We´ve had in recent weeks many interesting visitors from Europe and the USA, in most cases young people of impressive talent. In this apparently chaotic world there are still positive things that transmit good vibes, and we sorely need them.
The Festival Strings Lucerne is a famous group founded by Rudolf Baumgartner and Wolfgang Schneiderhan in 1956. It has been here several times, always in a high level. Last visits, 2000, 2004 and 2007. In their current tour they number 18 and are led by Daniel Dodds, of Australian father and Chinese mother. It is important to bear in mind that the Lucerne Festival is one of the best and any music lover is sure to attend magnificent concerts during the Swiss Summer. The Festival Strings, of course, are always a feature. They played here for Nuova Harmonia at the Coliseo.
Their programme was varied in the First Part, whilst the Second was all-Tchaikovsky. They started with the beautiful 6-minute Josef Suk "Meditation on the chorale of Saint Wenceslas", Op.35 a . Followed a favorite score of string ensembles, with good reason: the Third Suite of "Antique Dances and Arias" by Respighi is an inspired transposition of materials from the Seventeenth Century. I only wish that the other two suites were played once in a while (I have never heard them in concert but a record conducted by Seiji Ozawa shows that they fully deserve attention); it´s a matter of repertoire: the string ensembles don´t have so much to choose from, whilst the full symphonic orchestras have a gigantic amount of choices.
A few years ago Buenos Aires heard a rather weird piece written by the Swiss Martin Wettstein (born 1970): "Verdi´s dream". Now we appreciated it again but in a string version dedicated to this visiting group. It is a phantasmagoric adaptation with "wrong notes" of Verdi´s music from his opera "Macbeth", especially the witches´ choirs and dances and Lady Macbeth´s arias. I find it parodic fun, particularly for those of us that know the opera well.
The two first pieces by Tchaikovsky were adaptations that provided Dodds with music where he showed his attractive "cantabile" ("Meditation" from "Memories of a loved place", Op.42) and his virtuoso panache ("Waltz-Scherzo", Op.34). The first was originally for violin and piano and the second, for violin with full orchestra.
That evergreen standard, Tchaikovsky´s Serenade, had a lovely performance. Ditto the encore, from the same composer: the version for string ensemble of the "Andante cantabile" from the First Quartet, one of his most plangent melodies.
The playing was uniformly first-rate, with fine tuning and ensemble, discipline meshed with distinguished phrasing and good taste. The eight ladies were as pleasant to hear as to be looked at, and the ten gentlemen were just as musicianly.
Two splendid trios were presented by the Mozarteum within a week: the Atos Piano Trio in the Colón subscription series, and the Trio Hoboken at the Gran Rex for the free Midday Concerts. Both are young and hugely talented. The Atos is made up of violinist Annette von Hehn (she provided the "A"), pianist Thomas Hoppe (from him the "T" and "O") and cellist Stefan Heinemeyer ( the "S"). They founded the Trio in 2003 and were rapidly recognised as an outstanding chamber group.
Their stated aim as expressed in an interview is to sound as one, quite a feat considering that the piano is inherently percussive and the strings are melodic, music being originated by friction. Well, they certainly manage to approximate that idea by dint of total consensus in very minute matters: the exact weight of a chord, a precise immediate contrast between "forte" and "piano", a small "rubato" (flexible rhythm) in strategic moments, etc. And as they have a strong cultural basis, their versions of two famous Trios went from very good (Beethoven´s Trio Nº6, "Archduke") to truly memorable (the enormous Second Trio by Schubert, whose heavenly lengths caused in this interpretation "nirvana" states of mind in several friends ). Although I do find the pianist more assertive than his colleagues, the string players are very accomplished. Hoppe is magisterial in his absolute command of the musical texts. I felt that the "Archduke" was a bit too contained for the vast expanses of the Colón, but they were making their debut and perhaps realised in the interval that stronger dynamics were necessary; anyway, in Schubert everything was perfect.
The French Hoboken Trio takes its name from the man that established the Joseph Haydn catalog, for these artists especially like the great classicist composer. However, their programme was very curious, for the only original work for piano trio was Ravel´s Trio, a marvelous score admirably done by violinist Saskia Lethiec, cellist Eric Picard and pianist Jérôme Granjon. They too founded their ensemble in 2003.
It was a gesture from the pianist to play the "Danza de la moza donosa" by Ginastera after the Ravel Trio (a rare circumstance in a trio programme). The two final scores were transcriptions: an arrangement by Olivier Kaspar of Ravel´s "Spanish Rhapsody", and another arrangement by Kaspar and Chevillard of Chabrier´s "España".
Good of their kind, I couldn´t help missing the orchestral colors of the originals, but they were played with so much conviction that I was almost won over. The matte acoustics of the Gran Rex moderated the brilliance of the artists.
For Buenos Aires Herald