The Stuttgart Chamber Orchestra was vastly famous in its early years under its founder, Karl Münchinger; they visited us in 1953. Then and now, they are really a string ensemble (I have always disliked the term "Chamber Orchestra" used this way, for a true CO is made up of strings, winds and timpani, has at least 30 people and can play the Haydn and Mozart symphonies). Unfortunately their visits after that date were very isolated, so I certainly welcome the chance of hearing them again.
Founded in 1945, Münchinger had a long tenure. The biography in the hand programme calls the SCO "the oldest professional chamber orchestra of the world". They made lots of recordings through the decades; the one with Mozart´s "Eine kleine Nachtmusik" sold more than a million copies. Their conductor for this tour was Wolfram Christ, long known as the viola soloist during the Karajan era at the Berlin Philharmonic, but active as a conductor in recent years. The group came to BA with 16 players: 8 violins, 4 violas, 3 cellos and a bass; no harpsichord.
Their programme was all-German and deeply satisfying. Mendelssohn´s admirable Symphony Nº 8 for strings provided further proof that he was the greatest early-teen composer, even more than Mozart; the flabbergasting ease coupled with real substance come from a 13-year-old (1822). The Concerto in C for three violins by J.S.Bach is a transcription by the author of his Second Concerto for three harpsichords; it bears the catalog number 1064, and is wrongly described as "Nº 2", for there´s only one concerto for 3 violins, the other for 3 harpsichords wasn´t transcribed. It is a splendid, original piece, and it provides plenty of virtuosic opportunities within a mold of strict form. The ensemble, which had played beautifully in Mendelssohn -where Christ had shown authority and style- excelled in this Bach, with admirable solos from Ionel Iliescu, Wolfgang Kussmaul and Malgorzata Krzyminska. Not historicist but excellent.
I have long been familiar with the marvelous Brahms Second Quintet for strings, Op.111, but had never come across its transcription as a so-called Symphony for string orchestra. I certainly prefer the original and can´t feel that it is a symphony, but the music stands its transformation and it is quintessential mature Brahms. The version was very good, with particularly impressive and full-bodied cellos. The encores were lovely in their execution: Tchaikovsky´s Waltz from the String Serenade and the rarely heard and charming Kreisler "Marche miniature viennoise", originally for violin and piano.
Johann Sebastian Bach´s Great Mass is generally recognized as the most important work of the genre. It hasn´t lacked for valuable interpretations in BA, and I have a soft spot for that by the Robert Shaw Choir back in 1964. Now I will certainly add the one I heard days ago under Helmut Rilling. The old maestro is now 79, looks frail and bent, and his conducting consists of minute gestures, but he has molded every player and chorister: he founded the Gächinger Kantorei in 1954 and the Stuttgart Bach Collegium in 1965; now they sing and play together under the umbrella denomination Internationale Bach Akademie Stuttgart. In 2.000 they edited in 172 CDs the complete Bach works (according to the hand programme). They have come before and marveled our audiences; the ovation that Rilling got in his rentrée was moving and fully deserved. He rejects extreme historicism (Harnoncourt, Rifkin) but is also far from such great Romantic predecessors as Karajan or Furtwängler. His Bach is severe and contained; he uses a 31-voice choir and a 26-player orchestra including Baroque trumpets, corno da caccia and oboes d´amore; his tempi are orthodox, never too fast nor too slow, and the phrasing is always natural. The choir sings the difficult counterpoints and melismas with total command and good timbre. The trumpet players are fantastic (the best I´ve ever heard), the flutes, oboes and bassoons clean and expressive, the strings beautifully in tune with modern strings.
The solo quartet isn´t stellar (it almost never is with visiting choirs) but they certainly know the style. Julia Sophie Wagner (soprano), Roxana Constantinescu (contralto), Andreas Weller (tenor) and Tobias Berndt (bass) cope technically with the music but lack deeper qualities; no tears in the voice in the Agnus Dei, no otherworldly sweetness in the Benedictus, dryness in the Quoniam (though a nicely fluid Et in spiritum). Serviceable voices, no more.
The stalls and loges had ridiculously high price tags, and there were big holes; from the "cazuela" up the theatre was packed.
Sixty years of the Mozarteum, and I lived almost every step of it; after the concert there was a reception at the Salón Dorado and in it we heard a brief speech from that incredible lady, Jeannette Arata de Erize, almost ninety, fifty-six years at the helm of our most prestigious musical institution. Quality and unremitting reliability through the decades were and are the formula for this success story. May they long continue to enrich our sensibilities.
The Mozarteum has brought us several times the Camerata Academica of the Salzburg Mozarteum, but this time it was the Salzburg Mozarteum Orchestra under the Britisher Matthew Halls (debut both), with pianist Elena Bashkirova, Barenboim´s wife, well-known here. We heard an all-Mozart standard programme, with the Overture of "La Clemenza di Tito", Concerto Nº 21 and the Symphony Nº 40. The 39-member standard classicist orchestra is the right type of collective instrument, and under the very modern Mozartian conducting style of Halls, tempi were generally fast and dynamic contrasts quite marked, although always respecting the shape of the phrases and periods. Small divergences apart, this was very good playing.
I liked Bashkirova´s touch and technique but I disliked the edition she used, with cadenzas too long and out of style, and too much extraneous ornamentation; I like my Mozart purer and plainer. But she is of course a first-rate player.
The encores were delectable: an utterly charming slow movement from Cassation K.63 and the Overture to "The Marriage of Figaro".
For Buenos Aires Herald