sábado, junio 16, 2012

A varied panorama of our orchestras

            The Buenos Aires Philharmonic went on with its season with two concerts. The first was given twice, for Festivales Musicales and for the Phil´s subscription series. I wrote enthusiastically weeks ago about the debut of cellist Leonard Elschenbroich for Festivales as part of a brilliant trio, so I had great expectations about his playing in Dvorák´s Cello Concerto. I was told later that he had a gruesomely intense week of performing dates and arrived from London only the day before. That may account for the fact that his sound was smaller and less attractive than in the Trio, and his technique not quite so clean. It was good but lacked panache and brilliance, as well as fat timbre. And the Phil under Guillermo Scarabino was no more than correct. 
            Before the Dvorák we heard a nice execution of "El tarco en flor", the always fresh symphonic poem by Luis Gianneo ("tarco" is tucumano for jacaranda). After the intermission, the first movement of Tchaikovsky´s Fourth Symphony sounded labored and uninspired. The following Andantino was better, but both the Phil and the conductor only came to their better levels in a very accurate Scherzo pizzicato and a truly festal Finale.  Frankly the programme was too hackneyed. And the ill-timed applause after the first movements of Concerto and Symphony showed that Festivales´ audience is now less knowledgeable than of yore.
            The following session was supposed to be conducted by the veteran Brazilian Isaac Karabtchevsky but he fell ill and was replaced by Ira Levin, who took on the two main scores without change, but substituted Gomes´ Overture to "Il Guarany" by Wagner´s Overture (or Prelude to the First Act) of "The Mastersingers" in a so-so performance.  However, the rest of the night was quite attractive. Lithe and beautiful Japanese violinist Akiko Suwanei had premiered here some years ago Penderecki´s Second Concerto and now she again provided a valuable premiere: that of Henri Dutilleux´s Violin Concerto "The tree of dreams". It was written in 1985 for Isaac Stern; the composer is now 96 and has long been one of France´s more original voices. 
            Said Dutilleux: "the score is developed as if it were a tree for it possesses a poetry whose ramifications are constantly multiplied and renewed... Its four parts are laced together by three interludes...The soloist and the orchestra are in intimate mutual dependence". I found the music full of interesting sounds and refined beauty in a language of advanced modern harmony. And it was not only lovingly played by an accomplished Suwanai but also accompanied with insight and command by Levin, certainly a resourceful maestro. Suwanai offered an encore, the Largo from Bach´s Third Solo Sonata, in a very pure reading. 
            And indeed Levin shone in Dvorák´s Sixth Symphony, heard some weeks before in a very good performance by Calderón and the National Symphony.  But this interpretation was even better in its contrasts and cunning handling of dynamics and tempi. This is heart-warming music. But I see no reason to give an encore in a regular symphonic series and the Furiant was offered again.
            The Principal Conductor of the Mar del Plata Symphony, Guillermo Becerra, was at the helm of the National Symphony for an uneven programme. The First Part was dicey because of the chosen works, although they were reasonably well-played. Cecilia Pereyra is a young Argentine composer who won the SADAIC 2011 award for her "Y su sombra...", premiered on this occasion. Says Pereyra: "the basic point of this score is the expression and exploration of orchestral timbre...The harmonic world includes chromaticism and microtonality...The changes of color and intensity are the true axes of the time progression".  She has a true command of her materials, but I confess that I´m not attracted by this aesthetics.
            The Schumann Violin Concerto was finished months away from his attempted suicide, and it was only in 1937 that Georg Kulenkampff exhumed it. The murkiness both in form and orchestration is relieved by occasional felicitous ideas, but only the slow movement is really attractive. It was very correctly played by Demir Lulja but this music needs an animation that he didn´t provide. He gave us an interesting encore from an Albanian composer, Pjeter Gaci, a well-written Ballad (Lulja is Albanian).
            But the Second Part was really exciting, a very intelligently conceived reading of that masterpiece, Saint-Saëns´ Third Symphony. As unfortunately no concert hall in the city has a pipe organ, Luis Caparra had to use an electric instrument. The organ part is small but important.  Becerra is  a very controlled conductor who knows what he wants and how to get it and the orchestra responded admirably.
            I am sorry to say that I was disappointed by the following concert, based on the presence of pianist Bruno Gelber. Unfortunately his notorious physical problems are affecting his playing, and his interpretation of Tchaikovsky´s First Concerto was too rough-and-ready. Last year I was astonished by his Rachmaninov, but since then his problems have increased a lot. Of course I am writing about one of our greatest pianists and he declines from a high place. He wasn´t helped by a noisy orchestra led by Pedro Calderón.
            The programme was absurdly short. After a routine performance of J.J.Castro´s Overture to "La zapatera prodigiosa" we only heard Enesco´s First Romanian Rhapsody, certainly welcome and lovely, in a convincing interpretation. We had 55 minutes of music altogether. The concert was repeated the following Friday.

For Buenos Aires Herald