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The Mozarteum Argentino closed its year with a substitute concert: the Liège Philharmonic rescinded due to a cut on Belgian subsidy.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".