jueves, julio 21, 2011
martes, julio 12, 2011
jueves, julio 07, 2011
Within ten days our city heard two admirable orchestras from two different cultures, offering superb performances of European music. As a symbol of the universality of music, the Orquesta Sinfónica Simón Bolívar de Venezuela, under Gustavo Dudamel, offered a fantastic performance of Mahler´s Seventh Symphony. And the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra, a Dutch orchestra under an American conductor, Leonard Slatkin, gave us a splendid Russian symphony, Rachmaninov´s Second. The former, at the Colón, for the Mozarteum Argentino; the latter, at the Coliseo, for Nuova Harmonia.
The Simón Bolívar is the triumph of José Antonio Abreu, the originator about 40 years ago of the wonderful net of children´s and youth orchestras of all Venezuela, certainly the most important and successful social/musical experiment in the world. In fact, no longer an experiment but a blazing success that is here to stay. And this orchestra is the top of the pyramid, the sublimated ultra-selection of all the best teenagers and young adults that come from lower rungs of the same organisation. We met it at the Colón about eight years ago, with the very young Gustavo Dudamel showing a fresh young talent, and I was mightily impressed. Now Dudamel is the most feted young lion of conducting in the world, with a post at the Los Angeles Philharmonic, and the Simón Bolívar remains a prodigy. Both Simon Rattle and Claudio Abbado have pronounced Venezuela as the place where symphonic renovation is occurring, and they are right. For the combination is unbeatable: tremendous Latin adrenaline in perfect blend with German ultra-discipline.
They offered two different programmes and I had to chose the first, for the second collided with an offering by Festivales Musicales, Café Zimmermann, which I didn´t want to miss. So, I resigned myself to lose the experience of Ravel´s "Daphnis et Chloë" (Suite Nº 2) and of Stravinsky´s Suite from "The Firebird", plus pieces by the Mexican Carlos Chávez and by a Venezuelan composer. I was told that it was a brilliant occasion, though at the end they did a similar show as eight years ago, playing and dancing a Bernstein Mambo (from "West Side Story") among other things, the same show they do all over the world and by now seems more a pose and an artifice than a sincere manifestation of exuberant "Venezuelanismo". The day before, though, everything was austere, boys and girls in black, and at the end no encores.
The Mahler Seventh is certainly one of his most complex and uneven. It starts with an almost chaotic first movement that alternates wildly betwen a funeral march and wild outbursts. There follow three fascinating movements: two "Night Musics" of unending imagination and an eerie, scurrilous Scherzo; the feats of orchestration are a continuous source of wonder. But…the last movement is a grotesque Rondo where the main theme is repeated seven times, and it sounds like a Bierfest turned into a nightmare, a Bavarian hangover in a huge scale.
Dudamel showed his undoubted maturity in this risky score: a marvelous memory (he conducted without a score); precise, energetic movements that conveyed visually the music without exaggeration; a strong sense of pulse and continuity; the ability to make sense out of the weaker passages; a total command and concentration. But he had an almost miraculous orchestra, where one didn´t know what to admire the most: e.g., the perfect intonation and articulation of the massed violins, or the excellent solos in such instruments as the tenor horn. One could cavil at the extreme brightness of the trumpets but not at their exactitude. B.A. has heard one great performance of this symphony years ago: Chicago/Barenboim; now it can add another. Just one observation: the orchestra is unjustifiably enormous; no other organism in the world lists so many players; they don´t all play in the same concert, of course.
I first met the Rotterdam Philharmonic in some pioneering vinyl records of the fifties with Mahler symphonies conducted by Eduard Flipse, their principal conductor at the time; they were quite good. Later the orchestra had such chiefs as Jean Fournet (so well-known here), Edo De Waart, Valery Gergiev, and now the much promoted young Canadian, Yannick Nézet-Séguin. But on this first tour, they came with a distinguished guest conductor who made his BA debut after a long and great career: Leonard Slatkin. I heard him (and wrote about it) in October 2009 with the Vienna Symphony. He chose a programme of Viennese classics in the First Part (Mozart´s Overture to "Le Nozze di Figaro" and Schubert´s Symphony Nº 8, "Unfinished"), and the highly complex Rachmaninov Second to finish. The encore: Brahms´ Hungarian Dance Nº 1.
domingo, julio 03, 2011
The Music of Valdo Sciammarella. Songs and chamber music from Argentina. Diane McNaron, soprano; Heather Coltman, piano. Karen Bentley Pollick, violin; Melanie Richardson Rogers, viola; Craig Hultgren, cello; Adam Bowles, piano. Hoot/Wisdom Recordings, Florida Atlantic University. 2008.
This CD was sent to me by soprano Diana McNaron and it is a precious document of a very good cross-section of Valdo Sciammarella´s chamber production. It is also an act of homage from USA musicians to a valuable Argentine composer.
There are a few good records of Argentine vocal music that have had international distribution, such as those of tenor Raúl Giménez and baritone Víctor Torres. And local Argentine labels such as IRCO and Tradition, as well as Miami-based but Argentine-run Testigo, have given us an interesting discographical repertoire. But in this case it is the welcome and meritorious production of a Florida university and American interpreters that have obviously done a labor of love on behalf of a South American creator.
Valdo Sciammarella was born in 1924, so he is now in his late eighties. Both as teacher, pianist, choir conductor and composer, he has done an immense job over the decades, especially at the Teatro Colón of Buenos Aires.
The pieces selected in the CD come from the Fifties ("Dos canciones" –"Two songs"- 1952 revised 1975; "Piezas breves para piano" -"Small piano pieces"- 1956; and "Cantigas de amigo" –"Songs of my friend"- 1951), the Seventies ("Credo Quartet" for piano and strings, 1972 rev. 1979) and the Eighties ("Cuatro canciones" – "Four songs"- 1988 rev. 1997), so they provide an ample panorama of his sensibility and artisanship. A very well-filled CD, it lasts 75 minutes.
Although "Sciammarella" is an Italian family name, he has always shown much interest in Argentina´s Spanish roots. This is clearly visible in the deliberate archaism of the "Romancillo del niño perdido" ("Ballad of a lost child"). But the second of the "Dos canciones" is based on a poem by the great Chilean Pablo Neruda, beautiful but harsh; in it is the phrase that gives title to this CD, "rosas de pulpa con rosas de cal" ("soft, fleshy roses mixed with roses of limestone dust", according to Kelly Jensen´s translation in the booklet that accompanies the CD).
The "Cantigas de amigo" are quite well-known in Argentina, certainly one of the scores that established the composer´s reputation. With charming texts by Francisco Javier, poet but also a distinguished man of the theatre, it evokes the Medieval "Cantigas" (remember the great compilation "Cantigas de Alfonso el Sabio"). This is again music of subtle charm and Spanish perfume, the only score previously recorded.
The much later "Cuatro canciones" reveals a deeper, metaphysical strain in the composer´s art. An Argentine poet, Francisco Luis Bernárdez, "offers a metaphysical speculation on the permanency of Art", according to Jensen and McNaron, and I quite agree. And then, three of the famous "Rhymes" by Gustavo Adolfo Bécquer, a true Spanish Romantic."Si al mecer las azules campanillas de tu balcón" ("If when the blue bellflowers on your balcony sway") is traversed by the musical evocation of the wind. Then, his most often quoted rhyme, "Volverán las oscuras golondrinas" ("Once again, the dark swallows will appear"), where the swallows and then the honeysuckle are metaphors of good times past, as the poet laments the end of a love affair. Finally, "Hoy como ayer" ("Today like yesterday"), a disenchanted, bitter poem, set by the composer with tango inflexions, another deep influence on a man that has lived most of his long life in Buenos Aires.
The ten "Piezas breves" are graceful vignettes in the good tradition of the better salon music. Finally, the "Credo quartet" comes curiously enough from a ballet, written in 1972/9 but only premiered in 1990. There´s a tango flavor in the middle movement, "Allegro spiritoso"; the slow movements that begin and end the quartet are meditative, beautiful chamber music.
Sciammarella was never a revolutionary, even in his most dramatic works. In Argentina he is particularly appreciated for his enchanting opera "Marianita limeña", a comedy in colonial Lima on Palma´s "Tradiciones peruanas", with music of vernal freshness and tinged with a natural comprehension of nostalgic times.
The whole record is the work of conscientious, valuable artists. Ms McNaron comes across as a vivid soprano of splendid intonation and beautiful timbre, surely interesting to watch on stage for she has a strong dramatic sense. Only her diction could be improved, though it is clear. She is quite well accompanied by Heather Coltman. There´s also good ensemble work in the quartet.
The CD is nicely recorded, with just enough immediacy, and the booklet is well presented, with good notes on scores and poets and bilingual versions of the poems.