lunes, septiembre 30, 2013

A checkered pianistic explosion

            This article will cover concerts by four pianists, and if I had the gift of ubiquity I could have tripled that figure in recent weeks. There were of course different levels of quality, but some high points will remain in the memory.

            Nelson Goerner is the best Argentine pianist of his generation (early forties); he lives in Europe, but he visits us yearly and his presentations are always an event. This time his recital for Nuova Harmonia at the Coliseo was again admirable. He presented a solid repertoire of essential composers with the qualities of a great artist: an almost infallible technique, a perfect equilibrium between orthodoxy and innovative interpretation, a beautiful touch, a sense of style that vitalizes all he plays.

            Two well-chosen pieces by Chopin: the varied and enigmatic Fantasy Op.49 and the lyrical Third Ballad. Then, two splendid Debussy versions: the first book of "Images" (inexplicably not applauded!) and a mercurial "L´isle joyeuse" ("The happy island"). Finally, the enormous last Schubert Sonata Nº 21, where he observed the repeat of the exposition in the first movement (theoretically right, it does make for an excessive 20 minutes); but the composer´s heavenly lengths have rarely been done with such sensitivity. More exquisite Debussy as an encore: "La soirée dans Grenade", Nº2 from "Estampes".

            Horacio Lavandera is both the most successful and regularly seen of the Argentine pianists that are in their twenties. However, although I admire his dexterity and easy command, I always feel a barrier of communication when he plays the classics and I find him much more appealing in Twentieth-century music. This was the case when he played with impeccable mechanism Mozart´s Concerto Nº23 and Beethoven´s Nº 5, "Emperor", for Festivales Musicales at the Colón.

            Crystalline touch and meticulous articulation for Mozart but very unyielding rhythm and no ornamentation in the slow movement. In Beethoven he was quite a pro in remaining unfazed to the consequences of a lighting failure that affected the stage; everyone played with the full lighting of the hall. It was a clean and firm "Emperor" but a bit too percussive and lacking in poetry.

            Michael Seal, a British conductor currently Associate Conductor of the Birmingham Symphony, has been before at the helm of the Orquesta Académica del Instituto Superior de Arte del teatreo Colón. He had them well in hand and his accompaniments were quite helpful. Before the Concerti he led them in a very agreeable traversal of Beethoven´s First Symphony, where it was evident that the Académica (38-strong) is in pretty good shape for this kind of music.

            I recently wrote about two concerts of the series Chopiniana; now I will refer to another couple of sessions. I´m glad that the decision was made not to return to the over-reverberant Oval Room of the Palacio Paz in the Ground Floor; now they are using regularly the good rectangular hall of the First Floor, with much better acoustics. The quality and condition of the piano also matters, and after several concerts in which the piano sounded harsh and overloud, on the night of Ingolf Wunder´s "rentrée" the piano was transformed, and not only because the pianist is a superior talent, but due to the instrument´s re-tuning.

            Before him, Polish pianist Wojciech Waleczek had his return engagement but without the benefit of this re-tunement. However, the artist tends to massive sound and over-vehement phrasing, facts that didn´t help. As this is a series, he shouldn´t have repeated Chopin´s three Waltzes Op.34, for they had been played by Raphael Lutchevsky, but there was an improvement: the third waltz was at the right speed. Before, he played the rarely done "Brilliant variations" Op.12 also by Chopin; they follow the trend of taking a famous bit from a current opera as the subject of virtuoso variations. In this case, "on the favorite rondeau ´Je vends des scapulaires´ from ´Ludovic´ by Halévy and Hérold".

            Liszt made hundreds of arrangements on music by other composers; among his better ones are his choice of "Six Polish songs" by Chopin, quite beautiful and played with conviction by Waleczek. The pianist was at his best on two works by Witold Lutoslawski:  "Twelve folk melodies" (1952) and "Bucolics" (1945); in both cases the Polish composer followed Bartók´s methods to give us folk-inspired miniatures of great charm and character.

            Unfortunately –though they were rather well-played- I don´t enjoy the heavy transpositions made by Liszt from Wagner ("Isolde´s Love-death" from "Tristan and Isolde" and the "Peregrine Chorus" from "Tannhäuser") and Gounod (the Waltz from "Faust"). The encores came from Schumann (Nº 1 of "Kinderscenen") and unexpectedly from Mancini ("Moonriver" from the film "Breakfast at Tiffany´s").

            To play with words, Wunder is a wonder. Born in 1985, he is certainly a bright light among young pianists: impressive command of dynamics from ppp to fff, extremely agile and fast fingers, good taste and stylistic sense. He played an almost perfect Sonata Nº14, "Moonlight", by Beethoven, and followed with beautiful Chopin  performances: Nocturne Op.9 Nº 3 and two Ballads (Nos. 1 and 3).

            In the Second Part, a precise and sensitive Impromptu Op.142 Nº4 by Schubert and an agreeable transcription by Liszt of Schubert´s "Serenade". Finally, Liszt´s mighty Sonata, done in the grand manner with a few smudges, and two encores: Chopin´s "Fantasia impromptu" and Moszkowski´s aptly named "Étincelles" ("Sparks"). Wunder seems to me an artist in the great Viennese tradition.

For Buenos Aires Herald

A symphonic panorama: renovation in repertoire at the Phil

            In recent weeks there has been a good deal of renovation in our symphonic concerts. We heard some interesting and valuable music either in premiere or in long-delayed revival. Enrique Arturo Diemecke conducted two concerts with his Buenos Aires Philharmonic at the Colón and both brought welcome novelty.

             What mattered on September 12 was the opportunity to hear again Carl Nielsen´s Flute Concerto. I was present when Gerardo Levy premiered it back in 1979 with the Phil conducted by John Carewe, and I have long treasured a vinyl disk with both that piece and the same composer´s Clarinet Concerto as played by  respectively Julius Baker and Stanley Drucker, first desks of the New York Philharmonic conducted by Leonard Bernstein.

            Written in 1926 when Nielsen was 60, this 19-minute score in two movements is mischievous and innovative. Rather than traditional form what we have is a mosaic of episodes that give full play to the flute´s brilliance but oppose it to the orchestra at various moments, particularly an obstreperous trombone, and all the time playing with the limits of tonality. It was very well played by Claudio Barile, who has a wide palette of sound at his disposal, and accompanied with sagacity by Diemecke.

            The rest of the concert was well-known though welcome material: the "Escenas argentinas" by Carlos López Buchardo, his solitary symphonic work composed in 1920, much liked by Weingartner who even did it here with the Vienna Philharmonic; and Dvorák´s most joyful symphony, the Eighth.  There were some blemishes (horn fluffs and  stridency) but the proper spirit was there in both cases.

            I particularly welcome the concert on Seprtember 19 for it was fully given over to South-American music. Again conducted by Diemecke with his fabulous memory and very solid technical equipment,  he was at his best and got astonishing results from a BA Phil in top shape in all sections, though the music was particularly demanding for the percussionists, who had a field night.

            I do feel that "Kalamary" (premiere) was a poor choice. We practically ignore all about Colombian classical composers, and I do hope there is better stuff than this paraphrase of melodies by Lucho Bermúdez as arranged by Wolfano Alejandro Tobar. I found it noisy and trivial.

            But the revival of Alberto Ginastera´s "Popol Vuh" soon compensated. For this score, who had an admirable antecedent in his "Cantata para la América Mágica", is surely among his major pieces. Unfortunately he wrote seven of the eight fragments in his original plan, so we missed the coronation of the scheme, who was to be "The creation of man".  But the 27 minutes we have are fantastic and reaffirm Ginastera as our greatest composer. 

            The score is based on the famous Maya book collecting legends and myths of the Quiché people.  It was commissioned by Eugene Ormandy for the Philadelphia Orchestra in 1975, but Ginastera postponed it until 1982, a year before his death; Ormandy´s successor, Riccardo Muti, wasn´t interested. Leonard Slatkin found the material deposited at the editors, Boosey & Hawkes, and decided to premiere it with his St Louis Symphony, for he felt that the seven parts coalesced and gave a feeling of completeness.  So in 1989 it was heard for the first time and recorded. Guillermo Scarabino premiered it here with the BA Phil in 1995.

            The seven parts depict "The night of Time", "The birth of the Earth", "The awakening of Nature", "The scream of Creation", "The Great Rain", "The magic ceremony of maize" and "The Sun, the Moon and the stars". Using avantgarde technique (serial harmony, clusters, clouds of sound), a telluric, visceral use of extremely varied percussion and a fascinating imagination, Ginastera manages to evoke the deepest essence of old Maya traditions in  strictly contemporary terms, going beyond another great work we heard this year, "La noche de los Mayas" by Silvestre Revueltas.

            Heitor Villa-Lobos remains the most important Brazilian composer, as well as the most exuberant and fecund. His teeming production is only partially known here, so it was good to get to know one of his last scores, "Floresta do Amazonas" ("Amazon Jungle"), written in 1958 (he died the following year). It is fact a suite taken from his film music for "Green Mansions", made by Mel Ferrer with his wife Audrey Hepburn and based on a book by William (Guillermo) Hudson; Bronislau Kaper, of "Lili" fame, following instructions from MGM ransacked the score; Villa-Lobos got angry and decided to make this suite and obtain from MGM the funds for a recording with the Symphony of the Air (ex NBC) and famed soprano Bidú Sayao.

            With some curtailment, this is what we heard, and it still lasts 47 minutes and has 14 fragments.  There are several songs and a male choir intervenes with onomatopoeic "tribal" music. Virginia Correa Dupuy is that "rara avis", a mezzo with a soprano range, and she was in splendid form. The Ensemble Vocal Cámara XXI prepared by Miguel Ángel Pesce did good work. The music is lush, beautiful, Brazilian to the core, with an ample orchestration and great tunes.

            I do hope that in the future we will also get from Diemecke a proper representation of the USA repertoire, as well as big scores from Carlos Chávez, the best Mexican composer.  Programming is a difficult art worthy of some extra polish.

For Buenos Aires Herald

Unconventional concerts can be quite interesting

         In have seen in recent days concerts that were as unconventional as interesting. They were not offered by the big institutions (except that the CETC is a dependence of the Colón) and they were given in rather small venues.

            Alicia Terzian as organizer of concerts has led for an enormous period (45 years) the Festival Internacional Encuentros. She has thus enriched our seasons with valuable music often in premieres. This year the Festival happens mostly in the agreeable hall of the Consejo Profesional de Ciencias Económicas, whose only small problem is that you must go to the seventh floor.

            Up to now I have been able to attend  just two concerts for others collided with events I had to cover, but those I heard were worthy of attention. I was sorry to miss those of the Grupo Encuentros, the New Docta Ensemble and pianist Christopher Guzmán, as well as an homage to Adelma Gómez offered by the organist Luis Caparra at the Basílica del Santísimo Sacramento. However, I caught the recitals by Swiss guitarist Christoph Denoth and by mezzosoprano Marta Blanco accompanied by pianist Enrique Premoli.

            The Denoth programme had a British leaning and started with four pieces by John Dowland originally for lute (his encore was by the same Elizabethan composer). They sound well on guitar.  Then, the world premiere of "Traces", five pieces dedicated to Denoth by Hans-Martin Linde (Switzerland, 1930), well-known as a Baroque flutist. The titles are in English and the second piece is "Remembrance of BB" (Benjamin Britten). We heard moderately modern music written with a sure hand.

            The masterpiece was Britten´s "Nocturnal" Op.70, deeply ruminative transformations of Dowland´s song "Come, heavy sleep". Finally, a premiere by the recently disappeared Hans Werner Henze: "The Royal Wintermusic II Sonata" (On Shakespearean Characters), three pieces of widely divergent style: humorous for "Sir Andrew Aguecheek" and "Bottom´s Dream", and properly dishevelled for "Mad Lady Macbeth". All was played by Denoth with finely honed professionalism.

            Both Blanco and Premoli have worked together in recitals of songs for many years. Their selection of mostly Twentieth-century music this time was strongly in favor of tonal melody and I found their choices unhackneyed and gratifying. The early "Trois mélodies" (1887) by Erik Satie stressed easy singability although the piano part is primitive. Next came a real surprise: three Lieder on Eichendorff texts by famous conductor Bruno Walter, who wrote them in 1910 influenced by Mahler; they are very easy on the ear, with lush Postromantic harmonies.

            Two composers who trained together and were friends  came next: Gian Carlo Menotti with Five songs (1983) on texts of his own (quite good) and Samuel Barber with his Four songs Op.13 (1940) on widely different poetry (Hopkins, Yeats, Agee and Prokosch). In both cases, strongly felt music with a true knowledge of the human voice in a Neo-Romantic style. Finally, Five Songs Op.38 by Erich Wolfgang Korngold, that versatile composer who gave us an opera such as "Die Tote Stadt" but also the music for Errol Flynn movies. Two are Lieder on Dehmel and Eichendorff; the third is on an old Spanish text translated by Koch; the fourth is an English folk text; and the last, a sonnet by Shakespeare; all of them with very apposite music.

            Even the encores were interesting: "Do not go, my love" by the little-known Richard Hageman, and "Heart, we will forget him", from the splendid "Twelve poems of Emily Dickinson" by Aaron Copland.  Blanco and Premoli are two solid veterans and they know what they do; her voice sounded a bit fragile at first but soon took body and range, and the pianist was always in the picture.

            The title of the CETC (Center for Experimentation) recital was intriguing: "Two coyotes". It turned out to be the name taken by two notable Finnish players: cellist Anssi Karttunen and pianist Magnus Lindberg. Why? Because  of a homonymous piece written by Lindberg in 1991 (revised 2002). In fact, that work started this "sui generis" concert made up of Lindberg works plus an improvisation by both players plus two Stravinsky scores arranged by both. Lindberg is in fact a highly considered composer in Europe, although rarely done here.  They are stunning players capable of almost anything, and of course they have complete rapport.

            Lindberg, born 1958, presented three scores: "Two coyotes", cello and piano; "Stroke", for cello (1984); and "Santa Fe Project", cello and piano (2006). His music is tense, contrasted, with some avantgarde traits, and is mostly a game of oppositions between both instruments; "Stroke" is harsh and brief.

             The two Stravinsky arrangements seemed to me unnecessary in the sense that the composer himself has made them for the chosen works: there is a "Suite Italienne" derived from "Pulcinella" and a fine violin/piano arrangement of the Russian song from "Mavra". However, the suite concocted by both players from "Pulcinella" (in itself a Neoclassic modernisation of Pergolesi and attributed Pergolesi originals) is quite different from Stravinsky´s and holds its own with much humor. And the Russian song sounds lovely in cello and piano. 

            Finally, a song recital at the Alliance Française gave me much pleasure, with the revelation of the finely cultivated voice of Sophie Klussmann nicely accompanied by pianist Anaïs Crestin. They collaborated on six Lieder by Brahms, the six exquisite "Ariettes oubliées" by Debussy on Verlaine poems, and a final six Lieder by Schubert.

For Buenos Aires Herald

sábado, septiembre 21, 2013

Great ballet week at the Colón: a farewell and a gala

  "Don Quichotte" took some time  taking hold in the Colón repertoire, but in the last three decades it has been a frequent staple. As the illuminating programme notes of Enrique Honorio Destaville explain, there are two traditions: that of Marius Petipa and that of Alexander Gorsky. It was the latter that inspired Zarko Prebil, whose version was given with great success in 1980 with Vasiliev and Maximova and repeated innumerable times since then, at the Colón and elsewhere.

            This year the Colón provides a choreography revised by Lidia Segni based on Petipa, more academic and with less humor and pantomime than Prebil´s; she cuts some fragments such as the one at the Tavern and adds some of her own, attempting more realism than Petipa.

            The music by the Polish composer Leon Minkus has been much mailgned but it is good of its kind, especially in the Spanish-tinged scenes. The action of course takes the Don Quichotte subject as a mere reference, for in fact the whole thing is centered on the romance of Kitri and Basil. There are plenty of divertimento possibilities to upholster the thin plot.

            The Colón has done a very handsome show for this season. Six performances with different casts, the sixth providing an ideal setting for the farewell of our great ballerina Silvina Perillo, with the curious feature of having three Basils, one per act: Alejandro Parente, Edgardo Trabalón and Federico Fernández. Stage designer Enrique Bordolini has a knack for beautiful pictures that give a feeling of splendor; probably this is his best ballet job and it provided splendid images as a frame for the dancers. No less attractive were the costumes by Eduardo Caldirola, and the lighting by Rubén Conde was always in character.

            Javier Logioia Orbe has managed in recent seasons to demonstrate that as a conductor he understands the dancers´ needs whilst giving value and careful rehearsal to the music; the Orquesta Estable responded admirably.

            I attended the Perillo farewell, and I found it moving as well as an object lesson of professionalism from all concerned but particularly from Perillo, leaving her career at 45 in full possession of her formidable technique and charming as ever in her favorite role.  Although she would have preferred Prebil´s version (it allows more acting) she was completely at home in the Petipa/Segni, and was lovingly partnered by three of the best Colón dancers. At the ending there was apotheosis as she was showered with rose petals.

             I´m happy that she was homaged as she deserves, for Perillo is an outspoken lady and when things went very wrong in the relationship of the Ballet with both Segni (as Directress of the Ballet) and García Caffi (as General Director), she was the one that led a famous press conference explaining the legitimate complaints of the dancers.

            Martín Miranda (Don Quichotte) and particularly Marcelo Antelo (Sancho Panza) were very adequate. There were first-rate contributions from Maricel De Mitri (Streetwalker), Vagram Ambartsoumian (Torero and Gypsy), Graciela Bertotti (Gypsy girl), Silvina Vaccarelli (Cupid), Gabriela Alberti (Queen of the Dryads), Igor Gopkalo (Camacho) and others who solved very well their variations. And the abundant Corps de Ballet was in fine form.

            In the Segni tenure each year the Colón offers an International Gala, but the guests only dance in the First Part; the Second is occupied by our local Ballet; I don´t agree: the gala should occupy the whole night. That Second Part was occupied with "Tango", again Segni as choreographer, this time on music by Piazzolla and with the tango dancing style assisted by Julián Galván. It worked well in its blend of steps from academic and tango dance and provided material for the brilliant execution of our artists.

            Three selections were of time-honored pieces: the "Pas de deux" from "The Sleeping Beauty" (Tchaikovsky-Petipa), beautifully done by soloists of the Bolshoi, Anna Nikulina and Semyon Chudin; the "Pas de deux " from "Don Quichotte" (Minkus-Petipa), correctly executed by Ana Sophia Scheller (N.Y.City Ballet) and Davit Karapetyan (San Francisco Ballet); and the "Black Swan Pas de deux" from "Swan Lake" (Tchaikovsky-Petipa), again danced with magisterial command by Nikulina and Chudin. Glazunov´s "Raymonda" is a fine ballet less seen; its "Pas de deux" was presented with wonderful precision by Tamara Rojo and Fernando Bufala (English National Ballet) on a fine choreography by Loipa Araujo.

            "Jewels" is a three-part ballet by Balanchine; from it we saw the "Pas de deux" from "Rubies", on Stravinsky´s Capriccio for piano and orchestra. As usual, Balanchine renovates academic steps. It was well danced by Scheller and Karapetyan. The most interesting things were two "pas de deux" by choreographer Alonzo King, with dancers from his Alonzo King Lines Ballet: Meredith Webster and the African-American Keelan Whitmore: the first, "Migration", music by Leslie Stuck, a slow melodic line for strings; the second, "Sposa son disprezzata", from "Constellation", a lament by Vivaldi sung with fine taste by Maya Layhani but piano-accompanied. In both cases, the expressive artists with splendid bodies interlaced attitudes of modern dancing in almost constant contact.

            The final selection was a well-choreographed experiment by Frederick Ashton: five Brahms waltzes danced in the style of that famous individualist of modern dance, Isadora Duncan. Nicely played on stage by Iván Rutkauskas, it allowed  Tamara Rojo to show her versatility in flowing robes.

For Buenos Aires Herald 

Six visitors bring dexterity and artistry

 No less than six foreign artists of real value have provided quality playing in these last weeks: five pianists and a violinist.

Joshua Bell is famous in the world and here, where each of his visits was greeted with enthusiasm. His recent visit for the Mozarteum at the Colón  was wonderful not only for him but because it let us discover a major talent: Italian pianist Alessio Bax.  Bell´s violin sound is incredibly smooth and accurate, with intonation of infinitesimal exactitude. And Bax has the most accomplished and unfailing technique along with a highly developed sense of style and taste. To boot, they think and play in perfect accord.

 And the programme was ideal: four lovely sonatas in good contrast. Mozart´s Nº 25, K.301, epitomizes his career when he was between Mannheim and Paris. Beethoven´s Nº9, "Kreutzer", is probably the most famous in the whole repertoire. Debussy´s only Violin-Piano Sonata is his last work (1917): brief, varied, fresh and imaginative. And Grieg´s Third Sonata is an attractive combination of Romantic vehemence and singability.  The encore was a fitting end: Wieniawski´s "Polonaise Op.4", as brilliant as required.

Also at the Colón, Festivales Musicales made a hit with the debut of Korean pianist Sunwook Kim in a programme dedicated to the three great Bs of German music: Bach, Beethoven and Brahms. Kim won the Leeds Competition in 2006, when he was only 18, and has since played with great orchestras and conductors. At 25 he showed amazing maturity; I have often been struck by the adaptability of Orientals to our Occidental musical tradition.

Bach´s First Partita flowed from his fingers  with nicely chosen tempi and complete naturalness; he made small joins between "da capos" and added apposite ornaments. Then came a great test: Beethoven´s Sonata Nº 28 was expressed with admirable strength and complete command of the intrincate counterpoints of the last movement. Finally, Brahms´ Third Sonata is a massive five-movement work: the young lion is here expansive and virtuosic. Kim, with a total lack of pose, played it with a strong structural conception and astonishing accuracy. His encore was quiet, the slow movement from Beethoven´s Sonata Nº 8, "Pathetic".

Few foreign pianists if any have had such an extended career among us as the American Ralph Votapek. When he first came in his twenties he had a great success: here was an artist that exuded freshness, positiveness and charm, with an eclectic repertoire and a fully grounded technique. He was in the line of notable American pianists with a dynamic personality that established total contact with the public without any grandstanding. 

 As the decades went by, he not only played in BA but was a constant presence in provincial cities.  The years didn´t seem to touch him. Now incredibly in his seventies, his step almost as elastic as almost a half century ago, he offered two concerts: on Tuesday night at AMIJAI (I couldn´t attend) and on the immediate Wednesday a Midday concert for the Mozarteum at the Gran Rex.

He played with perfect articulation and beautiful style a rarely done Sonata by Haydn, Hob.XVI-46. Then, the enormous Liszt Sonata, that redoubtable masterpiece. It was a good performance, but not quite as wild and virtuosic as the music needs. He was

 in his element with the adaptation for solo piano of Ravel´s "La Valse" done by the author. Although of course it´s a professional job I can´t help hearing in my head the myriad colors of the composer´s orchestral version. But Votapek did as well as I expected. His encore was a specialty where he always shines, a Gershwin Prelude.

Martha Noguera is a tenacious lady who founded Chopiniana years ago, an international annual piano festival. Many interesting artists came to us for the first time. Last year I welcomed that the venue was the San Martín´s Casacuberta, but the amphitheatre wasn´t available and she had to come back to the Palacio Paz (Círculo Militar), whose high Oval Room is certainly beautiful but has tremendously reverberant acoustics. 

Due to collisions with other events I missed the first two concerts, with Miceal O´Rourke and Luis Ascot. As usual in this series, there are Polish artists;  Raphael Lutschevsky has been here before. He has a big sound and ample, Romantic phrasing, sometimes wilful. I dislike the Liszt arrangements of Schubert Lieder, for he adds enormous complications to pure, simple music; they are trivialized as virtuoso showpieces. But "Funérailles" is strong, powerful Liszt, quite well done by the pianist.

Of the three Chopin waltzes Op.34 I liked the first two but the third was overfast. Lutchevsky was at his best in Chopin´s magnificent Third Sonata, played with acumen and impeccable mechanism. The encores: two Piazzolla pieces (why?).

 Finally, Lovro Pogorelich (Ivo´s brother) made his debut in an all-Brahms programme. It was unusual, for he offered the Sonatas Op.1 and Op.2, long, overwrought works with a surfeit of fortissimo chords, but with many traits of the future Brahms; they are rarely heard. And to finish, the unplayable Second Book of the "Paganini Variations", inhumanly difficult.

Except for a few details, the artist managed to present this tough programme in very professional and commendable versions. He sounded powerful and commanding. Interesting encore: Liszt´s "La lugubre gondola", an enigmatic late work. This time a  different hall in the First Floor, rectangular and with better acoustics, was used, due to an event in the Ground Floor.

For Buenos Aires Herald

sábado, septiembre 14, 2013

Thirty years of classical music in democracy

            Thirty years of democracy. Granted, on a scale of 1 to 10 I would put a pretty low mark on the quality of our democracy, but along with its many failures there have been brighter spots. My field is classical music, and although there have been lamentable facts there´s more to celebrate than to mourn. What follows is an attempt to give a balanced panorama from my point of view as a Buenos Aires resident.

             These thirty years are part of a long history with recurrent crises and high spots, in parallel with the political and economic points of inflexion.

            In musical endeavors there are some basic elements: a) Leaders of concentrated intensity in maintaining their institution or even bettering it; b) Audiences whose level of education and taste makes them participants in the joy of live music; c) Sponsors who are music lovers and understand the necessity of contributing to a cultured society; d) Politicians whose own culture makes them receptive to administrate public moneys in the best cultural orientations; e) Venues that are apt architectonically and acoustically to appreciate music in the best way. 

            To a certain degree these points have been present in the three decades I cover, but hardly to the ideal level. Some musical leaders have had the best intentions but haven´t been available to attract sponsorship and more than  a few politicians were or are blind to culture. And there´s also the crucial matter of personalities: if the Mozarteum Argentino has been so successful it is because it had the luminous leadership of Jeannette Arata de Erize; the Colón years of Sergio Renán were certainly the best of this period.

            I grew up in the Fifties and the shining institution at that time was Amigos de la Música led by Leonor Hirsch de Caracallo; when she died Amigos declined and eventually disappeared. What may be considered its succession, Festivales Musicales de Buenos Aires, had its own great figure, Leonor Luro; Festivales is currently on a decline and I do hope it will find its way out of the mire. And the senior institution, Asociación Wagneriana, who had done so much good in earlier decades, did a last great effort in bringing over the Berlin  Philharmonic under Claudio Abbado, but its destiny was sealed and it went under.

            However, another important institution was founded in this period: Harmonia; the crisis of 2002 forced a reorganisation as Nuova Harmonia as a result of a salvage operation with Italian Government money, but now it seems to be on firm ground again, always under the directorship of Dino Rawa-Jasinski.   Summing up their work to the Mozarteum´s we are assured of international concerts of fine quality. One trend has held through the years: the visits of great orchestras and conductors.

            The world of opera has seen a basic change in the last 15 years, for now we have alternatives to the Colón: Buenos Aires Lírica and Juventus Lyrica, at the Avenida.  For a long time there were also the seasons presented by Adelaida Negri, who brought us many bel canto operas disregarded by the Colón. Plus various endeavors by Eduardo Casullo. But also two sporadic but valuable projects: those of Baroque and classic opera led by Marcelo Birman (Compañía de las Luces), thanks to whom we had premieres of operas by Lully, Rameau and Salieri; and those planned by Ars Hungarica with the leading hand of Sylvia Leidemann, who premiered two Haydn operas and Kodály´s "Háry János".

            There was also the strange venue of La Manufactura Papelera, where in a cellar there were big productions of such operas as "Aida" or Gounod´s "Roméo et Juliette" with orchestra, as well as many others with piano. Now it has stopped. And in recent years the premieres of Lírica Lado B at La Manzana de las Luces and currently at Hasta Trilce.

            For "porteños" the Roma (Avellaneda) and the Argentino (La Plata) have also been options. There are recent  news in both cases: the Roma enters into a long recess of several years for substantial architectural renovation; and the Argentino is in deep crisis since last year, after the resignation of Marcelo Lombardero as Artistic Director and of Alejo Pérez as Conductor of the Orchestra due to constant problems with the Instituto Provincial, essentially budgetary. The result: the opera season wasn´t able to start.

            However, the Roma, a small, charming old "Italian" theater, has offered through the years many interesting things, including revivals and premieres. And the Argentino finally inaugurated its new big building, after years of working with remarkable solvency in a transformed cinema, the Roca. In successive tenures by García Caffi, Suárez Marzal and Lombardero it has been innovating: important revivals of forgotten operas and firsts new to La Plata such as Strauss´ "Salome" and Wagner´s "Tristan und Isolde" and "Das Rheingold".

            In what is a new trend, in recent years several cities of our country have offered opera in theaters that are often quite beautiful: Rosario, Córdoba, San Juan, San Luis, Santa Rosa, etc., are finding audiences for their projects. Also, orchestras were founded in Salta and Neuquén, and festivals at Mendoza, Llao Llao, Ushuaia and Córdoba have taken hold.

            And now to the Colón. During this period there was the controversial time of closure between 2006 and 2010 for substantial renovation. I am among those that aren´t satisfied. Although the "looks" are fine, it´s what the public sees: foyer, hall. But the authorities betray that all´s not well when the guided visits no longer show many of the back aspects: the workshops, the rehearsal rooms, the many places that can´t be shown for they aren´t finished. And the crucial omissions: the Colón library is still in containers since 2006...

            The other matter is the savage elimination of 400 people from the roster since García Caffi took over. It provoked comprehensible reaction and there were numerous strikes. Now things seem quiet but resentment simmers.

            Anyway, apart from  that silly total interruption of the season in 2008  the Colón has always been active offering opera, ballet and concerts, as well as those concerts organised by the Mozarteum, Festivales and Nuova Harmonia. (For its Midday Concerts the Mozarteum uses the Gran Rex, and it is a splendid thing to offer during 54 years free concerts; Festivales also goes to the Auditorio de Belgrano, a vital incorporation in these thirty years, and to the Avenida; and the Coliseo is home for Nuova Harmonia). It has strayed and strays from proper conduct when the hall is hired for popular music.

            Opera: it is impossible in this short panorama to give even a short idea of all the richness offered at the Colón during these years. True, economic conditions and certain unreliable attitudes from some of its functionnaries have had as a result that few great voices come as they used to (Renán´s years apart; just one example: Mattila, Van Dam and F. Furlanetto in "Simone Boccanegra") except for recitals.  But there has been a good deal of renovation in the repertoire. Just a few titles at random, Colón directors in parenthesis: Tchaikovsky´s "Iolanta" (Franze), Shostakovich´s "Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk" (Renán), Krének´s "Jonny spielt auf" (Lombardero), Massenet´s "Don Quichotte" (Capobianco), Enesco´s "Oedipe" (García Caffi). Bel canto has been neglected, however, and some basic operatic composers of the Twentieth Century still have glaring gaps in the Colón history.

            The Ballet has had ups and downs, even in the number of valuable visitors or of visiting companies, though as the recent "Don Quichotte" showed, after the big 2010 crisis things are picking up substantially. But it needs enormous renovation of repertoire: so many great choreographers are forgotten! And so much great music for ballet! However, in recent years the Coliseo has put on many worthwhile ballet shows with visiting artists.

             Our two main concert orchestras are the Buenos Aires Philharmonic and the National Symphony. The Phil is currently going through a good period, under the well-attended and appreciated presence of chief conductor Enrique Arturo Diemecke. And the National still has at its helm our best professional, Pedro Calderón, now approaching his 80 years.  Repertoires could be bettered but we still hear a lot of fine music in valid interpretations. We do need greater variety of conductors, and in the case of the National, a more coherent handling from the national functionaries.

            In recent years the Fundación Chopiniana led by Martha Noguera has brought us a legion of interesting pianists. Two other institutions do a lot to enliven our musical life: the Museo Fernández Blanco and La Scala de San Telmo. Also, the free concerts at the Facultad de Derecho on Saturdays.  And for contemporary music we have the cycles of the Colón´s CETC, the November series at the San Martín and that of the Fundación Encuentros. Plus the fine concerts of Pilar Golf or the San Isidro Easter Festival near the Capital.

For Buenos Aires Herald

“La Boheme”, a surefire hit under almost any circumstances

                In the sweepstakes for first place in recent years, three operas hold the record of performances: Verdi´s "La Traviata", Bizet´s "Carmen" and Puccini´s "La Boheme". Curiously in all three the female protagonist dies, and in two (the first and the third) through tuberculosis. And in the same two, either the whole ("La Boheme") or most of the action happens in Paris. Furthermore, they are situated in the 1840s.
                Years ago I read a French edition of the novel that was the basis for Puccini´s opera: the charming "Scènes de la Vie de Bohème" written as a novel in 1843 (it also appeared as a "feuilleton" and a play, much as happened with Alexandre Dumas Fils´ "La Dame aux Camélias", basis for Verdi´s opera).
                This was a time of "femmes légères" and of free sexual relations with attractive but penniless artists. So they often alternated pleasure (or real love) with protection by aristocrats. The big difference between Mimì (Puccini) and Violetta (Verdi) is that the former falls in love with a writer and the latter with a young man from the high bourgeoisie of Southern France, but both philander with nobles when money runs out.
                True, Dumas Fils was more of a littérateur than the self-made and initially almost analphabet Murger, so his opus is more finished than the rather chaotic one by Murger, but in both cases there are autobiographical traits.  And in both operas the librettists embellish the much harsher facts of the novel.
                Puccini came from "Manon Lescaut" ´s success (an opera with great similarities) when he tackled "La Boheme" with librettists Luigi Illica and Giuseppe Giacosa. Their libretto is full of witty phrases illustrated by the composer with unfailing appositeness. However, they have great failures  which most reviewers don´t mention and should be. E.g., the matter of winter cold. All the First Act harps on it (the fire consumes Rodolfo´s drama) but when Mimì wants to accompany his instant lover to the Cafè Momus, Rodolfo tells her as in a famous jazz item "but baby, it´s cold outside"; although that could be a ploy to go to bed with her. But the Café Momus turns out to be a mostly open-air affair in which a vast crowd seems to be as comfortable as in Summer.  Again the cold dominates in the Third and Fourth Acts, hardly more consistently (Rodolfo, a coward, wants to leave Mimì because she is very cold in his room, but she insists on staying outside in their meeting).

            As time goes by, the tomfoolery of the Bohemians becomes for me more irritating, for they act as teen agers, not full-grown men.And it´s very hard to find artists that are young and agile enough to make of the "fight" and dance something acceptable.
                However, Puccini´s wonderful music puts it all right: lovely melodies, endless imagination, refined orchestration carry the opera forward, even in its Kitchiest (the French say "chichi") moments. People don´t analyze, they just enjoy the beauty.
                Thirty years ago when I mentioned the productions I made distinctions of quality, but the issue wasn´t whether or not they were given the proper ambience according to the time in which they occur. Now, as a symbol of what is going very wrong in the world of opera, I praise the very fact of respect to time and place. As I write, I tremble to think what La Fura dels Baus could make of "La Bohème".
                So kudos for Ana D´Anna (Juventus Lyrica, Avenida) as she gives us a reasonably good account of what the librettists wrote.  And her human warmth (sometimes overdone) is what the piece needs. The fun of the children in the Cafè Momus scene was contagious. Her daughter María Jaunarena contributes beautiful and varied costumes of those times. The work of Gonzalo Córdova is much weaker: his sets are not absurd but they leave a lot to be desired, and his lighting was certainly very poor in the First Act, where there was too much light in the famous moment in which Mimì drops the key and Rodolfo finds it.
                When one says that the best thing was the conducting and the playing of the orchestra something is seriously amiss. The veteran maestro Antonio Russo (born 1934) keeps very well, strong and dynamic; his sensitive phrasing and very good contact with the singers and the choir (which he prepared) are those of a specialist. By the way, a good version with reduced orchestra was played (by Mario Parenti). The children´s choir came from various parts of the City within a social project called Musizap (Asociación de Amigos de Orquestas Infantiles y Juveniles).
                I don´t know what will happen with the second cast, but in the first Rodolfo was way below expectations. Although Mariano Spagnolo´s voice is stentoreous, he is musically bad, with poor intonation and a distempered timbre; as an actor his bulk doesn´t help. Sabrina Cirera, although a better musician, has too much vibrato and her timbre isn´t enticing. And Laura Polverini´s Musetta was too strident, even if she was in character.
                So the best contributions came from the other Bohemians: Fernando Grassi sang a true, fresh Marcello and moved well; Mario De Salvo was a good Colline, and Juan Font, a funny Schaunard. Gabriel Carasso (Alcindoro and Benoit) almost has no voice, so he resorted to effects; and Fernando Navarro was a rough Parpignol.
For Buenos Aires Herald


sábado, septiembre 07, 2013

A potpourri of diverging concerts

            Three recent concerts were as divergent as possible.  The first in fact combined a staged version of Pergolesi´s "La Serva Padrona" with an interpretation of Vivaldi´s "The Four Seasons" complemented by projections; hardly your normal concert. The others were closer to standard but again very different: a panorama of Baroque instrumental music and a symphonic concert featuring yet again Mahler´s Fifth Symphony but adding a concerto by Schulhoff with a strange combination: string quartet and wind orchestra.

            Let´s tackle the Pergolesi/Vivaldi. With it the Ensemble da Camera Umberto Giordano led by Gianna Fratta made their debut at the Coliseo for Nuova Harmonia. The group has an incongruous name for Giordano is the "verista" composer of the famous opera "Andrea Chénier", hardly appropriate for a Baroque outfit. They are very few: at least in this tour, they are made up of a harpsichodist/director, Gianna Fratta; a solo violin, Dino De Palma; two ensemble violinists, viola, cello, bass, plus a soprano and a bass-baritone.

            "La Serva Padrona" is one of only two famous Pergolesi scores, the other being the Stabat Mater. Dated 1733, it was an Intermezzo between acts of an "opera seria", "Il prigionier superbo", by the same composer (who died at only 26-years-old). It had an immense success all over Europe and in Paris in 1752 it provoked the "Querelle des Bouffons", in which Diderot and Rousseau defended it against the very different French opera. The title says it all: in about 40 minutes, in "secco recitatives" (with harpsichord), arias and duets, we will be told how the "serva" (maid) Serpina becomes "padrona" (mistress of the house) and convinces bachelor Uberto to marry her with the help of a mute character, Vespone (a "servo"), who disguises himself as a Captain Tempesta, presumed suitor of Serpina.

            The music is light, charming and humorous, quite catchy. The piece has been done with some frequency in BA but not recently, so it was welcome. The spare staging (just tables and seats) was uncredited and acceptable, and the costumes  (including the rather extravagant initial one for Uberto) and wig respected the XVIIIth Century setting. Matteo D´Apolito has a substantial bass-baritone voice with some agility and the right buffo manners. Ida Fratta showed a slim vocal equipment with strong vibrato but was faithful to the character of her Serpina. The Vespone was uncredited. The small instrumental group was discreet and musical.

            I have written in preceding months about that tremedous hit, Vivaldi´s "The Four Seasons". In half-light due to the projections, Dino de Palma showed himself a redoubtable soloist, fully up to the difficulties, and the minimal group (five string players and harpsichord) played with fine style and sweet sound. The added ornaments were quite acceptable. Alas, the projections were just an Italian travelogue without appositeness; a pity, because the idea could have been worthwhile if the images had followed the programme attached to the score and sanctioned by Vivaldi.

            The Academia Bach gave us a splendid session of instrumental Baroque based on composers attached to the Dresden court. An admirable group of artists coincided at the Iglesia Metodista Central: Pablo Saraví, violin; Andrés Spiller, oboe; Gabriel Pérsico,  flute; José Luis Etcheverry, recorder; Edgardo Zollhofer, cello; Manuel Adduci, viola da gamba; and Mario Videla, harpsichord and organ. The five works selected were all quite interesting and showed the richness of technique and inspiration of those times.

            Two were premieres: the Sonata in E minor for violin and continuo by Johann Georg Pisendel, the greatest German violinist in the 1720s; and Sonata I in G for  flute and continuo by Johann Adolf Hasse. The other works were: Vivaldi´s Triosonata in G minor for recorder, oboe and continuo; the Trio Sonata in C for recorder, flute and continuo (organ and gamba) by Quantz; and Zelenka´s big Triosonata in B flat major for oboe, violin and continuo. A couple of Telemann pieces as encores added to the great pleasure of this session.

            It´s been some time since I could go to a National Symphony (Orquesta Sinfónica Nacional) concert (at the Auditorio de Belgrano). Their Principal Conductor, Pedro Calderón, is 79 and age is beginning to show, although his complete professionalism and qualities of master builder are there as always. I have a long memory and I have followed almost his complete career, so I quite vividly remember his splendid Fifth in 1970 at the Colón with the Buenos Aires Phil. And let´s not forget that he was the first and only conductor to do the integral Mahler symphonies in Argentina.

            However, this time the National Symphony was below par: both the first trumpet and first horn made grave mistakes, and the collective sound lacked precision and energy in various points. Calderón´s phrasing, however, was much truer to the original than Diemecke´s with the Phil (this was the third Fifth in two weeks!). Of course, neither team could compete with the Israel Phil and Mehta in their very best form.

            In fact the main interest of this concert was the premiere of Erwin Schulhoff´s Concerto for string quartet and wind orchestra (1930), a very uncommon texture  cunningly exploited by this valuable Neoclassic composer who was to die during WWII at the hands of the Nazis. Quite well-played by the Cuarteto Buenos Aires and with the orchestral winds in good form, this was useful for too little of Schulhoff is known here.           

For Buenos Aires Herald


Avalanche of international ballet galas

            Last week I wrote about an international ballet gala; now I will be referring to new ones that took place at the Coliseo on August 29 (repeated the following day) and 31, and already in the horizon is the one organised by the Colón on September 11.

             The balance of the Third Ballet Gala of Buenos Aires presented by Grupo Ars (t with the sponsorship of Galicia Eminent   was certainly positive. Two matters  surprised me. First, a voice announced that Juan Pablo Ledo was suffering from a lesion and so his pas de deux with Karina Olmedo would be cancelled; there was no mention of it in the hand programme... Second, a welcome surprise: the inclusion of famed artist Daniil Simkin. He danced marvellously a Variation from Tchaikovsky´s "Swan Lake" and a solo from Balanchine´s "Stars and Stripes" (on Sousa´s music). Plus a short funny film  dancing on New York´s streets and subway. Recorded music was heard during the whole evening, sometimes rather roughly.  

            I didn´t like the start, a very recent choreography by Joeri Dubbe (born 1984) on ugly electroacoustic music by Thijs Kaldenbach and Marvin Van Boven, although it was well danced by Carolina Mancuso (Argentine, of the Nederlands Dans Theater) and Paolo Fermani (also Argentine, from our Compañía Nacional de Danza Contemporánea).

            Pierre Lacotte is well known here for his reconstruction of "La Sylphide"; in 2000 he did an impeccable classic choreography on "The Pharaoh´s Daughter", music by Cesare Pugni (1802-70). It was beautifully danced by two Russians from Moscow´s Bolshoi: Ekaterina Krysanova and Vladislav Lantratov.

            The best modern choreography of the programme was by Maurice Béjart: his 1980 duo "Parsifal", with Wagner´s Prelude to the Third Act. The refined and plastic steps were enhanced by the projection of the dancers´ shadows. Two splendid artists from the Béjart Ballet Lausanne were completely attuned to the style: Oscar Chacón (Colombian) and Kateryna Shalkina (Ukranian). Another dancer from Ukrania, Sergei Polunin of the Moscow Stanislavsky Theatre, was fantastically agile in a Variation from "Coppélia" (Delibes/Petipa).

            Then, a  fun piece from choreographer Eric Gauthier: "101 steps": a perfectly synchronised voice leads Canadian dancer Jason Reilly (Stuttgart Ballet) through 100 positions and then mixes them  arriving to the total parodied exhaustion of the artist. Reilly was brilliant. Music by Jens-Peter Abele was listed but I heard none (?).

            For the umpteenth time, the Pas de deux from the Minkus/Petipa "Don Quichotte", where the Cubans Viengsay Valdés (of amazing equilibrium) and Víctor Estéves (Ballet Nacional de Cuba) showed the fine technique of the Alicia Alonso school.

            With charming music by Shostakovich dated 1935, the Pas de Deux from "The bright stream" has a light, youthful choreography by Alexei Ratmansky, danced with naturalness by Krysanova and Lantratov. Followed a minor Béjart, Jacques Brel´s song "Quand on n´a que l´amour" ("When all we have is love"), nicely done by Shalkina and Chacón. The rarely seen Petipa opus "Talisman" (1889) with music by Riccardo Drigo, provided a difficult classic pas de deux well danced by Valdés and Estéves.

            I found little to admire in the strident minimalist music of Michael Nyman ("Fanfare XL") or in Douglas Lee´s choreography, though it was well executed by Reilly and Anna Osadcenko (from Kazakhistan). To finish, Polunin was imposing in Vaganova´s "Diane and Acteon" (music by Pugni), a pure classic example; his Diana, pleasant but a little small, was Luciana Barrirero from the Colón.

            Ten dancers from the Bolshoi, Mikhailovsky and Kirov Ballets are doing a Chilean tour and managed to squeeze a date in BA. They are the "Stars of the Russian Classic Ballet". The level was high and representative of a trend to insert acrobatic steps into old standards. However, there was room for poetry in two interventions by the exquisite Yuliia Makhalina: the Adagio from Tchaikovsky´s "Swan Lake" (Petipa/Ivanov), where she was partnered by a true "danseur noble", Mikhail Venshchikov, and that imperishable standard, "The dying swan" (Saint-Saëns/Fokin).

            Humor and skill dominated the Pas de Deux from Petipa´s "Harlequinade" (music by Drigo) done with fantastic agility and the right spirit by Kristina Andreeva and Oleg Ivenko. The Grand Pas from "La Bayadère" is typical Petipa (music, Minkus). The performance by Marina Veznavets and Konstantin Zverev was able but superficial. Them came the contrast of the folky "Gopak" (steps by Zakharov, music by Soloviev-Sedoy) brilliantly done by Victor Ishchuk.

            Natalia Ledovskaya and Venshchikov danced very purely the Seventh Waltz from "Chopiniana" (first version of "Les Sylphides"), the archetypal "ballet blanc" by Fokin. The First Part ended with the "Pas d´action" (in fact, a normal Pas de deux) from Petipa´s "Le Corsaire" (five composers were listed!), where a wiry but strong Victor Lebedev performed lifting feats with Anastasia Lomachenkova, a tall blonde; both were very good.

            Makhalina and Venshchikov showed their versatility in the sensual Adagio from "Schéhérazade" (Rimsky-Korsakov/Fokin). The Pas de deux from "The flames of Paris" is supposed to happen during the French Revolution but there´s little in the music (Asafyev) or choreography (Ratmansky) that suggests it; it was well danced by Lomachenkova and Ishchuk. Ledovskaya and Lebedev gave us a sensitive and youthful Pas de deux from "Giselle" (Adam/Petipa).

            A Suite from "Carmen", the Alberto Alonso choreography on Bizet as arranged by Shchedrin, centered on the gypsy girl and the toreador. Veznavets danced well but missed the personality of her character and Zverev was a strong presence. Finally, the Grand pas from "Don Quixote" was beautifully done by Andreeva and Ivenko. All took leave dancing Bizet´s "Farandole".

For Buenos Aires Herald

Mehta and the Israel Phil wow the public

            Zubin Mehta and the Israel Philharmonic have long been a fixture of our seasons. In fact, both conductor and orchestra hold the record of visits to our city. They genuinely enjoy being here , where they are always received with enthusiasm.

            They are also the fourth highly ranked combination of the year, after Dudamel/Simón Bolívar, Nagano/Montreal and Jansons/Concertgebouw. Critics will be hard put to elect one of them as conductor and orchestra of 2013.

            The Israelis are hard workers: four concerts in as many days. And Mehta at 77 is an amazing case of vitality; he looks splendidly fit, in full mental and physical control. I heard two of the four sessions: the ones at the Colón as non-subscription nights, Saturday 24 and Tuesday 27.

            The others were a closed night for the Jewish community on Monday 26 at the Colón (two symphonies that have a lot in common, Dvorák´s Seventh and Brahms´ First) and an open air midday concert at the Puente Alsina. I dislike open air symphonic music, especially in Winter. The event was billed as part of the International Tango Festival, but it was hardly that, for they played just one tango; the rest was habitual symphonic repertoire: Verdi´s Overture to "La Forza del Destino", Mozart´s Symphony Nº 40, three pieces by Johann Strauss II plus some Ravel.

            The concerts of August 24 and 27 had one characteristic: they were made up of just two masterpieces. On the 24th: Richard Strauss´ imposing 35-minute tone poem "Also sprach Zarathustra" and Tchaikovsky´s Symphony Nº 4. On the 27th: Mozart´s Fortieth and Mahler´s mighty Fifth. Mehta conducted everything from memory!

            "...Zarathustra" is a tough nut to crack, and although it is a marvellous score, it doesn´t get many playings, due to its enormous complexity. It  attempts one of the most difficult things: to find a musical language convincing enough to transmute Nietzsche´s philosophy into music. Although Kubrick´s "2001" engraved the Introduction indelibly in those who saw it and engendered a spate of recordings, after a decade or so the score again began to be neglected. It certainly shouldn´t: it is one of Strauss´most lofty inspirations, as well as being enormously modern for a work writen in 1895/6.

            One fascinating fact: it was Strauss himself that premiered the score at the Colón back in 1920, and again the composer did it when he conducted no less than the Vienna Philharmonic at our theatre in 1923. Give me a time machine...

            Mehta´s choice was audacious though understandable: he is Indian but of Parsee family, and that community has an affinity with Zoroastrism (Zarathustra is Zoroaster). Of course, Nietzsche innovates in his aphorisms, and there´s the touchy matter for Israelis of his exaltation of the Superman in the sense of a spiritually evolved man that goes beyond our current Homo sapiens. The Nazis distorted this as they distorted Wagner´s Siegfried. But the Straussian music goes beyond such ideological matters and you can enjoy it deeply, as also happens with "Ein Heldenleben" ("A Hero´s Life"), even if it is an exalted ego-trip.

            I have to report, however, that I wasn´t completely satisfied by the performance. Mehta is a master conductor with great technical capacity and the Israelis form  a major outfit, so a lot of what they did was admirable. However, Mehta has always had a sanguine temperament and although in his mature years he is much less prone to effects than of yore, he doesn´t give to his phrasing of the most German and intimate passages the affinity of, say, Karajan. And the fantastic contrapunctal complexity gave trouble to some players, especially the horns.

            After the interval all was well. Mehta has given here memorable readings of Tchaikovsky´s Fifth and he obviously understands perfectly the exalted and ultrabrilliant Fourth, giving it a solid, completely orthodox reading, wonderfully well played.  The encores were, as he said, more Tchaikovsky (a charming, relaxed traversal of the great Waltz from "Swan Lake") and the tango they learnt for these BA presentations: "Por una cabeza" by Gardel and Le Pera, in a good symphonic arrangement.

            "The Fortieth" is Mozart´s most famous symphony, due to that extremely catchy first subject of the opening movement. Mehta´s views are entirely traditional and musicianly, with no obtrusive excentricities nor any historicist bias. The orchestra played very well.

            But Mahler´s 70-minute Fifth was the main attraction. In an astonishing coincidence, this great score was programmed thrice in 15 days; the others, Diemecke/B.A.Phil, and Calderón/National Symphony. As I´m writing this paragraph,on Thursday 29, tomorrow I will hear Calderón´s interpretation, where I´m sure he will again prove himself our foremost Mahlerian.

            However, it is unlikely that conductor and orchestra will quite match the superb results of what probably was the highest point of this visit by the Israelis. As I recently wrote on Diemecke´s reading, I won´t elaborate on the work´s wonders. So I will just say that Mehta´s comprehension and knowledge of this music were those of total immersion. I particularly admired the continuity he obtained, so that the brusque joins between startlingly diverse sections flowed with total naturalness. And his "tempi" were quite impeccable.

            As to the orchestra, although everyone played with surprising accuracy, there were two particular heroes: the trumpet playing the opening of the symphony and the "obligato" horn in the  Scherzo. Plus the glorious sound of the strings in the Adagietto, expressive but never mawky.

For Buenos Aires Herald