Innovation in orchestral programming doesn´t only mean premières of contemporary composers, but also second performances of meaningful scores, premières of creations that somehow have never arrived to Buenos Aires although they may have been written centuries ago, or revivals of neglected works. There is a good percentage of unnecessary or even wrong choices, although that´s the risk that must be taken; unless that quota is very large, it is always better than deadly routine. The only partial justification for a programme made of surefire hits is to present grade A performers.
I recently wrote with enthusiasm about interpretations by the Buenos Aires Philharmonic under their Principal Conductor Enrique Arturo Diemecke. Well, they did it again. A night with just two masterpieces proved endearing and memorable. Readers know that I have deep admiration for Richard Strauss´ tone poems; "Don Quixote" is one of the most complex and of the best. It is rarely played because it requires a major cellist to play the protagonist, as well as excellent first desks for Dulcinea (violin) and Sancho Panza (viola, tuba). This version had all that.
The Brazilian Antonio Meneses has paid us rewarding visits before, but I certainly feel that his playing this time puts him on the first rank of world cellists. The warmth and beauty of his phrasing (I could call it psychological), the scrupulous regard fro the composer´s indications and the exactitude of his intonation couldn´t be bettered. Violist Marcela Magin had a splendid night, and there were good contributions from the new assistant concertino Demir Lulja (from Albania, resident here) and tuba player Héctor Ramírez, apart from other distinguished first desks (Claudio Barile, flute; Néstor Garrote, oboe). And Diemecke showed amazing control of the difficult score in a reading full of passion and delicacy. A small blemish: appaerently the Colón doesn´t have the asked-for wind machine for the variation VII, "Riding through the air". They are indeed "Fantastic variations on a chivalresque subject".
Of course, one of the most beautiful of all symphonies, Beethoven´s "Pastoral" (Nº6), is anything but rare in concert life, but in a nice performance such as this it will always be more than welcome. Again it was finely phrased, even if I missed the transparency of, e.g., Barenboim with the Orchestre de Paris.
Last year I was disappointed when the National Symphony cancelled Stravinsky´s "Oedipus Rex", although I agreed with Chilean conductor Francisco Rettig, who refused to conduct because the authorities still owed him his fee for 2012 concerts. Happily this season it was reprogrammed, this time with the Argentine conductor Facundo Agudín, who is working in Switzerland. It was a concert performance of this opera-oratorio with text in French (the narrator) and Latin (the action) by Jean Cocteau adapting Sophocles. Notwithstanding the fact that I would have preferred Stravinsky tackling the setting of a Greek rather than a Latin text, the 55-minute score is a masterpiece of enormous expressive power.
Agudín has a very angular and rhythmic gestural style particularly telling in the great climaxes; he got good results from the NS and had the advantage of the excellent Male Choir of the Coro Polifónico Nacional under Roberto Luvini. The correct Narrator (in Spanish) was Guillermo Gutkin. The singers expressed themselves in Latin. Although Enrique Folger was very dramatic as Oedipus, his voice was alarmingly harsh. Cecilia Díaz as Yocasta was a seasoned professional but sounded a bit diminished. The best soloist was Mario De Salvo as a sonorous and in tune Creon and Messenger. Ricardo González Dorrego was a straightforward Shepherd and Alejandro Di Nardo as Tiresias sang musically but was rather restricted in both ends of his register.
Previously we heard the première of the orchestral version of "Fuga Parisina" by Pablo Mainetti with the author on bandoneon. Tango-tinged, blessedly not Piazzollean, the 14-minute piece was correctly composed though somewhat repetitive in its elements.
At the same venue, the Auditorio de Belgrano, I witnessed last Sunday an interesting though rather strange combination of works by Vivaldi and Mendelssohn. It was a presentation of the Ensamble Lírico Orquestal led by Gustavo Codina, a private group worthy of support. The Argentine conductor José María Sciutto works in Rome and showed himself a very able musician both in Baroque and Romantic music. He led a 71-member Coral Ensamble Adultos and a 43-player Ensamble Lírico Orquestal. Although the Choir was firmer than the instrumentalists, both collaborated usefully.
Vivaldi´s Gloria, RV 589, is quite well-known and splendid, but I had never heard the "Introduzione al Gloria", "Ostro picta, armata spina", RV 642, quite pleasant though hardly sacral. The soloist was Ana Laura Menéndez, rather too incisive but correct. She also sang in the Gloria, along with soprano Cecilia Layseca (musical and contrasting in timbre) and countertenor Damián Ramírez, who sang with good line.
After a reasonably good performance of Mendelssohn´s "Fingal´s Cave" or "The Hebrides", it was worthwhile to hear "The First Night of Walpurgis", a wild setting by Mendelssohn on Goethe´s Ballad about Druidic rites in the Harz Mountains against the dominating Christians, quite a touchy subject; the last 15 minutes are certainly the most advanced music ever written by the generally contained composer. Sciutto´s performance was intense and convincing, and his soloists responded well, especially baritone Enrique Gibert Mella; the others were contralto Laura Cáceres and tenor Duilio Smiriglia.
For Buenos Aires Herald