Festivales Musicales finished its season with the most famous of oratorios, Handel´s "Messiah", at the Colón. I would of course have preferred something more adventurous, considering the abundance of Handel oratorios that are so rarely heard and contain wonders. It was a great success, however, even if I do have some reservations.
The first matter is that I like my "Messiah" complete; the conductor, Mario Videla, liberally cuts Handel oratorios but he never does so in J.S.Bach´s great works. The reference recording among a whole herd of them is that conducted by Charles Mackerras following Basil Lam´s edition; it lasts a whole half-hour more than Videla´s performance. There are 52 numbers in Mackerras´ records and also in the Eulenburg pocket score which follows the Chrysander edition; Videla offered only 38.
In one sense Videla is very respectful: it follows Handel´s original orchestration of strings, oboe, bassoon and continuo, with occasional trumpets and tympani. But I find him deficient in the orchestral phrasing, too "legato"; it has to be more incisive and clipped, even if you use modern instruments. The size was adequate: 23 players, although in Handel´s time the oboe and bassoon coloring was greater : six of the former, four of the latter. But the orchestra was reasonably good, especially the trumpets and oboes.
I was impressed by the quality of the Orfeón de Buenos Aires led by Néstor Andrenacci and Pablo Piccini: the florid singing was very clean and the tough contrapuntal entries were very well adjusted; the voices were fresh and in tune. And I found in them the sense of rhythm that was lacking in the orchestra.
The soloists were uneven. Best was soprano Soledad de la Rosa, whose enormous girth doesn´t seem to impede her from producing crystalline high notes. Frankly I prefer contraltos to countertenors; however, Martín Oro was good in the center and lows, though hooting when he went up.
Tenor Carlos Ullán´s voice is no longer what it was and I missed quality of tone as well as firmness of line. And I was surprised by Víctor Torres´ first aria, uncharacteristically imprecise and bumpy; he later found his normal good form, however.
Videla is a Baroque specialist and a hard worker; he has a natural musicality and a sober temperament. He coordinated things well and was never vulgar, but neither did he have the necessary pep for the great moments. It was a good "Messiah" but not a great one.
It didn´t help that many were left without a hand programme and that access to the stalls was quite slow.
The last two concerts of the Buenos Aires Philharmonic´s subscription series were respectively good and very good. Pavel Kogan, son of brilliant violinist Leonid Kogan, has visited us before; he came back for an all-French programme, a curious decision in a Russian artist, considering how much of their repertoire remains unplayed here. There´s also plenty of interesting French music waiting its turn, so that I was disappointed by his choices: the Ballet music from Gounod´s "Faust", the First Suite from Bizet´s "L´Arlésienne" and Saint-Saëns´Third Symphony. All of it very nice music, touching greatness in some moments of the symphony. They are all very well-known and that´s taking the easy way: programming must stimulate and instruct.
There´s a moot point concerning the Saint-Saëns symphony: to hear it properly we should go San Juan´s Victoria Auditorium, the only one with a tube organ. The one at the Colón sounds miserable, a thankless job for organist Matías Hernán Sagreras. Nevertheless, Kogan is a firm and powerful conductor and the Phil was in decent shape, so all the music was quite enjoyable. However, 62 minutes is short measure.
The last concert was a pleasant surprise, product of a snafu in the Colón´s calendar. It was supposed to happen on November 20 and be conducted by Enrique Arturo Diemecke, but it was reprogrammed for October 31, for La Fura dels Baus needed the stage free to prepare their production of Verdi´s "Un Ballo in Maschera". Strange, because they have already presented it in other countries and all they have to do is mount it and rehearse the singers. Nevertheless, the episode allowed the vindication of one of the best Latin-American conductors, the Chilean Francisco Rettig; he was supposed to conduct the National Symphony, but he refused because the National Culture Secretariat still hasn´t paid him for his performances of last year...Indecent isn´t too strong a word for the attitude of the authorities. But he fit the bill of the Phil´s reprogramming, and there he was.
Without containing rarities, it was a wonderfully satisfying programme, for all three scores are masterpieces. I was taken aback when I saw that Sibelius´ Second Symphony wasn´t at the end of the evening but at the beginning, but I gradually accepted the idea. This was deep, searching Sibelius, done with utmost care and sensibility by the Phil and Rettig.
Although Prokofiev built three suites out of his long and stupendous ballet "Romeo and Juliet", the one we heard is Rettig´s choice and it contained all the plums, climaxing with Theobald´s (and Mercutio´s) deaths. And finally, the exhilarating First Romanian Rhapsody by the incredible 19-year-old Enesco, maybe a bit low on nostalgia in the slow parts but dynamic and infectious in the fast ones. A joyful end to the season confirming Rettig´s rare talent.For Buenos Aires Herald