miércoles, mayo 15, 2013

Orchestral ups and downs from Lithuania and B.A.

          The high points of our orchestral season (so far) were dealt with when I wrote about the Montreal and the Simón Bolívar orchestras. We descend a couple of rungs in this article, which concerns the debut of the Lithuanian National Symphony Orchestra (at the Coliseo, starting the Nuova Harmonia year) and concerts by the Buenos Aires Philharmonic and the National Symphony.

            It´s a curious coincidence that due to a replacement Juozas Domarkas, the Principal Conductor of the Lithuanians for several decades, inaugurated the Phil´s season in March (I wrote about it) instead of coming with his orchestra. The privilege fell to Vladimir Lande, who made his debut here last year leading the Saint Petersburg Symphony.

            I liked the orchestra but I wasn´t pleased with the choice of programme. Days before they had played in Rosario, and there they began, as it is logical, with Three Preludes by a Lithuanian composer, Mikolayus Ciurlionis. But here unaccountably they gave us instead the Overture to Johann Strauss II´s "Die Fledermaus" ("The Bat"). We thus lost an opportunity to connect with their music, so little known here.

            Matters were not ameliorated by the inclusion of a wonderful score that proved uncongenial to orchestra and conductor, Gershwin´s Piano Concerto, and through putting as "pièce de résistance" Brahms´ Fourth Symphony, played just one week before it was done by the Montrealers under Kent Nagano. The contest wasn´t tenable. Mind you, the Orchestra is good: apart from the muted trumpet solo in the Concerto´s second movement, the playing was uniformly reliable and homogeneous. A touch of acidity, the lack of a richer, mahogany-hued string ensemble, are the distance between an accomplished orchestra (the Lithuanians) and a virtuoso world-class organism (the Montrealers).

            As a sign that something wasn´t quite right interpretively, the best thing was a light, airy "Fledermaus", with the right inflexions and "joie de vivre". Xiayin Wang (debut), an attractive young Chinese girl, is a brilliant example of the excellent preparation of Oriental instrumentalists. She plays with firm command and splendid mechanism, but I found her a bit short in swing, perhaps because the Lithuanians and Lande gave her a doubtful accompaniment. Her encores were Gershwin´s "I got rhythm" and a small fast Chinese piece.

            The Brahms Symphony was well played but conducted with superficial phrasing in the first two movements; the joyous Scherzo and the Passacaglia fared better. The encore was rather unexpected, an agreeable Habanera by a composer I couldn´t place, nicely done.

            The Buenos Aires Philharmonic presented a programe with just two long scores. The first is little-heard, Tchaikovsky´s Second Piano Concerto. The First is of course an unfailing hit and the Second is less interesting, with too many rhetorical flourishes and some inflated sections, but it does merit an occasional outing and hasn´t been heard for long. Irish pianist Barry Douglas has visited us several times, always with fine results; last year he was pianist-conductor in Mozart and Beethoven Concerti. I feel that this sort of repertoire fits him fully, rather than Tchaikovsky´s Second, certainly played with fine professionalism but not with the powerhouse sound it requires. I was angry that we were offered the Siloti shortening of the second movement: in its full form it is a lovely trio with violin and cello adding to the beauty of the melodies; here they were greatly reduced. Uncharacteristically, Enrique Arturo Diemecke´s accompaniment was loud and unsubtle. But Douglas gave us a lovely encore, Brahms´ Intermezzo op.117/1.

            Diemecke redeemed himself with one of the best interpretations I´ve heard of Beethoven´s Third Symphony ("Heroic"), to my mind the most important in the whole of history, ever fresh although overplayed. With a Phil on its toes the conductor showed himself at his best: concentrated, orthodox, sensitive and clear.

            As usual the National Symphony was late in its plans, and this year it was worse, for after some pre-season concerts it was supposed to begin its season at the Auditorio de Belgrano, only really decent acoustic venue apart from the Colón. But the powers that be didn´t close their negotiations in time, and the two first concerts had to be given elsewhere. So, for the initial one, back to the too-resonant Bolsa de Comercio.

            It was a very good concert, with only two serious blemishes. The First Part was all-J.S.Bach: a first-rate performance of the Double Concerto for oboe and violin, in which the brothers Andrés and Antonio Spiller excelled. And then, the marvelous Cantata Nº 147 in two parts and ten fragments, the one that includes "Jesu, joy of men´s desiring". Pedro Calderón showed himself a good Bachian and he had a fine mixed choir (Coro Nacional de Jóvenes under Néstor Zadoff) and the unnecessary but nice Coro Nacional de Niños under María Isabel Sanz. Three very good solo singers: Ricardo González Dorrego (tenor), Alejandro Meerapfel (baritone) and Alejandra Malvino (contralto); Silvina Sadoly (soprano) was rather shrill. Blemish: the oboe d´amore player in the contralto aria unfortunately hadn´t command of the instrument and left gaping holes by stopping the dialogue with the singer at various points.

            Second blemish: no one told the public that José María Castro´s Concerto grosso wasn´t played. The closing announced piece was indeed done, and very well: Hindemith´s ingenuous and strong "Metamorphoses on themes by Carl Maria Von Weber". Result: many people thought they had heard J.M.Castro and remained on their seats waiting for Hindemith!

For Buenos Aires Herald