You may travel all over the world and you will be hard put to find the likes of the Estudio Coral de Buenos Aires, the fantastic professional chamber choir assembled during 34 years by Carlos López Puccio. CLP is of course very popular as a member of Les Luthiers, which exists for even a longer time (over 40 years). His ebullient, tireless personality comes over in his presentations, generally as erudite as funny.
They ended the Sunday morning free concerts of the Colón with one of the most fascinating programmes I´ve ever heard, called "Isms of the XXth.Century" (the appellation has to be taken with a grain of salt, for the last piece of the morning was written in 1897). And I would correct "Romanticism" with "Neo-Romanticism" concerning two pieces by Samuel Barber: "To be sung on the water" (Louise Bogan) and "The Coolin' ", from "Reincarnation", Op.16 Nº3 (James Stephens). A good thing: the hand programme had all the texts translated into Spanish.
The characteristics of the group were evident after this start: following Robert Shaw´s example, CLP disposes his select thirty choristers alternating man-woman instead of the traditional four blocks (tenors, baritones/basses, sopranos, mezzos/contraltos). Of course each one must know thoroughly his/her part and have the concentration to disregard whatever his/her companion/s is/are doing, and at the same time have the exact entries and endings incorporated to the millimeter. The director´s expressionistic gestures carry conviction in themselves, but there were countless hours of rehearsal to be able to offer us such rigorous exactitude blended with the chosen composers´ style.
A very early (1908) and short piece by Anton Webern provides a beautiful sample of Atonalism: "Enflieht auf leichten Kähnen" ("Flee on light barques", Stefan George), Op.2. Then, an impish political satire by that incredible American pioneer, Charles Ives, giving us a bit of Modernism: "Vote for names", with the piano accompaniment of Diego Ruiz and the accurate singing of soprano Marcela Sotelano. Then, the three charming Neoclassic pieces by another American, William Bergsma: "Riddle me this", on traditional texts.
Then, the Spectralism avantgarde: Giacinto Scelsi´s "Gloria", on the basic parameter of the spectrum of sound; hard to sing and brilliantly done. And in complete and welcome contrast, the only two choral pieces we have from Gershwin ("Jazzism"): the two madrigals from "A Damsel in Distress", a 1937 film: "Song of Spring" and "The Jolly Tar and the Milkmaid", done with panache by the choir and the soloists: Ricardo González Dorrego (tenor) and Silvina Ravalli (soprano), and Ruiz.
After the interval, back to Neoclassicism with an early work by that incredibly long-lived American, Elliott Carter (1908-2012): "Musicians wrestle everywhere", on a lovely Emily Dickinson poem; Carter would eventually become an avantgarde shaper of very difficult music. Readers know that I´m not an admirer of John Cage, but his "Four2", a 1990 "score" of sorts, is a good example of Indeterminism, a way of handling sounds with a high aleatoric ingredient.
On the other hand, I find a lot of György Ligeti´s production important; "Hälfte des Lebens" (Middle of Life") is an iridescent Micropolyphony score, from "Three Fantasies on Friedrich Hölderlin"; its extremely complex but coherent textures were expressed by the choir with marvelous ability. The sensitive "Dirait-on" by Morten Lauridsen (American of Nordic descent), with piano, enhances the short, perceptive poem by Rainer Maria Rilke. And finally, the long, powerful and ample "Hymn", Op.34 Nº 2 (1897), by Richard Strauss, on an attractive text by Friedrich Rückert, exemplified Post-Romanticism. The choir sounded like sixty! Four soloists: Rosana Bravo, Pol González, Silvina Sadoly, Pablo Zartmann.
Two encores: a Cuban "pasacalle" of rich rhythm by Roberto Varela, and the famous Negro Spiritual "Deep River" in the moving arrangement by Shaw and Parker, with a splendid solo by baritone Martín Caltabiano.
I believe that this incredibly varied mosaic done with gorgeous professionalism can only be done in our country by the magician CLP and his singers.
The Grupo Coral Divertimento, on the other hand, isn´t professional in the sense of living from their singing, but they all read music and their conductor has been for many years Néstor Zadoff, certainly the best of his generation. Each December they present at AMIJAI a short programme (never over an hour) of valuable and rarely done choral-symphonic music. And they do have a following: the auditorium was chockful. Alas, there were no hand programmes and the access was extremely slow; the concert started half an hour late.
I have known the Mendelssohn Psalms through a Geneva recording for many years, but I hadn´t had a chance to hear them live. So this opportunity was very welcome, for they have the qualities of his oratorio "Elijah" in shorter form; Romantic but solidly built and inspired.
There are several; we heard Nº 95, in five movements, 30 minutes: "Kommt, lasst uns anbeten" ("Come, let us pray"), with fine solos by tenor González Dorrego and too incisive singing by soprano Rebeca Nomberto. And Nº 42, seven movements, 25 minutes: "Wie der Hirch schreit" ("As the stag roars"), with Nomberto as soloist.
With a good chamber orchestra and an enthusiastic though aged choir, Zadoff led with his accustomed conviction and command. I do wish they could offer us longer programmes that would allow them to bring to us works such as Franck´s "Les Béatitudes", one glaring omission decade after decade.
For Buenos Aires Herald