domingo, mayo 17, 2015

Out-of-the way repertoire from two orchestras and the Promenade Quartet

            The National Symphony (Orquesta Sinfónica Nacional) ended its pre-season series at the Bolsa (Stock Exchange) main hall with an uneven though interesting concert. Not many months ago the same orchestra but with a different chorus had offered that strange Mendelssohn score, "The First Walpurgis Night", on an equally intriguing text by Goethe. Now they played it again but with the Coro Polifónico Nacional  de Ciegos directed by Osvaldo Manzanelli. The conductor was Facundo Agudín, a Swiss-based Argentine.

            Although I wrote about it in that previous occasion, I think it´s worth recapitulating the main facts. The legend tells about a festival of witches and devils on the mountains of the Hartz, on the Brocken, and it is integrated to "Faust" (you also find it in Gounod´s opera), but in this adaptation the Pagan cult of the Druids takes place, and as a way to vanquish the Christian foes they masquerade as demons. The Chorus Nº 6 is an astonishing piece, certainly the wildest ever wrote by the usually restrained Mendelssohn. There are nine numbers and three soloists: a Druid Priest (baritone, the excedllent Alejandro Meerapfel), a Druid and a Christian Guard (tenor Ricardo González Dorrego, very good) and an aged Woman (the experienced contralto Alejandra Malvino).

            I was very impressed by the work of the Coro Polifónico de Ciegos: resonant, full voices, and enthusiastic attack. It was a matter for speculation  their method of learning, considering their condition: I didn´t detect any special way of communication! But I must suppose it exists.  The ability of Manzanelli to impart precise instructions based on sound alone was admirable. Agudín did an intense interpretation that kept the interest alive throughout, and the Orchestra responded fully.

            Juan Carlos Zorzi  was three times Principal Conductor of the National Symphony and of course veteran players and music  lovers fondly remember him. As a composer he had ups and downs, and I´m afraid that "Epopeya" ("Epopee") lands in the second category. It was premièred in 1988 and apparently hasn´t been played since; it lasts 17 minutes and I found it vacuous and rhetorical.

            But Wagner came to the rescue with the magnificent ending of "Die Walküre", in which Wotan says goodbye to Brünnhilde and surrounds her with a wall of fire; left in deep sleep, only a hero will claim her in the future: it will be Siegfried.  Meerapfel did a very creditable job, and so did the conductor, but this is the sort of piece that evokes the highest memories and for me it will always be Hans Hotter with Ferdinand Leitner at the Colón (1960).

            Alas, after this concert there will be no activity of the National Symphony until the auditorium nicknamed "The Whale" will be inaugurated at the transformed Correo (Post Building) on May 25. This is unconscionable and still another proof of the mediocrity with which this important orchestra is handled by the Culture Ministry.

            The Buenos Aires Philharmonic welcomed back the first-rate Polish conductor Antoni Wit for a programme whose import came from the revival of the long-awaited Concerto for orchestra by Witold Lutoslawski, to my mind the most valuable Polish composer of the second half of the Twentieth Century. This three-movement score was premièred in November 1954 after five years of elaboration by the brilliant Witold Rowicki; here, our nonpareil Juan José Castro was again the pioneer when he conducted it with the National Symphony in 1957.

            Three pithy movements conform it: an "Intrada", a flighty "Capriccio notturno" followed by a contrasting and brassy "Arioso", and a lengthy final movement made up of an intricate "Passacaglia", a  forceful "Toccata" and a Chorale that leads to an energetic coda.  Admirably conducted from memory and well followed by an attentive orchestra, it was a fascinating experience.

            However, the First Part didn´t satisfy me. Henryk Gorecki certainly wrote more relevant stuff than his pleasant 9-minute "Three pieces in olden style" for strings, and some acoustic trick provided me with a disagreeable unwritten sizzle. As to Khachaturian´s Violin Concerto, it is a  work with attractive passages followed by vulgar ones; in the hands of David Oistrakh it provided some virtuosic and exciting moments. But Jean-Pierre Rampal had the wrong idea of modifying it as a Flute Concerto, maybe the longest (37 minutes), and it doesn´t jell: the orchestration is very heavy for the flute and the writing is meant for the violin.

            Claudio Barile is the much-appreciated first desk of the B.A.Phil, and of course he is a good player, but on this occasion I found him too flashy and birdlike, and his role isn´t that of a co-conductor as his theatrical gestures seemed to imply. Well accompanied as he was, I kept hearing Oistrakh in my inner ear. As an encore Barile made a demonstration of tin whistle playing.

            The Promenade Quartet played a splendid programme starting the season of the Sofitel Soirées musicales Premium organized by Patricia Pouchulu, President of La Bella Música. The combination of Antonio Formaro (piano), Grace Medina (violin), Claudio Medina (viola) and Pablo Bercellini (cello) was fully up to the requirements of difficult and beautiful music. I was particularly impressed by the pianist and the cellist.

            Frank Bridge´s "Phantasy" is warm Neo-Romantic music, whilst Brahms´ Piano Quartet Nº3 is simply a masterpiece. As to the rarely done Second Piano Quartet by Saint-Saëns, it was a positive surprise in its fluid writing and charming ideas. 


For Buenos Aires Herald