domingo, julio 08, 2012

Contrasting concerts from Bach to Jarrell

            The Ensemble Intercontemporain was founded by Pierre Boulez in 1976 with the stated purpose of having a crack team capable of playing accurately the most difficult music of our time. When they came to BA in 1996, the presence of Boulez was feted as a major event. Indeed, Boulez (now in his eighties) remains a major figure both as conductor and composer (Barenboim managed to play his music at the Gran Rex for a packed audience with great success, a major occasion for such an arduous creator).  An immensely gifted mind, Boulez was certainly an inspiration to his players and the two concerts for the Mozarteum at the Colón were then an important event.
           Alas, I can´t write the same about their recent second visit for the same institution, also at the Colón. Not because of the players, who are as good as the ones in the previous tour. Of course conductor Jean Deroyer isn´t in the same plane as Boulez, but he is certainly very capable even if I dislike his gesturing. No, the problem was the programming,  restricted to just two composers in a short evening, and repeated in both concerts, quite a contrast with the carefully chosen baker´s dozen of the Boulez visit. And also because neither composer is of great value. I would salvage Tristan Murail´s "La barque mystique" (1992) because its 13 minutes don´t overstay their welcome, and the man certainly has an ear for exploring interesting sounds; this piece is characterised by the IRCAM at the Centre Pompidou as being of "extreme fragmentation of articulation", and follows the "spectral school" of Gérard Grisey.
             There was no interval , so we went on to Michael Jarrell´s "Cassandre", a monodrama for actress, instrumental ensemble and electronics lasting 53 minutes and written in 1994. The spoken text is an adaptation by Gerhard Wolf of a book by Christa Wolf, translated in French by Alain Lance and Renate Lance-Otterbein. Cassandra, daughter of King Priam of Troy and Hecuba, ceded to the amorous desires of the God Apollo, who gave her the art of prediction; but after their union Cassandra escapes and the God chastises her by eliminating the gift of persuasion: no one will believe her. And the war will be lost.
              The subject and the character are powerful and Berlioz made it unforgettable in his opera "The fall of Troy" (First Part of "Les Troyens"). But here the spoken narration is excesive: too many words. And the music covers them much too often. Furthermore Jarrell´s language isn´t attractive although technically elaborate. And the supertitles gave us only a partial account of the text. Marthe Keller replaced the originally announced Fanny Ardant; but as Keller was the original interpreter at the premiere, she was certainly proficient. Even so, a disappointing evening. 
             Argentine soprano Virginia Tola gave a recital at the Colón for Festivales Musicales, admirably accompanied by pianist Fernando Pérez. The four initial pieces were pianistic reductions of Italian operatic arias. I believe Tola is a lyrical soprano, not a "spinto" (lyrical dramatic), so she was exquisite in the soft singing  and the "cantabile" of Desdemona´s "Ave Maria" (Verdi´s "Otello") but the tragic aria "Morrò, ma prima in grazia" (Verdi´s "Un ballo ihn maschera") taxed her;  she forced her tone and had too much vibrato. She was fine in "Ecco, respiro appena...Io son l´umile ancella" from Cilea´s "Adriana Lecouvreur" but in "Vissi d´arte" (Puccini´s "Tosca") she had a strange accident in one note. Catalani´s pleasant and little-known "Rêverie" was a piano interlude before two beautiful songs very well sung: Tosti´s "Malia"  and Gastaldon´s "Musica proibita".
         After the interval, three famous Guastavino songs in very fine versions: "La rosa y el sauce", "Se equivocó la paloma" and "Pueblito, mi pueblo". The "Ritual Fire Dance" from Falla´s "Love the magician" ("El amor brujo") was well played by Pérez but it was a bad programming idea for it is included in the forthcoming Lavandera concert for Festivales. The "Siete canciones populares españolas" by Manuel De Falla though correctly sung weren´t idiomatic enough. Encores: "De España vengo" from Luna´s zarzuela "El niño judío", "O mio babbino caro" from Puccini´s "Gianni Schicchi" and a lovely Mexican song, "Muñequita linda" by Maria Grever. Very nice all three.
      The Academia Bach offered a beautiful Telemann-Bach concert at the Iglesia Metodista Central. From Telemann, an interesting Concerto in A minor, TWV 52a, featuring a duet of recorders (finely played by Andrés Spiller and José Luis Etcheverry), and a short but attractive "Psalm 117", "Laudate Jehovam omnes gentes". And from J.S.Bach, Cantata BWV 187, "Es wartet alles auf dich" ("All hope from You"), which includes a splendid initial chorus and three varied and ingenious arias. Good singing from Natalia Salardino (soprano), Damián Ramírez (countertenor) and Néstor Andrenacci (baritone), who also led his excellent Grupo de Canto Coral. They and five first-rate string players of long acquaintance with the Academy were all led by Mario Videla, the always knowlegeable leader of such enterprises. 
            Videla read a letter in which the audience was asked to contribute financially with a newborn Society of Friends of the Academy, and added that all the artists had sung and played "ad honorem". I do hope that sponsors will be found for the Academy is too valuable to disappear. And I also feel that their "mother", Festivales Musicales, is very much worthy of salvage.
For Buenos Aires Herald

Romantic and classical ballet: “La sylphide”and “Don Quichotte”

            Funk and Wagnalls Dictionary: Sylphid: a young sylph. Sylph: a being mortal but without a soul living in and on the air, and intermediate between material and immaterial things.  Although imagined by Paracelsus,  a Renaissance physician and alchemyst, such a creature couldn´t fail to interest the Romantics and the world of ballet. There are two traditions concerning the ballet "La Sylphide" and both have been appreciated in our city.
 My first contact with it was the Auguste Bournonville version made for the Royal Danish Ballet in 1835 on charming music by Lövenskjold, in a lovely staging by the Marquis of Cuevas Ballet with Rosella Hightower if I remember right, for this was in the Fifties. A few years ago it was revived by Mario Galizzi with Karina Olmedo.  In 1974 we saw the reconstruction by Pierre Lacotte of the original, longer version (1832) by Filippo Taglioni in two acts for the Paris Opera, with a wonderful pair of protagonists: Ghislaine Thesmar and Michael Denard. It was quite a success, and the Colón kept it on the repertoire for some years.
The current revival of the Taglioni-Lacotte is done by Gil Isoart in very good style. He has followed Lacotte´s purity of line and the production by the Colón has kept the original stage and costume designs of the Paris premiere, so we have a historicist Romantic production on beautiful stage designs by Pierre Ciceri and the refined costumes by Eugène Lamy.  As this is the first Romantic ballet in history that has come down to us, it has a definite value and it is a right decision to revive it here.
Alas, what a pity that Taglioni didn´t have resort to a better composer, say Adam or Auber; for the obscure Jean-Madeleine Marie Schneitzhoeffer, a percussionist of the Paris Opera Orchestra, wrote workmanlike music of very little interest. As this is a story on a plot by Adolphe Nourrit (curiously he was a famous tenor) that develops in Scotland, for the French a remote and exotic place, one could hope for music that would evoke reels and strathspeys, but there´s precious little of it and plenty of anodyne background music.
As Enrique Destaville explains in his valuable programme notes, the ballet slipper of that time didn´t have the hard point it had by the time Petipa made his Russian ballets, and so the light, airy choreography for the sylphid avoided long passages in points. It was also the period in which the tutus were imagined for the sylphids in ethereal tulles.
Let´s face it, the piece has its dull moments, and its dramaturgy falls into a trap: to be credible the narrative parts shouldn´t mix with the divertissements, as they do here; in the Tchaikovsky ballets or in Delibes´"Coppélia" they have this matter clear and it helps a lot.  The best bits have to do with the "pas de trois" in which the Sylphide, seen by James but not by his fiancee Effie, intersperses her steps with those of the terrestrial  couple. And there are some nice ensembles and solos. 
Karina Olmedo was a correct dancer but lacked the ethereal charm of the dancers I mentioned, following the stele of Marie Taglioni, the original "sylphide"; I also found Olmedo slightly insecure at times. Her James, Juan Pablo Ledo, was very good: lithe, expressive, neat in his evolutions. Maricel De Mitri was an agreeable Effie. Madge (the Witch) was heavily characterised by the male dancer Vagram Ambartsoumian; she is a model for Carabosse in "The Sleeping Beauty" and precipitates the death of the sylphid. Disciplined and pleasant Corps de Ballet in blue and in red . Stage effects of flying sylphids added to the Romantic and fantastic ambience, aided by atmospheric lighting by Rubén Conde. Javier Logioia Orbe and the Colón Orchestra did what they could with the poor musical material.
We´ve seen plenty of "Don Quichottes" here, generally in the Zarko Prebil choreography, so I wasn´t keen in seeing yet another one. But it did give me the chance to know the Ballet of the Kiev National Opera Taras Shevchenko at the Coliseo. Of course the Ukrainian capital isn´t quite the equal in ballet to Saint Petersburg´s Maryinsky or Moscow´s Bolshoi, but they do have the true Russian school. The affinity of the Russians with Spain has always surprised me, and in the strongly Spanish music of the Pole Ludwig Minkus and of the choreography the light story of the love of Basil and Kitri  is seen with pleasure. The original work of Marius Petipa was revised by Alexander Gorsky (his are the toreador´s passages), and for Kiev by Eugenia Khasianova, a lady of multiple talents as she was the author of the brilliant costumes and the painted drops. The music was recorded and well played.
The main couple was very accomplished: Katerina Khanukova and Viktor Ischuk were young, personable and charming. The other girls were first-rate: Katerina Metolkina as Cupid, Viktoria Dymovska as Street Dancer, Yulia Safonova as a Gypsy and Katerina Alaeva as the Dryad Queen. The Torero, Konstantin Pozharnitsky, was rather heavy. The character roles were too  caricatured: a stiff Don Quichotte (Anatoli Vorontsov), an unfunny Sancho (Volodimyr Fomenko), a ridiculous Gamache (Maksim Valchik); only Lorenzo the tavern keeper (Valeri Popov) was adequate. It was a presentation of Texoart and Copasa Fundación Cultural, the first of four during this season. 
For Buenos Aires Herald