As readers know, I believe in difficult and challenging programming, both for the information of music lovers and for the betterment of our orchestras. I certainly can´t complain about two recent concerts from the Buenos Aires Philharmonic and the National Symphony.
Roberto Paternostro, who in the same week did a splendid job conducting Strauss´ "Elektra", was correct and careful in Britten´s Serenade for tenor, horn and strings (1943), but really came into his own in a wholly admirable rendition of that late masterpiece by Gustav Mahler, "Das Lied von der Erde" ("The Song of the Earth"). He (and we) had a problem: the originally announced soloists were to be mezzosoprano Barbara Dever and tenor Jonathan Boyd, but without any explanation (as usual...) the Colón substituted them with Alejandra Malvino and Enrique Folger.
The matter was serious in the case of Britten, for Boyd has the right voice and style, in the line of Peter Pears, whilst Folger was manifestly uncomfortable both vocally and in his English articulation. Hornist Fernando Chiappero used two instruments, one natural and the other with valves, which seemed to me right according to the score, but his playing wasn´t as clean as he has shown in other concerts. Chiappero did well but with room for improvement, and I felt that an encore I didn´t identify was quite unnecessary,
But even with these caveats I was glad to hear live this complicated and very personal work, with its refined choice of poets and the endless imagination with which they have been musicalized. Framed by a horn Prologue and Epilogue, we heard six poems by various authors each with its very individual musical texture: Charles Cotton, Alfred Tennyson, William Blake, Anonymous (a Yorkshire "lyke-wake dirge"), Ben Jonson and John Keats, going from the witty to the pastoral and to hard drama.
As to "Das Lied von der Erde", it is a work that I deeply love since my teens, when I heard the Böhm-conducted Colón première and I bought the marvelous Bruno Walter-Kathleen Ferrier and Julius Patzak recording. It is, with the composer´s Ninth and unfinished Tenth Symphonies, a sublime metaphysical musical transition towards his death.
The wonderful poems are taken from the Hans Bethge translations of Chinese poets in his anthology "The Chinese flute": four from the famous Li Tai-Po, one by Chang Tsi and the enormous half-hour final Lied in two parts, "The farewell", by Mong Kao-Jen and Wang Wei, with Mahler adding his final "Ewig" (eternal) among celesta and harp exquisite sounds. The other five songs are very contrasting in mood, with titles such as "Toast for earthly miseries", "The solitary during Autumn" and "About beauty".
The richness and loveliness of the music puts this vocal symphony at the very top of a not abundant genre.
I am glad to say that we had a very good reading, small details apart: Malvino has a beautiful, steady voice, she is expressive and very musical; Folger sang his very taxing and high-lying music with firm tone and reasonable line; the Orchestra sounded well in the outbursts led by Paternostro with control and strength. Also the instrumental soloists contributed many moments of sheer beauty and excellent command in slow meditative passages.
The Swiss maestro Emmanuel Siffert came back to the National Symphony to lead an attractive and complex programme: Prokofiev´s Third Piano Concerto and Britten´s Spring Symphony. The first is of course a repertoire staple and by far the best of the five piano concertos written by the Russian composer, but it is always worth hearing in a good performance. Fernanda Morello is a very estimable artist and she gave a well-articulated performance of a score of strongly contrasting moods, but she lacks the big guns for those steely and inexorable fragments that appear frequently. The conjunction of soloist and orchestra, very intricate, wasn´t always as accurate as it should be. Morello´s encore, a dreamy Grieg piece, showed her best qualities of tone and sensitivity.
The Britten Symphony dates from 1949 and is largely a positive and exhilarating work after the sad first minutes depicting the final stretch of Winter. It is written for three vocal soloists, mixed and children choir and an ample orchestra. The four parts give us enormously varied textures as we traversed fourteen fragments on different English poets from diverse periods. Such is the variety that there´s not one moment of boredom; this is masterly composition with a gigantic and exhilarating climax at the end.
Rarely done due to its difficulties (the 44 minutes have to be very well rehearsed to arrive at destination unscathed), I was very happy by the overall results. I own the recording led by the composer and it is splendid, but this "porteño" offering was more than honorable. Siffert is certainly a very accomplished musician and obtained a generally satisfying performance from almost all concerned (some trumpet smudges, e.g.).
The bright and confident tones of soprano Laura Penchi, the firm line of mezzosoprano María Luisa Merino Ronda and the clean, musicianly singing of tenor Ricardo González Dorrego gave a fine account of the solo music. The Coro Polifónico Nacional, very well-prepared by Roberto Luvini, sounded out with equilibrium and quality (there are many first-rate voices in it) and the Coro Nacional de Niños (María Isabel Sanz) gave us fresh, well-tuned sound.
So we had two vocal symphonies in a week!
For Buenos Aires Herald