Kagel´s Trio Nº 2 (2001), a rather accessible mosaic of partially tonal contrasting fragments lasting 21 minutes in only one movement. Finally, the very attractive Dvorák Trio Nº 3, op. 65, vast, 38-minute score of Brahmsian influence but still unmistakeable, full of melody and sweeping inspirations. As an encore, the lovely slow movement from Schubert´s First Trio.
            It was really interesting to meet an all-French ensemble in Gallic music, even if I have one reservation about the programme: it was too short and to my mind wrongly combined. But the interpretations of the Accentus Choir (debut) and the Ensemble Orchestral de Paris under a talented lady, Laurence Équilbey (debut) couldn´t be faulted. In fact, she founded the Choir in 1991 (34 singers in their visit to BA); choir conductors that have originated their group tend to have long tenures, thus developing a personal style identified with their singers, even if these change over the years. As to the instrumental orchestra, it is a full-blown chamber concern of no less than fifty players (in this tour).
            The idea of a First Part dedicated to Berlioz and a second to Fauré´s Requiem was certainly good, but the total duration was of only 61 minutes. Even adding two encores, it amounted to 70 minutes. There were three solo singers. Soprano Mireille Delunsch (debut) is quite well-known in France, and I have seen her doing very accomplished jobs as Mélisande in Opéra Bastille and as Charpentier´s Louise in a DVD. However, she had a cold and couldn´t give her full measure in "La mort de Cléopâtre", an intense youthful work by that great Romantic, Hector Berlioz; anyway, her professionalism was always evident. Then, the Choir sang admirably a brief piece by the same composer, the "Méditation religieuse" on a text by the Irish poet Thomas Moore translated to French, this brooding music is the first part of "Tristia", completed by two scores based on "Hamlet".
            The serene Fauré Requiem was beautifully done by all concerned, including the two soloists: a very good baritone, Matthew Brook (debut), and a surprise, Tobías Campos (child soprano of the Colón), who displayed a beautiful voice and sang with taste and accuracy.  The encores: the young Fauré´s charming "Cantique de Jean Racine", and the welcome adrenaline in an evening with little fast music of Bizet´s "Farandole" from "L´Arlésienne"  in what may be the premiere of this particular version which includes a few choral measures. It gave the orchestra a chance to shine. Throughout Équilbey showed a remarkable grasp of style and clear command.
            The perspective of yet another interpretation of Vivaldi´s "The Four Seasons" wasn´t enticing in principle. But Interpreti Veneziani (debut) stunned me with their immense energy  when they played at the Auditorio de Belgrano for Festivales Musicales. They are only nine: five violins (all first-rate soloists), an extremely vehement cellist (Davide Amadio), plus viol, bass and harpsichord. On their showing in the whole programme, they must be one of the best Italian ensembles. They play with fine intonation at extreme speeds and  phrase with great expression in the slow bits. They are also audacious:  they invent rich ornamentation on the slow melodic lines; and  apply "rubati" (flexible rhythms) with astonishing profusion and a sense of imagery according to each movement´s story line.  The Venetians play with modern instruments and bows but manage to sound Baroque through their free imagination and unbridled dynamism. Four violinists for four seasons: in order, we heard the exciting playing of Federico Braga, Sebastiano Maria Vianello, Paolo Ciociola and Guglielmo De Stasio. They were arguably too fast at times, but frankly I´ve never been so impacted by "The Four Seasons".
            Marin Marais wrote a fine set of variations on the famous tune of "Folies d´Espagne"; originally for viola da gamba, they were played by cellist Amadio as if possessed. Then, a finely balanced and beautifully played version of Händel´s Concerto grosso op.6 Nº 10, with soloists Ciociola,  Di Stasio and Amadio. Finally, "La Campanella" by Paganini, the third movement of his Second Vioilin Concerto arranged for violin, strings and triangle (the little bell), in  brilliant and humoristic pyrotechnical playing by Nicola Granillo. Encores: the Händel Halvorsen "Passacaglia" in an arrangement for violin, cello and strings (the original is for violin and viola); and the third movement of a Vivaldi Concerto for two violins and strings.
For Buenos Aires Herald

lunes, octubre 03, 2011

A trio of contrasting operas

Opera is a difficult genre and few of those which get to be premiered show staying power. Argentine operas of which such a thing can be claimed don´t number over a dozen. As the recent reprise of Gerardo Gandini´s “La ciudad ausente” at the Teatro Argentino of La Plata  proved, this work is among that happy dozen.   Based on a novel by one of our most interesting writers, Ricardo Piglia, who also concocted the libretto, Sergio Renán programmed it at the Colón in October 1995 and again in 1997, with great success.
             This creation is highly complex and develops in several levels. As put by Luciano Marra de la Fuente in his useful programme notes: “Macedonio (Fernández) gets into a Faustian pact with an inventor to give eternal life to his wife Elena, not realizing that he will die and she, forgotten and becoming a Machine, will sing/tell stories/microoperas during all the centuries to come”. The three microoperas of the First Act have reference to the “birdwoman” (on Classicist molds based on Mozart), to Romanticism, and the third, “Lucía Joyce” (daughter of James Joyce), has an Expressionist air based on Schönberg´s “Pierrot Lunaire”. As you can see, Postmodernism to the full. In the Second Act, a journalist investigating this strange case will try to disconnect the Machine, to no avail. She is left alone forever…
            Lyricism doesn´t come easily to modern composers, and Gandini achieves it only intermittently; some bits are arid. But most of the music is quite beautiful, with fascinating orchestration and great subtlety, following Piglia´s difficult but always intriguing text.  
            This mosaic of eighteen scenes in ninety minutes is quite a challenge for the producer. Pablo Maritano´s approach differs markedly from David Amitín´s (who had done the premiere) but it was almost equally convincing, which shows the dramatic richness implied in this work. Maritano´s collaborators were of a piece with his ideas: the resourceful stage designs of María José Besozzi, the costumes by Sofía Di Nunzio and the imaginative lighting by Horacio Pantano, plus the video and multimedia design by Federico Bongiorno, all added up to telling the story intelligently. I differed in some details but I was impressed by the resourcefulness and the feeling of a unified team.   
            Erik Oña, an Argentine living in Switzerland, was the first-rate conductor, obtaining a very precise reading from the orchestra and perfect communication with the singers. The cast was outstanding, with specially high praise for Marisú Pavón (Elena), Sebastián Sorarrain (Macedonio), Hernán Iturralde (Russo) and Eugenia Fuente (Lucía Joyce); good work from Luciano Garay (Junior, the journalist), Eleonora Sancho (Birdwoman), Leonardo Estévez (Old man), Santiago Bürgi (Student), Alejandra Malvino (Ana), Patricio Oliveira (Fuyita) and Darío Leoncini (Helper/Male nurse). Rather too characteristic the Dr. Jung of Sergio Spina and the Female Nurse of Matilde Isnardi, and fine ensemble from six sopranos that sang as voices that Lucia Joyce hears, sirens and female nurses.
            Buenos Aires Lírica presented a double bill made up of “Suor Angelica” (Puccini) and “I Pagliacci” (Leoncavallo). Good tradition holds that the natural companion of “Pag” is “Cav” (Mascagni´s “Cavalleria Rusticana”), as the two archetypes of “verismo”. As I wrote recently when the complete “Trittico” was given at the Colón, I´m not a fan of “Suor Angelica”, to my mind the weakest  link of the trio. It was offered by BAL because years ago they gave a double bill with “Il Tabarro” and “Gianni Schicchi”, the other parts of the “Trittico”, and they wanted to complete it. But it was a pat companion to the powerful “Pag”, whose authenticity in the main drama and skillful “commedia dell´arte” play-within-a-play in the final stretches remain a masterpiece of “truthfulness” in opera.
            Suor Angelica was well sung by Florencia Fabris, a healthy voice plus adequate dramatic instincts. Elisabeth Canis, who started her career thirty years ago, isn´t a contralto, and even in the mezzo range her high notes have a lot of vibrato, but she gave presence to the hard Aunt Princess (the best scene of the opera is her duet  with Angelica). All the other parts are minor; I found several singers particularly satisfactory: Alicia Alduncín, Vanina Guilledo, Rocío Arbizu, Florencia Machado and  Patricia Deleo. The accurate conducting by Carlos Vieu was complemented by a sober production signed Marcelo Perusso that respected the indications of the libretto and included the scene with the Sister Nurse cut at the Colón (he did as well the stage and costume designs).
            I may be in the minority but I wasn´t happy with Luis Lima´s Canio in “I Pagliacci”. The 63-year-old still has a big voice and in some bits a fine timbre, but his very exaggerated dramatic impersonation, although intense, leads him to sing with no line, no continuity. Fabris also sang Nedda, freshly and nicely, but with little punch. Omar Carrión lacks heft for a verismo essential role such as Tonio (doubling as the Prologue). Fermín Prieto was mediocre as Beppe (he should learn from Schipa), but Ernesto Bauer was a forthright and pleasant Silvio.  The orchestra was well led by Vieu. It must be noted that both scores were adapted to the small pit: Juan Casasbellas in “I Pagliacci” and Héctor Panizza in “Suor Angelica”, good jobs both.  
            Perusso  did some unnecessary transgressions to the original ambience of the libretto and some situations weren´t well handled, but other points were in the picture.