The first of four great pianists programmed in the Colón´s Abono del Bicentenario came and took the audience by storm: Lang Lang, the world-famous 30-year-old Chinese. (The others: Evgeny Kissin, Andras Schiff and Arcadi Volodos). Lang Lang was here for a little-noted presentation at the Colón (isolated, not part of a subscription series) when he was very young, playing Tchaikovsky´s First Concerto; he then showed important qualities diminished by unresolved matters of style. Now he is a complete master of his craft and a major figure. The ovation at the end was the most enthusiastic I remember in recent years and fully deserved.
It was audacious that The New York Times proclaimed him "the most popular classical musician of the planet", probably based on his playing at the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics, seen by an enormous number of people. Here Lang Lang meant considerably less than Barenboim or Mehta, but probably this visit will make him a new favorite, for playing of this caliber provokes a phenomenon of identification, helped by an outgoing and pleasant personality, warm and communicative. By the way, he dressed conservatively and apart from some facial gestures and at the very end of the ovation a lot of handshaking and distribution of roses to the public, he was serious and concentrated, with no grandstanding. The only discordant note was given by part of the audience applauding after the serene and big first movement of a Schubert sonata.
His programme was made up of recognised masterpieces in sharply diverging styles. J.S.Bach´s Partita Nº 1 is the one most often played, with recordings that are a permanent reference such as Lipatti´s. Although the playing was immaculate and beautiful, I have some reservations: the Allemande was surely too fast, the Sarabande had too much "rubato", the Menuet´s repeat wasn´t observed and the tempo was too fast, and the Gigue (this may be a matter of edition) was played detached in the paired notes rather than legato.
The rest was a continuous wonder. Schubert´s last sonata, Nº 21 in B flat major, D.960, is in itself enormous, with an especially huge first movement marked "Molto moderato". This was magnified by the very rare repeat of the exposition, a moot point for though specified by the author it accentuates the unbalance with the final two movements; however by including it you hear thirty innovative transitional seconds. But what mattered was the introspective concentration both here and in the slow movement, the lovely tone throughout, the perfect, sensitive phrasing, the great dynamic range without ever being harsh. And the fast ones were lilting and charming.
As to Chopin´s 12 studies Op.25, this is the fourth time they are included by important artists in BA during the last nine months, and it was by far the best (the others: Sergio Tiempo, Valentina Lisitsa and Idil Biret). It is a matter of individual tastes whether some phrasings were too free, and indeed some were, but they never bothered me. What I heard was almost incredible in sheer technical perfection (at that level the mere mechanics are moving) but also in the constant research of meaningful left-hand figurations and in the ability to go from lightness to terrifying potency.
Encores: a perfumed Chinese little piece, and the most prodigious Liszt "Campanella" I´ve ever heard; I was left literally breathless.
Bertrand Chamayou gave a closed concert at the Colón last year; I heard it and was vividly impressed. The 32-year-old Toulousain came back now surrounded by the orchestra of his native city, the Orchestre Nationale du Capitole de Toulouse, under their Principal Conductor Tugan Sokhiev, who comes from Osetia (part of it Georgian and part Russian). The orchestra, one of the best in France, had come in 1990 under Michel Plasson, and it was very positive to have them back, for they obviously like their conductor and he is a major talent. Their playing in Mussorgsky/Rimsky-Korsakov (the iridescent prelude of "Khowanshchina") and Mussorgsky/Ravel ("Pictures at an exhibition") was balanced, colorful and descriptive, led by a conductor with sane expressive ideas. Not quite always, though, for the first encore was wildly fast (Dvorák´s Slavonic Dance op. 46/1). But I liked the others: the Interlude from Leoncavallo´s "I Pagliacci" and Tchaikovsky´s "Trepak" from "The Nutcracker".
After the first Mussorgsky, Chamayou did a splendid interpretation of Liszt´s First Concerto, well abetted by the orchestra and in close communion with Sokhiev. His dynamism, accuracy and continuity were always right on the spot. And if the Polish song "My joys" (Chopin/Liszt) was tender, the Tarantella from Liszt´s "Venezia e Napoli" was fabulous in its liquid speed and exactness. This was a Mozarteum evening, and the programme carried a useful account of their innumerable presentation of great orchestras in BA. I couldn´t hear their first programme, all-French.
Finally, one of the most original and best chamber music concerts in a long time. It was offered by Festivales at the Avenida. Original, because it isn´t a full-time Trio, but the sum of three interacting individualities; and because they played together only in the mighty Tchaikovsky Trio. Best, as a result of being very talented artists in their respective instruments.
Nicola Benedetti despite her name is a Scottish violinist; Alexei Grynyuk is Ukrainian, a pianist of granitic solidity. They both gave a very fine account of the rarely heard but powerful Richard Strauss Sonata Op. 18. Then Grynyuk partnered German cellist Leonard Elschenbroich in a deep, concentrated interpretation of Brahms´s Second Sonata, Op.99, the one that explores the lowest range of the cello. And the three were gorgeous in the immense Tchaikovsky Trio. This was a very welcome joint local debut.
For Buenos Aires Herald