Two ensembles with distinguished careers offered concerts for Nuova Harmonia, and in both cases results were less satisfactory than I had hoped for. The one at the Coliseo brought back the Swiss Piano Trio; the other, at the Colón, was the first visit of The Moscow Soloists led by world-famous violist Yuri Bashmet.
The Swiss Piano Trio is made up of pianist Martin Lucas Staub, violinist Angela Golubeva and cellist Sébastien Singer. It exists since 1998 and came to Argentina in 2007 and 2013. The programme biography gives no details about the players, but all three are still young, I´d say in their late thirties or early forties.
Maybe part of the trouble was in the programming: apparently Swiss artists (either born or resident) can´t get financial support for their tours if they don´t include a Swiss (or resident) composer. And, as happened recently with the Camerata Bern, either they don´t choose rightly or composing is currently at a low level in that country. I disliked the Buenos Aires première of Martin Wettstein´s "Alpentangomania" (offered last year at Llao-Llao by these players). It fuses old tangos and Alpine folk melodies in 20 minutes of pretty obvious music, even if there are some added effects.
Beethoven´s Trio Nº 2, Op.1 Nº2, was written in Bonn just prior to the composer´s change of residence to Vienna; he brought the three Trios of Op.1 to the Austrian capital and of them the first two are rather conventional pieces; only Nº 3 gives a definite inkling of Beethoven´s strong personality. It is agreeable Late Classic-style, and it needs some persuasive handling from the players to become interesting. What I heard both here and in Wettstein was professional, noncommittal playing.
The enormous Tchaikovsky Trio was tackled by the artists almost complete: they even included the powerful fugue, often eliminated (the score allows it!), though the final gigantic variation was drastically cut: only the exposition was heard, but the development and recapitulation were cut, so that about 5 minutes were missing, before going on to the lugubrious funeral march ending.
The piano part has grand virtuoso writing similar to that of Tchaikovsky´s First Piano Concerto; Staub is certainly very proficient, but he did have some serious smudges along with many passages of impressive firmness. The string players were here much more present than in the First Part (they have to be, otherwise they are swallowed by the piano). The joint interpretation wasn´t characterful, even if some pieces such as the Waltz variation (encored at the end) had charm; but others lacked enough intensity and that pathetic tchaikovskian sadness wasn´t projected.
As to the Moscow Soloists, I was quite happy with their quality: the eighteen string players are energetic, play with excellent intonation and ensemble and with praiseworthy unanimity. The group was established by Bashmet in 1992. The founder is both conductor and solo violist; in the first capacity he showed fine style in Mozart´s Divertimento K. 136 (perhaps the most overplayed score of the entire string ensemble repertoire) and in Schubert´s Quartet Nº 14, "Death and the Maiden", in the string group arrangement by Gustav Mahler as edited by David Matthews and Donald Mitchell. Schubert´s masterpiece has been wholly respected by Mahler, who only adds basses; some sections are played by the concertino rather than by the violin section. This was dramatic, committed playing.
But...(I can hardly believe it) the disappointment was Bashmet the violist. For his playing of the "Arpeggione" Sonata, also by Schubert, was listless and small-voiced, though accurate. It doesn´t help that the unspecified arrangement for strings of the piano accompaniment was very bland. And the score is minor Schubert, written for an instrument that died almost as soon as it was created. It had six strings tuned like a guitar; currently it is played by cellists. Violists have almost no repertoire for solo viola and strings, so it´s hard to imagine an alternative to this arrangement (the few good concertos for viola are with symphony orchestra).
The programme also included a five-minute première: the enigmatically called "Senza volto" by the Russian Igor Raykhelson, born 1961. Built on a rather jazzy theme, this miniature concerto movement is written for violin (Andrei Poskrobko), viola (Bashmet) and cello (Anton Naidenov); it was pleasant and well played.
The encores were good fun and probably premières: the quirky Polca from Schnittke´s "Suite Gogol" (it certainly has the right satyric tinge to it) and the Waltz from the film "Face of another" by Toru Takemitsu, catchy and bittersweet. Brilliant playing.
The Siberian pianist Konstantin Scherbakov, born 1963, paid us a second visit, thus ending the Chopiniana cycle at the Palacio Paz. Frankly I found his programme very conventional, but it was played with great vitality and virtuoso panache. The well-trodden grounds of Beethoven´s "Moonlight Sonata" (Nº 14) and "Appassionata" (Nº 23) were firmly traversed, though with exaggerated dynamics (and in Nº 14 the intermediate movement was too slow).
The Chopin Second Part included two virtuoso vehicles, the rarely played "Introduction and Rondo" Op.16, and the always effective "Andante spianato and grand brilliant Polonaise" (the Andante too slow), both thrillingly executed. And in the middle the very substantial Ballade Nº3, quite well done.
The first encore was an unknown little jewel, the Prelude Op. 11 Nº1, a dreamy piece by Lyadov. And then, Chopin´s First Waltz, too fast.
For Buenos Aires Herald