lunes, abril 07, 2014

Our main orchestras show their paces

            As I was traveling, I missed the first subscription concert of the Buenos Aires Philharmonic at the Colón. But I have references of what happened. First, we were supposed to have Bernhard Klee as the conductor, but somehow the artist didn´t come. A pity, for it would have been one of the very scarce debuts of this season, and Klee has a substantial career.  As usual, the Colón gave no explanation.

            He was substituted by Ira Levin, well-known here in recent years. Fortunately the soloist was maintained, the talented Karin Lechner in Mendelssohn´s First Piano Concerto. And there was a good change in the first score of the programme, for the charming but overplayed "Fledermaus" Overture by Johann Strauss II was put aside, and Levin conducted an interesting and rarely played piece, Wagner´s "Faust Overture". Brahms´ Second Symphony wasn´t changed.

            The second concert had Enrique Arturo Diemecke, again Principal Conductor for this season,  at the helm, and there were two distinct levels of quality in a run-of-the-mill programme. Russian pianist Leonid Kuzmin came back after a long time and played Beethoven´s Fifth Concerto, "Emperor". 

            Kuzmin did have some nice quiet moments but this is a majestic work; it needs strength and very precise articulation; there were too many smudges as well as rather wan passages. And the orchestra played negligently; Diemecke was uncharacteristically  nonchalant.

            But things changed in the second part, for Diemecke has always been a relevant Richard Strauss conductor, and this is the year of the 150th anniversary of the composer´s birth. The chosen pieces are quite well-known but no less pleasant to hear. As a colleague said, after the end of the Second Part, in it "we had an orchestra", and it responded beautifully in "Till Eulenspiegel´s merry pranks" and in the Suite from "Der Rosenkavalier" (except in the latter for a horn croak).

            The opera is an absolute marvel, but the suite, done much later, though wonderful most of the time, does have some bad joins and I dislike the tumultuous ending, instead of the delicate and tasteful one of the opera.  Diemecke was brilliant as well as flexible and humorous in both works, as well as tender in the Trio or gloriously schmaltzy in Ochs´waltz.

            But there was a novelty that gave me a bad case of anger: traditionally the hand programme was part of the usher´s tip; now we have two "models": one is the usual, with full biographies and comments on the scores; the other is ultraslim and only offers the bare facts. For the "usual", you will now have to pay 50 pesos plus tip; as it has no less than ten adds, its cost is surely covered. As the tickets are quite expensive for a country in the middle of a crisis, the new procedure seems to me unwarranted and wrong. I, as reviewer, get it for free, but my anger is on behalf of the music-lovers at large.

            I have written often about the shortcomings of the National Symphony (Orquesta Sinfónica Nacional): not the players, which are generally quite good, but their mismanagement by the Nation´s Cultural Secretariat decade after decade. This year is more of the same: free concerts (which diminishes any orchestra) in their main cycle, not only on the secondary venues; only a couple of foreign conductors (why should they

accept to come when they don´t get paid?); rather poor programming (they always pay late the rented scores which means that some editors refuse to collaborate), including conceptual errors such as the programmes dedicated to Bacalov and Waldo de los Ríos, not worthy of such an honor; underuse of voted funds, as has happened in recent years.

            Apart from being absent in their first two concerts (the first, a pop open-air concert at the Villa 31! ; the second, all-Russian, at the Bolsa de Comercio), I had to miss their third one, also at the Bolsa, for it clashed with "Anna Bolena". Last Sunday I wanted to go to a very special concert, for the programme was the Berlioz Requiem, famous for its huge forces: a full orchestra augmented by 4 bands, plus a big chorus and a tenor soloist. The open-air venue was chosen for political reasons: the Regimiento de Patricios, for it was attended by the Minister of Defense and the Army Chief; indeed, it was a solemn celebration of April 2, and the same work had been offered in recent years at other places such as Mar del Plata with identical purpose. And it was to be televised, including our Hymn and the "Canción a la bandera" from Panizza´s "Aurora", sung of course by Darío Volonté.

            But rain intervened, and the concert was postponed for the following Monday, and at 8 p.m., not 7. I was there early, so I saw and heard the sound tryouts.  And apart from the lack of style of Volonté in Berlioz, all went smoothly if you accept open-air sound (microphones were well-adjusted but there was a continuous low rumble of traffic).

            Guillermo Becerra conducted with full control and excellent phrasing; the National Symphony was splendid and it was admirably abetted by the four bands from the Army, the Marine and the Air Force. The choirs sang powerfully  the difficult score: Coro Polifónico Nacional (Roberto Luvini) and Coro Nacional de Jóvenes (Néstor Zadoff). The incredibly inventive music was well served.

For Buenos Aires Herald