The London Festival Orchestra is an old friend of Buenos Aires and of Nuova Harmonia at the Coliseo. In earlier visits it was led from his cello first deck by its founder Ross Pople. Due to illness, this new presentation was under the responsibility of a talented concertino, Robert Gibbs. And there was an added attraction in having various gifted soloists.
The session had the right amount of renovation. Johann Christian Bach was called "the London Bach", for it was there that the best part of his classicist career evolved. The charming and succinct Overture-Symphony Op. 3 Nº 5 (not Nº 5 Op.3, as wrongly put in the programme page) was very nicely played by this chamber orchestra of 22 players (right for J.C.B., rather small for late Mozart): 9 violins, 3 violas, 3 cellos, 1 bass, 1 flute, 2 oboes, 1 bassoon, 2 horns. They all have a full true sound, fine intonation and ensemble. And a sense of style in the contained but expressive and tasteful British way.
Then, the eight-minute "Fugal Concerto" by Gustav Holst, a delightful miniature where we heard beautiful playing from Christine Messiter (flute) and Christopher O´Neal (oboe), seconded by an alert string group. It is possible that both J.C.B. and Holst were local premieres.
The best known of Boccherini´s Cello Concerti, in B flat major, G.482, was played as nowadays in its original form instead of in the romanticized Grützmacher conflation.The cadenzas however are probably from the twentieth century. A brilliant young Russian, the 25-year-old Mikhail Nemtsov, played with arresting brio and positiveness, correctly accompanied .
Mozart´s masterpiece, Symphony Nº 40, is a major challenge. I liked the performance: the phrasing was intense and close-knit, all playing as one, with fine musicality. The tempi for the first and the last movements were perfect; however, the Andante was a bit fast and the Menuet wasn´t "Allegretto" as marked but "Allegro". There were a couple of horn fluffs, but their sound was firm and present.
Three encores: the "Badinerie" from J.S.Bach´s Suite Nº 2 was done very cleanly by flutist Messiter. Then, that lovely Massenet piece, "Le dernier sommeil de la Vierge". And finally, a stately Pavane by an English seventeenth-century composer.
This year I had only heard the National Symphony (Orquesta Sinfónica Nacional) at a concert that featured Bach´s Cantata Nº 147 and Hindemith. The venue had been changed from the planned Auditorio de Belgrano to the Bolsa de Comercio due to lack of agreement between the Culture secretariat and the Auditorio. They finally came to terms, and the Verdi Requiem was executed at the Auditorio, as it should. But the blunders of the bureaucrats continue; on this occasion: a) there were no hand programmes nor loudspeaker announcements; again, the printers and the Secretariat didn´t agree on terms; b) both Consuelo Álvarez, for the Coro Polifónico Nacional (CPN), and Luis Roggero, for the NS, read protests against the authorities for not having fulfilled promises concerning what the choral and orchestral members call the "career", meaning that seniority and quality, among other things, should be recognised in monetary terms; c) as a sign of being disgruntled, the choir left aside their collective dress code and wore street clothes.I agree with b) and c); the point is that they played and sung, the audience wasn´t held as hostages or disappointed in their right to attend. This is the way to act when there´s labor trouble.
This is Verdi´s bicentenary and of course his Requiem was the logical choice for a homage. This tremendous piece needs first-class operatic soloists, a full orchestra and a big choir. The latter two items were there, the former not quite. Pedro Calderón in his late seventies can still handle such an intense score, and he did a capable job, although rather short in finesse. The NS played well and the choir sang loudly but accurately. The best soloist was mezzo Cecilia Díaz, very dramatic although the timbral quality wasn´t equalised between registers. Soledad de la Rosa had all the high notes, but harmonics were lacking, the voice sounded white. Lucas Debevec Mayer (bass) tried too hard and forced his interesting vocal material. Tenor Darío Volonté sang coarsely in a verista style.
The Buenos Aires Philharmonic had a visiting conductor recently: the Russian Daniel Raiskin. He holds posts at Koblenz (Germany) and Lodz (Poland) and looks close to 40. I was sorry that he chose Chabrier´s "España", not because the piece is poor (far from it, the music is brilliant) but there are plenty of Russian pieces very little done here and he could have brought one to us. Anyway, it was a joyful and firmly conducted start to a light First Part. For the second score was Lucas Guinot´s Suite for vibraphone and orchestra, where each movement was a homage to respectively Troilo, Spinetta, Piazzolla and rather surprisingly Gauchito Gil. Agreeable crossover music played admirably by Ángel Frette and seemingly well accompanied.
There´s nothing light, however, in the massive Ninth Symphony, "The Great", by Schubert. As Schumann wrote, there are heavenly lengths in it, but properly handled it is the only symphony (along with Schubert´s Eighth) that can be spoken of in the same breath as Beethoven´s. I found Raiskin and the Phil more workmanlike than inspired, not poetic enough and sometimes too heavy, but they were never less than fully professional.For Buenos Aires Herald