Good luck is still with us as far as concertizing goes. Last week we had the return of Vladimir Ashkenazy at the helm of the Deutsches Symphonie Orchester Berlin and the presence of the much appreciated mezzosoprano Frederica Von Stade.
Ashkenazy is now in his seventies and still going strong. This was his third visit as conductor (in his first he also played the piano). His gestual style is dynamic and visceral but a strong structural mind is constantly at work, shaping and building with almost unerring rightness. In this concert of Nuova Harmonia at the Colón he was the tour leader of a splendid orchestra he knows very well, for he was their Principal Conductor from 1989 to 1999. The Deutsches Symphonie (German Symphony) is the successor of the Berlin Radio Orchestra, itself successor to the RIAS (Radio of the American Sector).
As you see, the changes were political: founded by Ferenc Fricsay in 1946, it became the Berlin Radio Orchestra (Western Berlin, that is) when the separate allied occupation areas disappeared, and when the Wall came down it took its current name ( I ignore if it is still a radio orchestra, their biography in the hand programme doesn´t make this point clear). Illustrious names came after Fricsay: Lorin Maazel, Riccardo Chailly (at the time they were announced by the Mozarteum but Chailly didn´t honor the commitment), Ashkenazy, Kent Nagano (2000-2006), Ingo Metzmacher (2006-2010) and currently Tugan Sokhiev, who is now here leading his other orchestra, the Toulouse Capitole, a curious coincidence.
Well, the Deutsches is a magnificent orchestra with, yes, a very German sound made of discipline, complete command of their instruments and a sense of tradition. It was sheer pleasure to hear the mahogany, unified color of the strings, the sweetness of the oboe or the wonderful precision of the solo horn and trumpet. The chosen works are masterpieces of Post-Romanticism. Richard Strauss´ "Don Juan" (1889) remains an astonishing work for a 25-year-old, and Mahler´s Fifth Symphony (1904) is now one of his most famous.
"Don Juan " was, as it should be, brilliant, impulsive and seductive. The Fifth was intense and accurate in the first two movements (I admit I like even more Angst in the turbulent second), adapted to the constantly changing moods of the quirky Scherzo, sentimental in the right proportion in the Adagietto and exhilarating in the Rondo-Finale. This was virtuoso playing and conducting. I could have done without the chosen encore, a tango I couldn´t place.
Frederica Von Stade has been a favorite here since her local debut in 1980 as Sesto in Mozart´s "La clemenza di Tito". She was then in her absolute prime. She came back in 1999 for an exquisite Mélisande (Debussy) and in 2001 as the merriest of widows (Lehár). Now she was back as a very welcome replacement for the ailing Susan Graham. She is now in her late sixties, has relinquished opera performances and predictably her timbre has acquired an autumnal quality, far from the brightness of her Sesto, but she keeps her full register and an innate good taste, quite rare in the USA. Plus a completely charming personality.
There was a serious side to the programme. The First Part offered Mahler interspersed with symphonic Mendelssohn. The lovely "Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen" ("Songs of a wayfarer") are best in a baritone voice or in a mezzo of more weight in her tone, but Von Stade was amazingly good in them. And I also liked her in three chosen Lieder from the collection "Des Knaben Wunderhorn" ("The Youth´s magic Horn"), two light ones ("Rheinlegendschen" -"Rhine legend"- and "Lob des hohen Verstandes" –"Praise of high understanding", in which an ass is jury of a singing match between cuckoo and nightingale) and a metaphysical song of deep import: "Wo die schönen Trompeten blasen" ("Where the beautiful trumpets sounded out"). Enrique Arturo Diemecke at the helm of the Buenos Aires Philharmonic was an understanging and subtle partner. The Mendelssohn pieces ("The Hebrides" or "Fingal´s Cave" and the Nocturne from "A Midsummmer Night´s Dream") didn´t fare so well, with too much stridency in the climax of the overture and not enough refinement from the horns in the Nocturne.
Marie-Joseph Canteloube de Malaret is only known nowadays for his charming Impressionist arrangements in four series of "Songs of the Auvergne", a characterful French region (think of Le Puy), written over thirty years from about 1925 to 1954. Von Stade chose five but in two groups. The first was preceded by Saint-Saëns' "Bacchanale" from "Samson and Delilah", an exotic Orientalistic piece offered by Diemecke with much impetus and by a Phil that visibly enjoyed the vivid music. Then came the atmospheric "Bailèro" (Shepherds´ song), the descriptive "La fiolairé" ("The weaver") and the humoristic "Chut, chut" ("Sh, sh"), all three love songs in Auvergnat. Von Stade displayed her art and insight, always suggesting rather than underlining.
It was agreeable to hear the rarely done "Escales" (1923) by Jacques Ibert, three colorful ports of call. Finally, two other Canteloube pieces: "Uno jionto postouro" ("A beautiful shepherdess") and "Lou coucut" ("The cuckoo"), the first is a sad love song and the second is onomatopoeic. The encores: Williams´"Vidalita", a sensitive gesture from the artist, and one of her hits, "Ah! Quel dîner" from Offenbach´s "La Périchole", where the protagonist is roaring drunk. Farewell, Frederica, you will be missed.
For Buenos Aires Herald