Some years ago I almost accomplished a dream, but a matter of timing made it impossible: I wanted to visit the two Esterházy palaces, the main building at Eisenstadt (Austria) and the Summer one crossing the Hungarian frontier, not far from the former. Some days ago, I had the next best thing: the B.A. debut of the Austro-Hungarian Haydn Philharmonic, the Eisenstadt resident ensemble. Conducted by guest Alexander Lonquich, who is also a world-class pianist, they offered a golden concert at the Colón for Nuova Harmonia.
Indeed, the combination of the pianist-conductor, the Orchestra and the three greatest Austrian composers proved ideal. The generous programme was further extended with three encores, for a grand total of more than a hundred minutes of great music and playing.
Franz Schubert wrote for sure eight symphonies but as a shadowy but probable seventh was never found there is a hiatus between the still classical Sixth and the palpably Romantic Eighth (Unfinished) and the enormous Ninth. Of the initial six only the Fourth, called "Tragic", has a markedly dramatic character. The Fifth, in B flat major, inhabits another world, made of charm and elegance. Played only once in 1816 and rediscovered 25 years later, its freshness is everlasting.
The Orchestra was founded in 1987 by members of the Vienna Philharmonic and of important Hungarian orchestras gathered by conductor Adam Fischer. This was before the fall of the Iron Curtain and had as its aim to promote the Franz Joseph Haydn legacy and the musical communion of countries politically diverse. Although their biography tells us that they number 45 (the perfect size for the mature Haydn and Mozart symphonies) here only 30 were present, and this showed in some thinness of the strings (no matter how good the players, there´s a matter of lack of density in the sound). Between 1987 they recorded all 104 Haydn symphonies for Nimbus, and since 2004 they are doing it again for Dabringhaus and Grimm.
Alexander Lonquich is a mature musician of great talent and proved an essential feature of this tour. He has a marvelously clean and precise piano technique and is also a very able conductor of great stylistic sense. As to the players, they are consumate professionals, but I would single out the lovely sound of the flute and the oboe.
The Schubert Fifth went smoothly and lightly, as it should, and I am nitpicking if I missed some of the piquant humor of Beecham´s interpretation or found slightly fast tempi for the last two movements. Then, Mozart´s Concerto Nº 25, one of his grandest, with a first movement of almost 450 measures. Lonquich was magisterial and admirable in his playing, including a cadenza that seemed his own (we don´t have Mozart´s), and the Orchestra was almost impeccable. They then offered -closing the First Part- an encore, splendidly done: the scintillating third movement of Mozart´s Concerto Nº 17, with an adventurous cadenza, I presume by Lonquich.
Haydn´s Symphony Nº 92, "Oxford", was written just after he left his 30 years´ service as composer for Prince Nicolas Esterhazy (although almost at the end of his long tenure he composed several symphonies for Paris) and it precedes the famous and final Salomon symphonies (93 to 104). The "Oxford" was belatedly called thus for he was given by the venerable university of that English city the title of doctor "honoris causa", but in fact it was a part of the Paris symphonies. It is a beautiful score contrasting sparkling fragments with slow, expressive ones.
No wonder that with their vast experience on Haydn the players were in their element, and so was Lonquich as conductor, with stylish phrasing and firm command. The steady applause and their visible enjoyment gave us two Haydn encores: the last movements of Symphonies Nº 88 and Nº 73, "The Hunt" , both played with memorable qualities.
The second concert I´m reviewing had special characteristics, for it started the first subscription series of the Museo Fernández Blanco dedicated to the Notable Musical Instruments of their colection, the best in South America. Presented by the Museum´s Director Jorge Cometti and by violinist Pablo Saraví with opportune and instructive information, it allowed the audience to hear great instruments played by the outstanding artists of the Cuarteto Petrus: violinists Saraví and Hernán Briático, violist Adrián Felizia and cellist Gloria Pankaeva (she was the only one that played a copy instead of an original, but the model was no less than a 1740 Venetian Montagnana).
The programme started with two Johann Sebastian Bach pieces: the Contrapunctus 1 and 3 (not 2 as stated in the hand programme) of "The Art of Fugue" played on Guadagnini and Cappa violins, a Mantegazza viola, and cello. Then, the wonderful Mozart Quartet Nº 15 in D minor, an incredibly intense and advanced work; the Venetian violins were by Santo Serafin and Francesco Gobetti and the viola by Lorenzo Storioni (the last great master from Cremona).
Finally, the most famous of Dvorák´s Quartets, Op.96, "American", where the star instruments of the evening were the Giuseppe Guarneri del Gesù played by Saraví, the Andrea and Giuseppe Guarnieri (by Briático) and the viola signed Giovanni Grancino (Milanese). The artists were magnificent throughout the evening, and I was especially struck by the smoothness and beauty of sound obtained by the violist.
Principal curators: Saraví, Cometti, Horacio Piñeiro and Leila Makarius. They did a great job.
For Buenos Aires Herald