In what seems to be a welcome and growing trend, recent weeks have brought a good deal of renovation –and innovation- to our classical programmes.
Initial announcements of the Mozarteum´s season promised the debut of the Beijing Symphony under Li Biao, in what would have been the first time that a Chinese orchestra came to our city; this artist visited us but at the head of the Li Biao Percussion Group. On the one hand, an intriguing debut was scratched; on the other, this ensemble proved to be first-rate and worth knowing and provided a fascinating concert; in fact there were two programmes, I comment on the first one. The privilege of presenting the Beijing Symphony will now fall to Nuova Harmonia, institution that promises for November 8 that orchestra conducted by Tan Lihua.
The Percussion Group was founded in 2005 and apart from the exceptional Li Biao, an astonishing virtuoso, it includes six other splendid artists; four come from Germany: Rudi Bauer, Lukas Böhm, Alex Gloeggler and Philipp Jungk; Conrado Moya is Spanish and Ronni Kot Wenzel, Danish. They were all formed either at Munich or Berlin, except Wenzell, who studied at the Odense Carl Nielsen Academy. As the biography of the group says, they play almost a hundred instruments that weigh altogether five Tons; we didn´t see quite so many at the Colón but it was an impressive and enormously varied array.
The Mozarteum has been responsible for previous visits of percussion groups: twice Les Percussions de Strasbourg and once Taiko, the enormous Japanese drums. To those excellent ensembles the Mozarteum´s history adds the Lin Biao, fully their equal. The programme I heard was a mixture of relatively recent music plus an arrangement of ragtimes and a botched Vivaldi arrangement (the only bad thing). Two of the composers come from the group: Bauer´s 9-minute "Seven seas", for the whole ensemble; and Jungk´s "Taklamakan", which has a Malay feeling.
A minimalist standard: Steve Reich´s "Music for pieces of wood"; Russell Peck´s vertiginous "Lift off", a drums display; Christopher Rouse´s "Ogoun Badagris" for bongo drums and maracas; a good arrangement by Lin Biao of Piazzolla´s Tango Nº 2 from Tango Suite (marimba, vibraphone); and two Orientals: Guo Wenjing´s "Rite of Mountgains" arranged by Li Biao in the style of Chinese opera; and Minoru Miki´s "Marimba Spiritual" (plus six drummers). The encore: "Aquarela do Brasil"!
Their Ragtimes were far from Joplin, two of four were ultra-fast, but the flying hands of Li Biao were amazing. In fact, he is the natural leader to an admirable group, complementing each other splendidly. Not great music but undoubtedly great playing.
A curiosity was offered by Nuova Harmonia at the Coliseo: The Pianos Trio (debut), made up of Giorgia Tomassi, Carlo Maria Griguoli and Alessandro Stella. There is no repertoire for that combination, so the programme constituted of arrangements, plus a piece commissioned by the artists. The pianists were admirable individually and collectively, playing with uncanny precision and unanimity. The men faced each other and the girl faced the public (we didn´t see her hands). The pianos were of good quality.
The things I enjoyed more were the Suite from Shostakovich´s operetta "Moscow, Cheryomushki", light, sarcastic and melodic; and the encores, Johann Strauss II´s "Tritsch-Tratsch" polka and Rossini´s tarantella "La danza". But although the arranging jobs by Griguoli are skilful, I constantly missed the original orchestrations of Debussy ´s "La Mer" and Stravinsky´s Suite from "The Firebird", 1919 version. As to "Vaalbara", by Carlo Boccadoro (born 1963), it had some interesting moments; it was written in 2013 for the Martha Argerich Project.
The Mozarteum Midday Concerts have also provided unusual repertoire, though not so offbeat. Currently our best chamber group is probably the Cuarteto Petrus (Pablo Saraví and Hernán Briático, violins; Silvina Álvarez, viola; and Gloria Pankaeva, cello). Thery were in full form playing Juan Crisóstomo de Arriaga´s First Quartet, Debussy´s characteristic Quartet and as an encore Haydn´s Minuet from the Quartet "The Lark". Arriaga was an adolescent genius that died when he was only 20, and Spain lost its greatest composer of that time (1806-26); the First Quartet shows the richness of his invention and was a very welcome inclusion.
The Duo Yamamoto (debut) joins the sisters Yuka and Ayaka playing two pianos. I found them quite efficient but rather mechanical. They chose rarely heard pieces by important composers plus William Bolcom´s "Recuerdos" ("Three Latinamerican Dances). From Clementi the Sonata Op.12 Nº 1; from Schumann, the "Six studies in canonic form" as arranged by Debussy; and from Chopin, the Rondo Op.73. Pleasant rather than important music, the programme lacked at least one score of more substance.
The Verdehr Trio came here some years ago for Festivales Musicales. Two of the players are a veteran couple, Elsa Ludewig-Verdehr (clarinet) and Walter Verdehr (violin); the younger pianist Silvia Roederer completes the Trio; they are resident artists of the Michigan State University. During their thirty years they have originated an impressive two hundred premières. In fact we heard two of them, Jennifer Higdon´s "Dash" (2000) and Bright Sheng´s "Tibetan dance", both rather good.
The best music was two of the Op. 83 Pieces by Max Bruch, beautifullly Late Romantic. The Armenian composer Alexander Arutiunian´s Suite is pert and witty. The weaker things were the arrangements of two Brahms Hungarian Dances (Nos. 1 and 4) and "I got variations", by William Brohn on Gershwin´s "I got rhythm". The players were always professional and very able.
For Buenos Aires Herald