No other world-class maestro has visited us as often as Zubin Mehta, always with outstanding success. My private catalogue lists the 12th of September 1962 as a special date, for the young Mehta (he was born in 1936) conducted that day the Orchestra of Amigos de la Música in, among other pieces, a splendid interpretation of Schönberg´s First Chamber Symphony (no, he didn´t come with the Montreal Symphony, as wrongly said in an inserted flyer of the hand programme).He also conducted the Orchestra of Radio del Estado. So, half a century later, we had him back in Buenos Aires, a city he dearly loves.
The Mozarteum brought him with the New York Philharmonic in 1978, 1982 and 1987, and with the Israel Philharmonic in 1972, 1993 and 2001. But Mehta also visited us with the israelis in other occasions, and with the Bavarian Radio Orchestra. And now with the Orchestra of the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino two things were foremost: Mehta in his seventies may be more contained than he used to but is still very much a master of his trade, and the fiorentini are a first-rate orchestra that fully competes with those of La Scala and of the Rome Santa Cecilia.
Mehta´s career is a wonder: he was Principal Conductor at Montreal, Los Angeles and New York, and General Music Director of the Munich Opera. He still holds two posts: Principal Conductor of the Israel Philharmonic since 1977 and Principal Director of the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino since 1985. He has never conducted opera in BA, but his work at Munich, Florence and Valencia has been very important and varied, and the Met, Salzburg, La Scala and Covent Garden have witnessed his performances, always colorful and vibrant. And the Vienna Philharmonic has welcomed him often since his youthful years.
As to the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino, it is one of the oldest music festivals (since 1933). After World War II the main personalities there have been Mehta, Riccardo Muti and Bruno Bartoletti. They have often programmed modern and rarely done operas. The Orchestra, although it has taken the name of the Festival, is fully operative not only in May but most of the year, and has been conducted by the greatest names and composers. It recently inaugurated the new Teatro Comunale of Florence.
Their two concerts for the Mozarteum at the Colón had a high level. It was announced that they will do a third concert but invited by the City of Buenos Aires at the Usina del Arte, the recycled venue that opened just a couple of months ago at the very limit of La Boca; the original idea was to do it open-air (a wrong concept in Winter) but bad weather gives the privilege to the Usina. The programme there will be lighter.
The first concert combined two great symphonies: Nº 4l, "Jupiter", by Mozart, and Nº4, "Romantic", by Bruckner. Mehta´s Mozart proceeded along very orthodox paths of the old schools, with no attempt at historicism or at the fast tempi that are now trendy. It was all very musical and well done, but the music needs even more precision coupled with adrenaline. As to the "Romantic", I have no reservations; in the revised final version, of course (the original was heard just once here by the Vienna Symphony under Rozhdestvensky). The Orchestra sounded astonishingly German in its strong bass –grounded response to the granitic music; perhaps the disposition of the strings has an influence: basses behind first violins, second violins opposed to the first, cellos in front of the conductor and violas next to the second violins. Phrased with total respect for the score, tempi always expressive and firmly maintained, the grand line fully kept, and admirable strings and brass, it was one of the best "Romantics" ever heard here.
Encores: a limpid, energetic Overture of Mozart´s "Le nozze di Figaro", and a gorgeous performance of Mascagni´s Intermezzo from "Cavalleria Rusticana".
The second concert was on an even higher plane. Beethoven´s Eighth Symphony had an impeccable reading, where the numerous accents were taken in their stride by the players with total spontaneity and the transitions went smoothly. The second choice was an homage to Argentina: Mehta chose what is probably the best of Alberto Ginastera´s scores: the "Variaciones concertantes". They were commissioned by Amigos de la Música and the great Igor Markevich gave its premiere on June 2, 1953. I was there, and it made a deep impression on my teenage mind. Almost 60 years later, I still find it his most mature music. It is also very difficult. I can´t truly say that some of the most virtuosic bits were completely solved by the players of the MMF, but the overall picture was excellent and Mehta certainly understands the piece.
Finally, a splendid performance of Dvorák´s Ninth Symphony, "From the New World", vehement but controlled, each element of the complex writing fully given its due, and with a perfect relationship between the sections of each movement. Here as in Bruckner, I admired the exactness and beauty of sound of the first horn.
Encores: an exhilarating Dvorák (Slavonic Dance op. 46 Nº 8); a luscious orchestration of Gardel´s tango "Por una cabeza" preceded by a gracious reference by Mehta to Jeannette Arata de Erize, who recently turned ninety; and a wonderful reading of Verdi´s Overture to "I Vespri Siciliani".
For Buenos Aires Herald