lunes, julio 07, 2014

From musical antiques to modern turmoil

             That incredible nonagenarian, Cristián Hernández Larguía, is still at the helm of the group he founded in 1962, the Pro Musica Antiqua Rosario. At the Church  Nuestra Señora del Carmen (rather ample but too resonant) they presented "Music and monarchy (Music in England during the reigns of Henry VIII and Elizabeth I)" as a part of "ReVivaldi 2014"  ("Permanent festival of antique music in Buenos Aires"). Well, "antique" was the old appellation for music from the Middle Ages, the Renaissance and the Baroque, but during the last decades the Baroque is no longer called "antique".

            A big group came to B.A. this time: 34 singers, singer-players and players. Two of them, the Assistant Director Néstor Mozzoni and the assistant Susana Imbern, have been  loyal collaborators of the Director during several decades. As usual, the maestro talked to the audience in his uninhibited way about the programme, which was a good and varied cross-section of the music during those famous reigns. 

            Henry VIII was also a composer, so we heard his "Pastime with good company"; and then two Anonymous pieces, two by William Cornysh including the lovely "Ah Robin", and a splendid Alleluia by John Taverner. During the long reign of Elizabeth I a plethora of great musicians appeared in a true Golden Age. Starting with an anthem by the great Thomas Tallis, followed a madrigal by John Ward, three charming works by Thomas Morley, three by the greatest of them all, William Byrd, two dances by Anthony Holborne, three dances and an ayre by John Dowland, an anonymous dance, a madrigal by John Farmer, two pieces from the famous "Dancing Master" by John Playford, a ballett (a danced song) by Thomas Tomkins, and two contrasting scores by Thomas Weelkes, an anthem and a ballett. Encores by Morley.

            One of the instructive and rewarding things of this session was the variety of instruments used: recorder, cromorne, viola da gamba, tin whistle, sackbut (antecedent of the trombone), shawm, dulzian, traverse flute, harpsichord, lute, percussion of different sorts.  The cunning alternation of vocal, vocal-instrumental and instrumental pieces was a further delight.

            Hernández Larguía´s versions may not be quite up-to-date musicologically, but Rosario isn´t Europe and he always makes positive, beautiful and tasteful music. He was the pioneer in these lands and still holds the torch at his advanced age. Among the players I especially liked Juan Carlos Migliara (lute), Manuel Marina (harpsichord), Emiliano Zamora (tin whistle) and Pablo Mantero (viola da gamba). The singers had admirable ensemble but the group falls short in outstanding vocal soloists.

            Now let´s go to little-known but worthy Baroque. The Academia Bach presented at the Museo de Arte Decorativo (an ideal venue) scores involving a Baroque traverse flute, a fortepìano and and a small positive organ. The players: Manfredo Zimmermann, an Argentine residing in Cologne, who proved to be a master flutist as well as very stylish. And Mario Videla, who seemed rather unsure in two sonatas for fortepiano by Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach (quite interesting) but showed greater command in a Trio sonata by the same author and was fully comfortable playing the organ in Johann Sebastian Bach´s Triosonata BWV 525a for flute and organ (the original, 525, is just for organ).

             There was also an intricate sonata  for flute by C.P.E.Bach, and to start, his employer Frederic II of Prussia´s  very well written Sonata in E minor for flute and continuo (the great monarch was a good musician). By the way, the fortepiano and the organ are owned by Videla, and as the former is rarely heard (it´s the Baroque piano such as Johann  Sebastian knew it, of course dimmer in sound than the later pianoforte), it was a useful experience.

            Now an abrupt jump to the late Twentieth Century. Frankly I´m not a friend of minimalism, and the first contact of our public with that trend ended in strong booing: "In C" by Terry Riley. Now however it is widely accepted (though not by me), witness the Latin American première at the Colón of "Music for 18 musicians" by Steve Reich, who was present. Much better than Riley, but still a prime example of the limitations of this type of musical construction.

            It dates from 1974-6 , and it is based on eleven chords presented in the Introduction; each one will be developed until an epilogue gives us the eleven again. The principal interest is the range of tone colors (timbres): 4 pianos (at the Colón I believe it was 2 pianos and 2 keyboards); 3 marimbas; 1 vibraphone, 4 female voices (2 sopranos, 2 mezzosopranos); two clarinets (and bass clarinets); 1 violin; 1 cello.  No drums, no brass.

            An unrelentless and unchanging fast rhythm is imposed by the marimbas and pianos and never wavers; the voices are textless and a mere element of the overall sound; any variety is provided by the vibraphone and the clarinets; the strings saw away unrewardingly.  I could have taken this for about 20 minutes but it lasted 62!  The execution was as far as I could tell excellent, especially by the Uruguayan percussion group Perceum.

            It was preceded by the 3-minute "Clapping" (it´s just that and very simple) by Reich and a lady, called a manifesto by supporters. Mind you, the theatre was packed and seemed to enjoy the whole thing. It wasn´t the usual Colón crowd, but a youthful one.

For Buenos Aires Herald