Festivales Musicales de Buenos Aires offered the final two concerts of its season, and Nuova Harmonia closed their year with a symphonic concert at the Colón. NH will formally announce their 2015 plans next week, although they already appear in the hand programme. Alas, that won´t happen with Festivales: although a cryptic phrase in the programme of Bach´s Mass implies their final goodbye, it isn´t clearly stated, but it is unfortunately true: after 39 years they are leaving the field to (they say) younger musical associations.
I´m sure that I express a shared feeling of deep regret, for Festivales Musicales was for decades an essential element of life in our musical community. In fact it started as a way of replacing another basic institution, Asociación Amigos de la Música: I can truly say that in the Fifties and Sixties it was the most intelligent and progressive concert organizer, but after the death of Leonor Hirsch de Caraballo it never recovered its impulse and steadily declined.
Mario Videla had been a part of Amigos and had witnessed the Karl Richter Bach Festivals; in the initial group Videla was joined by Antonio Russo and Jesús Segade and they all concentrated on the Baroque period. Shortly after the orientation decanted when Videla teamed with Leonor Luro; she proved a splendid leader, cultured, dynamic and well-oriented in artistic matters. Of course, Videla´s vast know-how was always there.
An essential concept was that each Festival had a central idea: e.g., Purcell-Britten or From Berlioz to Ravel, or the Baroque in different mixtures or Mozart. Another was to bring over distinguished specialists: The English Concert, Les Arts Florissants, Musica Antiqua Köln, The Academy of Ancient Music, La Petite Bande... A veritable cascade of revelations at the highest level, enriching the souls of concertgoers.
But again, fate intervened, and Leonor Luro died. And the orientation changed: there was no longer a central idea and Festivales started to lose its individuality. Unfortunately the country also changed and its political and economic decline meant that fewer sponsors were available. There were signs of imminent demise during these last years but somehow one hoped that a solution would be found, such as a powerful new sponsor or a strong personality with Luro´s drive. Neither appeared, although there was good disposition and hard work from all involved in Festivales.
They will be sorely missed, but at least a "daughter" of great value will survive: as Videla announced, the Academia Bach will go on, and it´s no secret that I deeply admire his work there.
A reprogrammed concert (planned for July but one of the artists fell ill) was presented at the Auditorio de Belgrano with the unusual mixture of baritone and string quartet. In music of Late Romanticism and tonal Twentieth Century there was an odd-man-out, to my mind unnecessary and partial: the long aria "Schlummert ein" from Bach´s Cantata Nº 82, "Ich habe genug" (wrongly programmed to end the evening, but fortunately Pablo Saraví announced a new order for the music and Bach was heard first).
Víctor Torres sang two introspective and beautiful pieces in addition to Bach: Samuel Barber´s "Dover Beach" (1931) on a melancholy poem by Matthew Arnold, and Respighi´s lovely "Il Tramonto" ("The Sunset"), Shelley in Italian translation. The blend of strings and baritone works admirabl. I have a soft spot for the Barber, for the composer was also a baritone and did a very commendable disc which I own. I found Torres in good voice and well attuned to the style of both creators; the blend with the Cuarteto Petrus was very neat.
The Cuarteto Petrus has presented before (and I reviewed that occasion) two attractive quartets of Slavic composers, both quite well-known: Borodin´s Nº 2 and Dvorák´s Nº 12, "American". They play them at an international level and all four must be mentioned: Saraví, Hernán Briático, Silvina Álvarez and Gloria Pankaeva.
The Bach Mass was chosen to end Festivales´ long trajectory. I wish I could be more enthusiastic but I found the version good rather than great. Perhaps Videla´s disposition was (understandably) not at its best, but this Bach, although respectful, well-rehearsed and listenable, lacked the special spark of the great evenings. In the Ensamble Academia Bach, 30-strong, I single out the solos of Fernando Ciancio (trumpet), Fernando Chiappero (horn) and Claudio Barile (flute), but the strings sounded mushy. And the Orfeón de Buenos Aires (Néstor Andrenacci and Pablo Piccinni) sang decently enough, although far from the sound quality and precision of the great Bachian choirs.
Countertenor Martín Oro was the best soloist even if I prefer the timbre of a contralto for such pieces as the Agnus Dei, short in expression this time. But he blended very well in his duos with the clear-voiced Soledad de la Rosa. Santiago Ballerini sang correctly his Benedictus, and Torres had an off night.
Kazakhstan is the biggest, northernmost and more developed of the five "-stan" countries that used to be a part of Siberian Russia and are now independent. The final concert of Nuova Harmonia was supposed to be the debut of the Beijing Symphony but a strange thing happened, that enormously rich country decided that it wouldn´t sponsor the trip! And so we had the unexpected visit of the Kazakh State Symphony Orchestra (the "Orchestra" is redundant in their appellation) at the Colón.
Conducted by the young Frenchman Nicolas Krauze, who showed enthusiasm and professionalism, they gave interesting performances of two Russian classics: the Mussorgsky/Rimsky-Korsakov "A Night on the Bare Mountain" and Tchaikovsky´s Sixth Symphony, "Pathetic". They sounded well and disciplined, but with a touch of steppes roughness.
Kazakh violinist Galya Bisengalieva gave a nicely played, standard account of Bruch´s First Concert. As was only natural, there was also some Kazakh music: in the programme, a beautiful melody from the opera "Kyz Zhibek" by Evgeny Brusilovsky as arranged by Renat Salavatov; and both encores were Kazakh (the first with the violinist).
For Buenos Aires Herald