sábado, agosto 25, 2012

A rich panoply of symphonic music

            What follows is a panorama of symphonic  activity in recent weeks. I will start with the National Symphony (Orquesta Sinfónica Nacional). The organism under its Principal Conductor, Pedro I. Calderón, offered a programme of pleasant rather than transcendent pieces. It started with an homage to the Argentine composer Antonio Tauriello, who died some months ago. A very early score was chosen, the vibrant and well written "Obertura sinfónica", still fully tonal and far removed from his later complex atonal style. Apart from a dislocation near the end, things went well. 
            The "Concertone" K.190 by Mozart is a good-quality specimen of the 17-year-old composer, though without moments of special inspiration. However the combination is "sui generis" and interesting (hence the unusual denomination of the piece): two violins are principal soloists, but the oboe and the cello also have solo passages. It was very nicely played by Haydée Seibert Francia and by Antonio Spiller, back in Argentina after a long absence (he is concertino of the Bavarian Radio Orchestra since 1978); his brother Andrés was the oboist (first deck of the NS) and Jorge Pérez Tedesco the cellist, who committed some slips (generally he is very good). Calderón accompanied with appropriate discretion. 
            Prokofiev´s Seventh and last symphony has been derided by some who call it superficial; in fact it is as audacious as could be tolerated in the last paranoiac years of Stalin. It is beautifully orchestrated, has lovely melodies and plenty of imaginative orchestral incident. Little played, Calderón and the NS gave a good account of it.
            Hamburg-born Bernhard Wulff (1948) has had a varied and checkered career, with special projects in such unforeseen places as Ulan Bator (Mongolia), Kirgizistan and Hanoi (Vietnam). He has conducted the NS before. I liked his reading of Gluck´s dramatic Overture to "Iphigénie en Aulide" in the effective Wagner arrangement; this is noble music and I wish the opera were staged here. I found María Cecilia Villanueva´s "Escenario", a piano concerto (premiere), extremely arid, even if valiantly defended by Haydée Schvartz; a minimalist menu of dissonant chords, it wasn´t enticing to hear. Wulff (dressed strangely, by the way) ended the concert with a workmanlike but rather pallid version of Brahms´ Third Symphony, devoid of inner fire.
            The last concert of the NS had an unconventional programme and one could think that it was too crossover; but magnetized by the intense conducting of the Swiss Marc Andreae, sixtyish, the orchestra played with commitment. Piazzolla´s "Tangazo" is a strong 15-minute piece in five sections, where apart from some horn fluffs the playing was vibrant.  Liszt´s Second Concerto is the devil to play both by the pianist and the orchestra, and the junction between them tends to be touch and go, but not this time: Andreae knows well the Argentine pianist Federico Aldao, fortyish, who has worked a lot in Switzerland (now he is back). And the interpretation was as exciting as it was truthful, some sonorous mistakes by the pianist amounting to little in playing that was by turns forceful and delicate, in perfect style and with the tough fast tempi the composer asks for. With Andreae an empathetic collaborator.
            Andreae has premiered dozens  of scores, especially Swiss; he brought with him Fabian Müller´s "Baladas y Bulerías" (in Spanish in the original), a very successful and sensitive take on Southern Spain, with subtle orchestration and attractive melodic and rhythmic ideas. Finally, I was  happy to encounter after a very long time a score I enjoy enormously, one of the best crossovers I know: Morton Gould´s "Latin American Symphonette"; Gould was a talented composer and conductor. He lived between 1913 and 1996 and the music we heard dates from 1940/1. It is an exuberant display of Latin American rhythms: Rumba, Tango (of the Habanera type), Guaracha and Conga. In fact, we are always in a Caribbean ambience with plenty of folkish percussion and an active imagination giving constant variety to the music. Led with wonderful pep and precision, the NS gave one of its best performances.
The Buenos Aires Philharmonic was led by Carlos Bertazza, its Assistant Conductor, in an all-South American programme of considerable renovation and usefulness. Although his podium stance of continuous "dancing" was uncomfortable to see, he had done a thorough study of the scores and transmitted them with conviction, although some of the orchestra weren´t up to par.
The "sure thing" in the programme was Piazzolla´s Suite "Punta del Este", to my mind hardly one of his best scores, but there´s a fury about this composer nowadays, and Néstor Marconi is a redoubtable bandoneon player.  For me the interesting stuff was heard before and after. Before,  a Colombian composer, Adolfo Mejía (1905-73) gave us a rare chance to hear music from that country: for Latinamericanism is trumpeted about but scarcely practiced. A short tone poem, "Íntima", proved to be sensitive and agreeable. And after,  finally a Villalobos symphony; he wrote a dozen, but in sixty years of concertgoing I have only heard Nº 6 (conducted by the composer back in 1953). Bertazza chose the sprawling, 50-minute Nº 2, "The Ascension", written in 1917 when he was thirty but premiered as late as 1944, it was played here conducted by Villalobos around 1947 and never again heard in Argentina. Excessive, colorful, vigorous, the score would have benefited from judicious pruning, but it is full of surprises and well worth knowing.
For Buenos Aires Herald