martes, octubre 09, 2012

The charms of choral music, with or without an orchestra

            There are two basic types of choral music: a cappella (the choir alone, though it can occasionally have some instrumental support doubling the voices or a piano accompaniment); and choral-symphonic, most of the time with vocal soloists. The weekends are flooded with concerts of a cappella choirs, but there are far less occasions to see the great works that join a chorus with an orchestra, for two main reasons: the disappearance of the Asociación Wagneriana and the very meagre attention given to this repertoire by the authorities of the Buenos Aires Philharmonic. So most of the good work is done by the Coro Polifónico Nacional with the Orquesta Sinfónica Nacional.

            One of the greatest challenges is Beethoven´s Missa Solemnis, arguably the most important mass along with Bach´s in B minor. Pedro Calderón did it some years ago with the forces above, and now that he is 79 he gave his solid interpretation once again with them, and with soloists that come from the CPN (soprano Soledad de la Rosa and tenor Ricardo González Dorrego) plus mezzosoprano Mariana Rewerski replacing the announced Lucila Ramos Mañé,  and bass Christian Peregrino. The CPN was led by its Principal Conductor Roberto Luvini.  

            This is a terribly dense score and admittedly there were occasional fissures, but the overall concept was right and there was a lot of sustained musicianship from the orchestra (especially fine solos from the concertino), the choir (the sopranos mostly coping with the very high notes that Beethoven put in their parts) and the soloists. In this Mass the soloists´ work is very integrated with the choir and there are no arias for them, but the writing is quite difficult. Although both de la Rosa and González Dorrego lacked dramatic intensity, they sang purely and in tune, no mean feat. The presence of Rewerski was a pleasant surprise, for she  lives in Europe; her voice is fresh and beautiful. Peregrino has the proper weight but his vibrato is sometimes too accused. Calderón was, as his wont, the master builder we have known for decades, and structure is of the essence in this masterpiece; I only missed some added inspiration in key passages.

            Another OSN concert, at the Auditorio de Belgrano (their usual venue), gave us the chance to hear again a splendid Rachmaninov work, "The Bells", on an adaptation of Poe´s poem by Balmont. Forty-two minutes of colorful, varied music, splendidly orchestrated, where the only problem is that some climaxes mix  the full-strength choir with the soloist, swamping him under a wall of sound (not a fault of the interpreters).  The joy of "The golden jingle bells" (with a tenor), the solemn "Sweet wedding bells" (with soprano), the demonic "Sonorous alarm bells" (no soloist but tremendous choral singing) and  "The Funereal Iron Bells", aptly marked "Lento lugubre" (with bass/baritone), are the four parts of a score that was the composer´s favorite. It dates from 1913.

            The big CPN sang lustily and the orchestra played enthusiastically. The best soloist was Alejandro Meerapfel, who sang with commanding power. For some reason Alejandra Malvino, a mezzosoprano, was assigned a soprano part; the strain in high notes was comprehensible, then, but she managed alright. González Dorrego was again the tenor, singing clearly and musically. All were led by the young Colombian Hadrián Ávila Arzuza, currently Principal Conductor of the Sinfónica de Córdoba; trained in Russia, he knows the style well and communicated with skill his ideas to all concerned.

            Alas, the rest of the programme wasn´t up to the main score of the evening. It started with a prettry horrible premiere, a 6-minute thing called "Ongilash" by its composer Luis Zubillaga, an Argentine who died in 1995 after a life of extreme convictions wrongly oriented in music and politics. It started with a terrible howl, followed by a minute of talks (yes, talks) by the orchestra members with newspapers in their hands, and it ended with almost five minutes of music that went nowhere. By the way, "Ongilash" was an invented word by a small kid, Zubillaga´s son. A wan and rather disjointed execution of Brahms´ "Variations on a theme of Haydn" (well, Brahms and the musicologists thought at the time that the "Divertimento on St Anthony´s chorale" was Haydn´s; it came out that it isn´t; no matter, it´s a fine tune for variations)  closed the First Part. A pity that Uruguayan pianist Raquel Boldorini fell ill, for she was to play my favorite Mozart Concerto, the dramatic Nº 24.

            The famed series of Conciertos de Mediodía, a branch of the Mozarteum Argentino, presented a German group of very important trajectory: the Hamburg Monteverdi Choir (no connection with the similarly named outfit founded by Gardiner). Led since 1994 by Gothart Stier, it was founded by Jürgen Jürgens in 1955 and made memorable records. After l8 years, of course the singers and the conductor have a fine rapport.  In typically contained German fashion, they sang with style and refined dynamics never going beyond a forte. The Gran Rex is hardly adequate for this sort of intimate interpretation but I still got a lot of pleasure out of their traversal of "Four Centuries of European Choral Music", as they called their concert.

            The composers were Monteverdi, A.Scarlatti, the unknown Johann Gottfried Schicht, Bruckner, Mendelssohn, Brahms, Stanford, Britten, Debussy and Orff, plus a vidala by Chazarreta, hardly European.

For Buenos Aires Herald