Moscow has always been a true symphonic city, with several orchestras of changing names through the decades. Two of them have left a lasting imprint of their visits to our city: the Philharmonic under Kyril Kondrashin and the State Academic Symphony of Russia led by Evgeny Svetlanov. I still remember vividly the dazzling performances of Shostakovich´s Sixth Symphony by the former and of Scriabin´s "Poem of Ecstasy" by the latter.
The special qualities of Russian orchestras came to the fore in those visits: extreme discipline, forthright approach, brilliant quality of sound, demolishing "fortissimi". They are at their best in colorful Romantic music and in tension-laden textures.
True to this description, the inaugural concert of Nuova Harmonia let us meet again the State Academic Symphony, now called Evgeny Svetlanov after the demise of the famous conductor. The venue was the Coliseo, whose clinical acoustics permit clear appraisal of the music but exaggerate the glassiness of violins in the high ranges.
I was sorry that their famous current Principal Conductor Vladimir Jurowski, initially announced, couldn´t come (he´s also the PC of the London Philharmonic, one of the great orchestras that have never come to BA). However, the replacement was interesting: the Norwegian Terje Mikkelsen is quite unknown here but has had an important career. Disciple of the great Finnish conductor Jorma Panula (a couple of years ago this distinguished old master had been invited by our Philharmonic, but for some reason it didn´t materialize), he was a collaborator of Mariss Jansons in Oslo and Saint Petersburg, and PC of orchestras in Latvia, Lithuania, the Ukraine and Germany. He was also PC at Shanghai and has recorded fifty CDs.
By his appearance he seems fiftyish, and his rubicund face is complemented by moustache, beard and floating long hair (curiously mirrored by the orchestra´s concertino). His presence meant a pleasant change in the programme. Instead of a Russian well-known piece (Mussorgsky/Rimsky-Korsakov´s "A Night in Bald Mountain") we took contact with a Norwegian composer, Johan Halvorsen, who was the son-in-law of Edvard Grieg. His First Norwegian Rhapsody (1920) may have been a local première (I´m not sure): firmly based on folklore, it is melodic, rhythmic and a bit too noisy. It was stunningly played.
Dvorák´s Cello Concerto is the most important in history. Alexander Buzlov (debut) is a young (32) and talented Russian. Initially a bit rough, he soon found his form, and with the pliant support of Mikkelsen (some beautiful solo work in the orchestra and flexible phrasing) we heard a well-considered reading of this masterpiece, giving its due both to the virtuoso passages and the dreamy melodies, played with great sensibility.
Tchaikovsky´s Fourth Symphony fared even better in the two last movements, practically perfect (an incredibly clean pizzicato ensemble in the Third, and enormous buoyancy in the Fourth), but the first two were also very good, the First with high drama and powerful sound, and the Andantino was indeed "in modo d´una canzone". The conductor showed his command throughout, and the orchestra was virtuosic.They sounded really big, though they are only 83-strong.
The encore was an incredibly fast movement from Tchaikovsky´s "The Sleeping Beauty", a truly joyful end to a fine evening.
I don´t recall that Bremen has ever sent us a musical embassy. On the evidence of their concert in the First Cycle of the Mozarteum Argentino at the Colón, the Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen is a first-rate Mozart-size (36) orchestra. A German Chamber Philharmonic, as their denomination states. Bremen is a middle-sized city (about 600.000 inhabitants) with an important cultural life including a Music Festival in Summer. The Orchestra was founded in 1980 and their Artistic Director since 2004 is Paavo Järvi, a Finnish conductor that visited us years ago. But their leader on this occasion was Pekka Kuusisto, also Finnish (as is their concertino Janne Nisonen).
They started with a precise and suitably fast version of Mozart´s Overture to "Così fan tutte", with Kuusisto leading from the concertino seat. Then, a worthwhile première, Magnus Lindberg´s Concerto for violin (1958). I am an admirer of the Finnish school of composers with such talents as Rautawaara and Sallinen; I now add Lindberg. The music fluctuates between tonal and atonal, with wispy, mysterious passages followed by almost Expressionistic turbulences. Kuusisto played with magnetic concentration, abetted by an orchestra that faithfully partnered him (helped by the concertino, who sometimes conducted).
After the interval, a funny thing happened. Incongruously Kuusisto started playing a Finnish folk melody and was joined by the concertino. They stopped when a latecomer took up his post in the orchestra...
I wasn´t convinced by Kuusisto in Mozart´s Concerto Nº5, "Turkish". His sound was very white and small, and his abundant cadenzas sounded arbitrary. The Orchestra was good, but you can be a Mozartian soloist with a full sound, witnesses Grumiaux or Szeryng.
Instead, I liked a lot Kuusisto´s "conducting" from the concertino post of Beethoven´s First Symphony. Rather fast "tempi" (the Andante was Allegretto) but unfailingly exact in every phrasing, and a master of that Beethovenian trademark, the "sforzando", the strong accents that punctuate the phrasing. This First was exciting, a new world opening up.
The energetic Beethoven Overture to his ballet "The creatures of Prometheus" was the welcome encore, very well played. The Orchestra imterpreted a different programme for the second cycle; the concerti stayed, but the night was completed with "Prometheus" and Mozart´s 40th Symphony.
For Buenos Aires Herald