lunes, abril 13, 2015

From St. Isidore´s way: worthy concerts

            Last week I informed our readers about a series of concerts called "El Camino del Santo" ("The Saint´s way"). As you may remember, it´s a programming  that goes from Wednesday to Sunday during Holy Week.  I attended three sessions and they were quite interesting.  Why St. Isidore? Because they all happened in San Isidro, whose Municipality is the main sponsor.

            The Colegio San Juan el Precursor stands alongside the Cathedral; you pass through a splendid courtyard with beautiful Spanish-style majolicas, and you arrive to a capacious hall (I´d say about 400 people) of good acoustics. Although Autumn had begun, the temperature was high and so some air conditioning was required; the wheeze was bothersome but necessary. The Colegio was the venue for two excellent concerts, and their hall was chock-full, which shows that "El Camino del Santo" is here to stay. Significant, considering that the music was valuable but not often played.

            Olivier Messiaen´s "Quartet for the end of times" is an impresive 43-minute 8-movement score for an unlikely but fascinating combination: violin, clarinet, cello and piano. Unfortunately, the rather conventional presentation (without microphone) by Martín Wullich and José Luis Juri didn´t mention an important point: the unusual instrumentation comes from the fact that the score was written when Messiaen was war prisoner of the Nazis in a rather lenient Silesian stalag where concerts were permitted, and among the people congregated there were three good players of the mentioned instruments to complement Messiaen, who was the pianist.

            The score is the only chamber music composed by Messiaen and you find in it at the highest level all his trademarks: Christian mysticism (it is based on the Apocalypse), bird song, exotic harmony, great sense of color, complicated rhythms and attractive melody. I met this music when it was premièred in BA back in 1953 (Mariano Frogioni and the Trío Ars)  and I have loved it ever since. The players this time around were first-rate:  Juri (piano), Rafael Gintoli (violin), Stanimir Todorov (cello) and particularly striking, Mariano Rey (clarinet), gave a splendid interpretation; my only cavil is that I would have liked a slower tempo in the two "Louanges" (praises).

            The varied programme on the following day (Friday) was quite attractive (though Sacred music would have been more apposite).  There were, yes, unwelcome photographers.  It started with the strong, dramatic Cello Sonata by Edvard Grieg, played with fortitude and accuracy by José Alberto Araujo and Fernanda Morello (the turbulent end of the first movement elicited applause).  After the interval, the bitterersweet, succinct Sonata for flute and piano by Poulenc was played with taste and cleanness by Jorge de la Vega (first desk of the Colón Orchestra for the last 32 years) and Morello, a very flexible and professional artist.

            There were changes in the programme: Piazzolla´s "Oblivion" was, in fact, forgotten...And four Poulenc songs were regrettably replaced by Ravel´s Vocalise (the original of his "Pièce en forme d´habanera"), for the refinement of mezzosoprano Virginia Correa Dupuy would have been most welcome in that exquisite repertoire of "chanson d´art".  Morello accompanied her both in the Ravel Vocalise and in the beautiful and rarely encountered Vocalise-Etude by Messiaen.

            I greatly admire the "Chansons Madécasses" (from Madagascar) by Ravel, with its imaginative accompaniment by piano, flute (and piccolo) and cello, and its idiomatic setting of the poems by Parny. However, their content is clearly male, and although I have heard them from no less than Jessye Norman, I definitely prefer them sung by a baritone. This said, I acknowledge that Correa Dupuy sang them with refinement in the outer songs and strong drama in the middle one ("Aoua! Don´t trust the white people"), as well as displaying perfect French . She was in very good voice.

            I recently read that Bruno Gelber has just come back from a long European tour in which he played no less than Rachmaninov´s Third Concerto. Considering that in recent years he has shown himself afflicted by bodily troubles and that he is 72 after being in front of the public for over sixty years, and also that the concerts I heard from him in 2013 and 2014 showed a certain degree of decline, I went to the closing concert of El Camino del Santo with some trepidation, but also hope for a recovery. I have followed his career decade after decade and during his best years he had no peer in our midst as a Beethoven-Brahms pianist.

            The venue was debatable: the Tatterhall of the San Isidro Hippodrome is easily accessible if someone brings you there, but pretty difficult if you have to park.  The hall is big and that´s probably why the organisers chose it. But an unmusical decision drove me mad and partially ruined my pleasure: the piano was wired to loudspeakers, and the sound came from the latter, altering the natural quality of the piano, especially in the bass range, which sounded mushy and exaggerated.

            However, Gelber played a difficult though familiar programme (quite similar to those he did of yore) with a technique that is still amazing -some smudges apart- and according to the style of the composer: strong and firm in Beethoven (Sonatas Nos. 3 and 15),  forcefulness contrasted with delicacy in Schumann (his marvelous "Carnaval") and fleet in Chopin´s virtuosic "Andante spianato and Grand Polonaise". Some chunkiness intrudes, but Gelber is still himself.

For Buenos Aires Herald 

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