sábado, octubre 24, 2015

The Bach Academy does splendid work as usual

            After 32 years of steady work there is no doubt that the Bach Academy (Academia Bach de Buenos Aires) is one of the most positive musical institutions of our city. Saturday afternoons at the Iglesia Metodista Central, of warm acoustics, became for me an always welcomed oasis of beauty in this difficult world. Under the leadership of Mario Videla we heard the premières of several dozens of Bach cantatas, among other precious material.

            When last year the demise of the mother institution, Festivales Musicales de Buenos Aires, was announced, many feared that its "daughter", the Academy, would fall as well, but fortunately they went on.

            Their fifth concert was in homage of Edgardo Zollhofer, the great cellist whose rock-solid intonation and musicality was always heard playing with Videla and bassist Fernando Fieiras the all-important "basso continuo". Although he will always be remembered, his replacement was a luxury one, for José Araujo is the best young cellist we have.

            The programme was ideal, combining as it did the greatest German composer of the Seventeenth Century, Heinrich Schütz, with the most prolific author in history, Georg Philipp Telemann, and of course, Johann Sebastian Bach. From the first, the "Musical Exequies", Op.7, SWV 279-81, a 34-minute score written in Dresden, 1636. In 1960 a Schütz catalogue was compiled: Schütz Werke Verzeichnis, SWV. It was the work of W. Bittinger and it must have been quite an ordeal to classify the more than a thousand scores of this amazing long-lived composer.

            You will observe that there are three numbers, 279 to 281; this is due to the fact that these Exequies are divided into three parts: the 25-minute Concert in the form of a German  Mass for the defunct, with short sections featuring vocal soloists and the choir on texts from the Bible, Luther and Pietist writers; the 4-minute Motet for double choir on Psalm 73; and the 4-minute Canticum Simeonis (Nunc dimittis) for two choirs plus three soloists with theorbo, with texts from Lucas and the Wisdom of Solomon. The music is succinct and varied, and was very well sung by Periferia Vocal, led by Pablo Piccinni.

            Telemann´s Concerto en E Major, TWV 53:E1, was presented as a première of this enormously gifted composer, and it has a lovely mixture of sounds: flute (Claudio Barile), oboe d´amore (Andrés Spiller), viola d´amore (Marcela Magin), strings and continuo. It is a long work (almost 19 minutes) in four attractive movements following the "sonata da chiesa" disposition: fast-slow-fast-slow. The interpretation was fantastic.

            Bach´s Cantata Nº 115 was also premièred: "Mache dich mein Geist bereit" ("Prepare, my spirit")  lasts 22 minutes; it starts with an expressive choir; then, a very long aria for boy contralto, sung here by a countertenor; a short baritone Recitative; an ample and very slow and noble soprano aria with cello obligato; a tenor Recitative; and the habitual final Chorale. Countertenor Martín Oro was in good form; soprano Mónica Capra was her pristine, tasteful self; tenor James Surges and baritone Marcos Devoto were the good soloists from the choir, and Periferia Vocal did again a very effective job, sustained by the excellent playing of the Soloists of the Bach Academy, particularly Araujo.

            The final concert took place unusually on a Tuesday, and at 7,30 pm, although the venue was the same. The great tradition of Northern Germany choirs was well defended by the debut of the Capella St Crucis (Hannover) led by the young maestro Florian Lohmann with fine style and very soberly. Only qualm: the programme was too short, just 55 minutes. But the singing was impeccable, even if the quality of some voices wasn´t of the best, and the feeling of discipline and love for their centuries-old repertoire was always apparent. And I welcome a seldom appreciated thing at the Bach Academy: the presence of an important Twentieth Century composer, the Swiss Frank Martin, with his 1922 Mass. All works had one characteristic: they were composed for a double choir.

            First, the German Magnificat by Schütz, surely one of the most synthetic settings of the famous text. Then, the shortest and most jubilant motet by Johann Sebastian Bach, BWV 226, "The Holy Spirit aids our weakness".  Two pieces by Mendelssohn, Op.78: "Why do the people" (Psalm 2) and "Judge me, oh Lord" (Psalm 43), excellent examples of this side of his production.

            And finally, the austere and deeply felt Mass by Martin, known here by such great scores as the oratorio "Golgotha" and "Le Mystère de la Nativité", though both were done decades ago; one of the few sacred works of the Twentieth Century that deserve to survive at the highest level.  After it, the encore, a slow folk song, added little.

             A few words about a talented young pianist, Lorenzo Soulès, who played for Encuentros Internacionales de Música Contemporánea at the Fundación Beethoven. After the Variations on a theme by Schubert, an early score by Helmut Lachenmann, he played the expansive "Klavierstücke" ("Pieces for keyboard"), 1909, by Schönberg, essential work of atonalism, and I was captivated by the perfect execution and the clear reasoning of this young man.

            Followed "Faims II" ("Hungers II"), by the Swiss Stefan Wirth, and the "Piano Figures" (2006) by the British George Benjamin. The enormous "La Fauvette des Jardins" ("The Garden Linnet"), an extreme example of Messiaen´s obsession with birdsong, was played with such exactitude and concentration that the longueurs were masked.  

For Buenos Aires Herald 

Antonio Formaro, virtuoso pianist and scholar. And the splendid Hermès Quartet plus a Bach cantata


            Antonio Formaro has been since he started his career a "rara avis". A concert pianist´s aim is generally to be successful and have an international trajectory; well, this has been obtained by Formaro in recent years, but doubled with an intense life as professor of musical history, especially of the Romantic period, which will be crowned with a doctoral thesis on Mendelssohn. Also, he has been very active as a chamber player both in piano quartets and piano trios (currently, the Trío Williams).

            Naturally, he has vanquished the purely technical hurdles of piano playing, but only  to find the essence of the music: the myriad details of phrasing that release the kernel of significance of a score. He goes deep into the spirit of the notes and he transmits the style of the composer with the insight given by his vast culture.  That is why I always go to a concert of his with the conviction that he will reveal new aspects of music.

            Two recent concerts again showed that he is a special case. One was called Festival Piano Sinfónico de Buenos Aires, rather too pompous a title for just one performance, but it contains an idea that is valid and hasn´t been seen for decades: a programme dedicated fully to concerted works for piano and orchestra. I remember about thirty-five years ago the concerts in which Earl Wild or Alexis Weissenberg played several concerti in the same evening. They were "tours de force" but they followed the tradition of the Artur Rubinstein of the Thirties and Forties.

            This wasn´t quite so ambitious for although there were four scores only one was a concerto, and the whole thing lasted an hour, not 90 minutes, but it´s the first step of a good idea that in 2016 should be a cycle.  The venue was the Teatro del Globo, an intimate  hall close  to the Coliseo. In such a  space you don´t need a big orchestra; the ad-hoc one numbered 40 players and they were enough. The conductor was the talented Lucía Zicos and the producer was Damián Mahler (son of Ángel), who included  a short piece conducted by himself: "Remembranza", an agreeable melody.

            The programme started with the pet composer of Formaro: Felix Mendelssohn. The première of a 4-minute "Recitativo", MWV/0:1, was  proof of the incredibly precocious talent of the composer, for it was written at eleven-years-old. By the way, MWV is Mendelssohn Werke Verzeichnis (Catalogue of Mendelssohn´s Works), useful for scores without an opus.  But the Rondo brillant Op.29 is a scintillating mature score of great dynamism, which I have long known through a very good interpretation by Peter Katin (there are plenty of recordings). And here Formaro gave us marvels of dexterity and continuity. He will play it, along with the Second Piano Concerto, at Leipzig´s venerable Gewandhaus, Mendelssohn´s "home", late in November, as recognition of Formaro´s specialisation.

            I was rather surprised by the choice of Tchaikovsky´s First Concerto, for this famous standard stresses virtuosity rather than substance, but Formaro wasn´t flashy: meeting all the mechanical demands, he gave sense and reflexion to what is often just a vehicle for display. Here and elsewhere, Zicos and the plausible orchestra accompanied well.

            There were two reasons for going to The Blue Whale a week ago: the visit of the Orquesta Sinfónica Provincial de Bahía Blanca (which I had never heard) and Formaro playing Beethoven´s Third Concerto. The Orchestra was born in 1959 and is a big one, 91-strong on this visit. Its Principal Conductor is the young Federico Víctor Sardella, born in that city and with experience  in Italy and Germany.

            The programme was no great shakes, for the other scores are common repertoire: Ginastera´s Obertura para el Fausto Criollo and Tchaikovsky´s Fifth Symphony. My general impression is: a decent orchestra with some room for improvement (oboes, horns) and a conductor of adequate technical knowledge but little communication. Paradoxically they played better in the difficult Tchaikovsky than in the Beethoven Concerto, where Formaro saved the day with another of his immaculate interpretations, particularly in the subtlety of the slow movement.

            I have an angry complaint: the official policy of the whole Centro Cultural Kirchner is free access to anyone, and that includes the Whale: so bawling babies are accepted and one who wasn´t of the worst  kept babbling meters away from myself in the middle of Beethoven´s more introspective moments. I complained to the parents, the personnel and the Press Office to no avail: they don´t undestand that babies ruin concerts... What an example of silliness and what a way to ruin a concert hall.

            I had a stimulating surprise going to the Quatuor Hermèsn (debut) recital at the Museo de Arte Decorativo. This is a France-based cosmopolitan foursome  young and talented, dispensing as much energy as thought in every interpretation. They are Omer Bouchet, kinetic first violin; Elise Liu, a continually responsive second violin; Jung-Hsin Lou Chang, an admirable violist; and Anthony Kondo, a firm cellist.

            Their programme had admirable balance and quality and they were equally outstanding in the three styles: the perfect classicism of Haydn´s Quartet Op. 76 Nº3, "Emperor"; the synthetic twelve-tone Expressionism of Webern´s Five pieces Op.5; and the warm Romanticism of Schumann´s Quartet Op.41 Nº1. The encore was a quartet adaptation of the Adagio from Bizet´s "L´Arlésienne".

For Buenos Aires Herald

Grotesque travesty of a Verdian masterpiece “Macbeth” in Congo by South-Africans

            A very strange thing happened at the Colón recently. In less than 24 hours a South African troupe presented a terrible travesty of Verdi´s "Macbeth" as part of the FIBA (Festival Internacional de Buenos Aires). Performances on Sunday at 5 pm and –an absolute first for the house- Monday at 1 pm! An A plus for stamina and good vocal training, at least for the murdering couple.

            Darío Lopérfido is currently the czar of both the Colón and the FIBA, so he has full responsibility for this show. His choice confirms a lot about him: he is still very much a man of the Centro Cultural Rojas, which dealt and deals with the sort of extreme avantgarde that is so out that´s in. Mind you, it´s an international phenomenon: Damien Hirst´s shark in formol belongs to the same sort of thinking. I hate it, others think it ´s the most. And I hated this "Macbeth".

            The only programme we were given was a small book with the complete FIBA; just one page covers this "Macbeth". To be sure, Lopérfido isn´t alone in his promotion of what for him (he said it in an interview) is a marvelous production by Brett Bailey (Artistic Director of Third World Bunfight, a South African outfit). It is co-produced by five institutions, among them London´s Barbican and the Wiener Festwochen (Viennese Festival Weeks), no less. And the producers are the EU Cultural fund and the National Lottery Distribution Fund of South Africa.

            "A group of Congolese refugees finds a trunk full of scores, costumes and vinyl records of Verdi´s ´Macbeth´. This becomes the parting shot and catalyst for a  dramatic retelling of Shakespeare´s tale with the Macbeths as warlords, the three sisters (witches) as double-crossing businesswomen and Dunsinane as the great Lakes Region of Central Africa".

            Fine, but how did they do it? Some descriptions are in order. First: a good deal of the relevant Verdi music, including most arias, are sung in Italian with Piave´s original libretto. Second: the orchestral arrangement by Fabrizio Cassol is a bloody mess; the instrumentation sounds awful: string quintet, three woodwinds, trumpet, trombone and uncredited percussion to give it a Congolese touch. With these same players a good arranger could have made something audible, but what I heard was consistently ugly.

            Third: the also uncredited pseudo-translation was an insult to the Colón: sorry, readers, I will have to be explicit for otherwise my complaint would seem too pat. In what is a unique case of schizophrenia, the singers gave us Piave, and the supertitles had such expressions as " boludo, huevón, me cagaron".  As the work originates in South Africa, I suppose that in such places as the Barbican the supertitles will be equally schizoid but in the English equivalents or similar, and that such is the policy of Bailey as producer. Why he does this is beyond me.

            Fourth: another constant policy was to have detailed political accounts of human disasters in Congo expressed in long written tirades reproduced in the principal screen and two other screens placed at both sides of the central element of the staging, a big platform.  Fifth: a constant undercurrent of gross satire is seen throughout: Macbeth and his "Lady" are obese people clad in ridiculous African kitsch; dramatic episodes are taken as jokes, such as the murder of Banquo by the paid assassins (who by their black glasses and fatigues seem a masquerade of African dictators´ paramilitaries).

            Sixth: a personal reminiscence: when in 1998 I asked Leo Nucci to accept doing Macbeth´s death with Verdi´s music from the first version of"Macbeth", he refused; I thought (still do) that it should be added to the revision. I had the agreeable surprise that such a logical dramatic climax was adopted in this travesty!  Seventh: on the left side of the stage were the singers of the minichorus; curiously, the vocal arrangements (presumably also by Cassol) were beautiful and although basically Verdian had a feeling of Negro Spirituals.

            Eighth: The singers were admirable and I suppose they could sing the original Verdi in Capetown, which has an important opera company ( the one that will visit us next year with "Porgy and Bess"). Their looks will make them absurd if they sang the original in London,  but they sure can sing. Owen Metsileng (Macbeth) is a robust baritone of fine timbre capable of sensitive phrasing and "piano" singing. Nobulunko Mngxekeza (pronounce that if you can!) was a splendid Lady, with an ample register that even managed the risky top C sharp at the end of the Somnanbulism scene (although as staged it doesn´t look like one) but also with strong lows. A true bass as Banquo (Otto Maidi) and an excellent seven-voice minichoir completed the vocal side, by far the best thing,  the saving grace of the matinée (I went on Monday).

            Nineth: as far as I could make it, the intent of Bailey (producer, stage and costume designer) was to put in evidence thorugh satire the typical murderous tyrants  of Central Africa and particularly the Congo (where the Civil War goes on unnoticed by the West), as well as to stress the unholy matrimony with Western investors. It´s a valid point but I´m sorry that to do that he didn´t take typical African materials instead of doing a grotesque ridiculisation of Verdi´s masterpiece.

For Buenos Aires Herald 

Paloma´s Juliet: fitting end to a great career. She leaves the stage at the top of her powers

            Sunday, October 11th, 2015. A Colón full to the rafters waits expectantly for the 5 pm performance to begin. Paloma Herrera says goodbye to her Buenos Aires career a couple of months before her fortieth birthday. And as she stated in several interviews, she goes away happy and in full form. Going back, months ago she left her home company, the American Ballet Theatre, with a triumphant "Giselle". Here the vehicle was Shakespeare´s Juliet as seen by composer Sergei Prokofiev and choreographer Maximilano Guerra.

            Well, originally the idea was that she would depart from the Colón after dancing four Tatianas in "Onieguin", the Cranko ballet on Pushkin´s story, but there was no agreement with Stuttgart; the official version was that the Germans put unacceptable conditions; however, once the decision was made to stage  "Romeo and Juliet" instead, the choreographer´s representatives proved more amenable and we´ll see "Onieguin" next year.

            In fact Guerra had presented his "Romeo and Juliet" in 2009 at La Plata´s Argentino. And as it is deeply influenced by the great MacMillan version, and Paloma had danced it, she had no trouble in adapting herself to Guerra´s views. She will do four performances, but this won´t be her last hurrah in Argentina: she will dance her beloved Giselle several times with the Colón Ballet in several provinces, just days away from her next birthday.

            Let me say unequivocally that I believe Prokofiev´s "Romeo and Juliet" to be musically the most important long ballet of the Twentieth Century. The composer proves himself adept at portraying the most varied situations: deep unconditional love, aggression, wry sarcasm, pomp, humor, parental domination, political power, light sexual innuendo, and so on. The music has melody, innovative orchestration, punch, subtlety, cunning harmony, danceable rhythms, incidental ambience in pantomimic scenes.  I would only question that the death throes of Mercutio should be shorter.

            Guerra has done a good job, especially in the abundant crowd scenes; the group dances are elegant, in Neoclassic style. The solos and duets are sensitive and likable, with particular demands of dexterity and suppleness for Juliet. The fights are aided by Lucas Garcilazo, fencing instructor, who has obtained decent results in group sword attacks. The weak side was in the handling of pantomime, often undramatic and insufficient, even from Juliet in the suicide scene.

            The production had two aspects: the costumes by Eduardo Caldirola were agreeable, with fine color gradations,  sumptuous in the cases of Lady Montague and Lady Capulet, and the lighting by Rubén Conde was quite adequate for the different moods. The stage designs by Daniel Feijóo and Adriana Maestri resorted to the unit set and were dominated by a central staircase; there was no balcony for Juliet; aesthetically they were functional rather than beautiful.

            Before I go on, a few data about the "Romeo and Juliets" in BA. In fact it´s an abundant history. The original première was in Brno (Czechoslovakia), December 1938, due to differences of opinion with the Leningrad Kirov; after a revision (necessary because there was a silly happy ending) the 1940 Kirov first night was a triumph, and Galina Ulanova eventually starred in the film of the Lavrovsky choreography (it was thus that as a teenager I met this work).

            In BA the first was Tatiana Gsovsky´s in 1951, followed by George Skibine´s in 1970 (with the wonderful pair of Olga Ferri -Paloma´s teacher- and José Neglia); then Vittorio Biagi´s in 1983; the best was MacMillan´s in 1992, 1994 and 1997; and that of Oscar Aráiz in 2005. We also saw other treatments of the love story: I was present when the American Ballet Theatre presented in 1955 a lovely view by Anthony Tudor based on Frederick Delius´s opera "A Village Romeo and Juliet"; and later on, the controversial choreography by Maurice Béjart based on the great dramatic symphony by Hector Berlioz.

            And now, to Paloma´s performance: she was radiant, looked young, unbelievably supple, her technique honed to perfection. Indeed she proved that she is retiring in the fullness of her art. Her partner was Gonzalo García, Spanish, member of the American Ballet Theatre (the original announcement paired her with Juan Pablo Ledo, Principal Dancer of the Colón). He has the splendid technique required of soloists at the ABT and he is personable; he proved a very good partner to the great star.

            You may think that I´m nitpicking, but I did miss that extra something of communication and magic that I experienced when Alessandra Ferri and Julio Bocca danced the Macmillan here. That was unforgettable and a reference; Herrera with García were very good, but what will make it important in the minds of ballet enthusiasts was that they would never see Paloma again. She is a great dancer, but not a great personality such as Alessandra or Plissetskaya.

            Among the others I admired the dramatic presence of Vagram Ambartsoumian as Tybalt the villain (more so in this version for he kills Mercutio traitorously from the back) and the vital and virtuosic dancing of Edgardo Trabalón as Mercutio. I also liked Norma Molina as the Wetnurse. The rest were in the picture (several have mime roles). The Corps de Ballet was in fine form.

             Emmanuel Siffert conducted the Buenos Aires Philharmonic with a firm hand and good phrasing, so that the beauty and impact of the music came through.

For Buenos Aires Herald 

At last Dvorák´s “Rusalka”, though in a doubtful staging

            For decades Antonin Dvorák´s "Rusalka" was one of the  operas in the wish list of many addicts to the genre but it remained unpremièred. The long wait has finally ended: Buenos Aires Lírica has presented it as the last title of its season, and in Czech, as it should be.

            In fact, I am privy to an information that wasn´t public: in 1973 Antonio Pini (Artistic Director) planned to offer it in a Spanish translation at the Colón (the breakthrough for a Czech opera in the original language came later, with Janácek´s "The Makropoulos case", in 1986). As Pini was unceremoniously kicked out as Artistic Director in August of that same year, the project went down the drain.

            Well, when Pini had that good idea it was because he had lived several years in Prague as a diplomat and had seen the Czech repertoire at the Národni Divadlo (National Theatre, where "Rusalka" had been premièred in 1901). And it was there that I saw it in April 1967, and soon after bought the Supraphon recording conducted by Zdenek Chalabala. Later there were notable recordings led by Neumann with Benacková (1983) and Mackerras with Fleming (1998); the latter had wide repercussion and led to  DVDs that have remained as a reference, and Fleming sang it at the Met. So nowadays "Rusalka" ´s battle is won internationally.

             Dvorák´s operas have been internationally neglected except "Rusalka". Well, those I know I like and enjoy: "Dmitrij", on the usurper that would replace Boris Godunov as Czar; "Jakobin", a very agreeable comedy; and "The Devil and Kate", where Kate is so obnoxious that the Devil throws her out of Hell...

            Dvorák defines "Rusalka" as a "lyrical fairy-tale", and that´s what it is. The librettist Jaroslav Kvapil had plenty to inspire him in tales by La Motte-Fouqué ("Undine", 1811), Andersen ("The little mermaid", 1836) and Hauptmann ("The sunken bell", 1897), as well as by the style of an important Czech writer, Karel Erben. In fact, Erben´s tales inspired the four late Dvorák tone poems, little-known here but very much worthwhile; written in 1896, two have titles related to "Rusalka": "The Water-Goblin" and "The Noon Witch".

            As it happens, the tragic destiny of the naiad that wanted to be human has inspired many operas, unfortunately not premièred here: E.T.A. Hoffmann´s and Lortzing´s "Undine" (plus a destroyed "Undine" by Tchaikovsky!).  Dargomizhsky´s "Russalka" and Respighi´s "La campana sommersa". There are also ballets such as Henze´s "Undine".

             Kvapil´s libretto has a hard-to-accept premise: that the Prince will accept as consort a woman that is mute and doesn´t respond to his kisses merely because her looks and eyes fascinate him. Or that Rusalka will go ahead knowing the witch Jezibaba´s two strictures: that the humanized naiad won´t be able to speak with the humans, and that the Prince will die if he deceives her.  Nevertheless, the text is often poetic and the conflict between the water world and humanity is clearly expressed, especially by the Water-Sprite (Vodnik), who so often exclaims "Woe! Poor Rusalka!".  And the Foreign Princess, the Prince´s lover, represents passion and spite.

            Dvorák´s music is often fresh and inspired, and not just in the only famous fragment, the Moon aria. He does have a dramatic gift as well as an atmospheric one, and the music is easily absorbed and appreciated. It was nice to hear it again live by a good cast and a well-trained orchestra under the very professional and empathic conducting of Carlos Vieu. The chorus has few interventions but they were agreeable, led by the competent Juan Casasbellas.

            Daniela Tabernig managed to project a convincing Rusalka even if hampered by absurd and ugly clothing in two of the three acts; she sang beautifully with an ample clear voice. The Brazilian Eric Herrero has a fine tenor voice with firm highs; his Prince was forthright. Homero Pérez Miranda (Chilean-Cuban) did an expressive Vodnik with his voice under control (he avoiding the spreading I noticed in other roles); however,  again his appearance was at odds with the role (no fault of his).

            Jezibaba the Witch is a character role, but the veteran Elisabeth Canis overdid the harshness in her singing. Marina Silva was impressive as the Foreign Princess: a big voice of real intensity and attractive looks. The Three Dryads were sung freshly  by Oriana Favaro, Rocío Giordano and Vanina Guilledo, who look young and enticing; again, no fault of them that they were given partners in a whorish context. Finally, Cecilia Pastawski was a spry Turnspit and Mirko Tomas a seasoned Gamekeeper. Igor Herzog, who is Czech, helped all of them with the tricky pronunciation.

            On the staging: producer, Mercedes Marmorek; stage design, Luciana Fornasari; costumes, Lucía Marmorek; lighting, Alejandro Le Roux. The libretto states for the First and the Third Act: "A glade at the edge of the lake, surrounded by forests. The Three Dryads dance." What did we get? An elegant whorehouse with reminiscences of Flora´s party in "La Traviata"... No inkling of water except a silly bathtub; the Moon was a lamp... The Water-sprite clad humanly with a rundown suit and a hat! And the pure Rusalka, creature of the river, looking like a whore... Of course, nothing worked.

            The Second Act takes place in the Palace and there´s a nice staging of a ball with fine costumes and an agreeable projection of a garden with a bower. The choreography by Ignacio González Cano is simple but pleasant; he also imagined the slitherings of the three Demons that accompanied Jezibaba in the other acts. However,  the weight of the other acts was decisive: this was a good "Rusalka" musically but the production didn´t help.

Buenos Aires Herald 

Sibelius rules the symphony: the First by two orchestras

            A remarkable set of circumstances allowed me to hear in two adjoining days one of the best First Symphonies ever written: that of Jan Sibelius, who labored over it from 1898 to 1900. On Wednesday by the Orquesta Sinfónica de Salta conducted by Jorge Lhez at The Blue Whale. On Thursday by the Orquesta Filarmónica de Buenos Aires (our good old Phil) led by Víctor Hugo Toro.

            I recently referred to a concert at the Whale by the Orchestra of La Plata´s Teatro Argentino and commended the idea of bringing over provincial orchestras to the Capital. The presence of the Salta Symphony is part of the same cycle. It has been here before but the return is much appreciated for it is one of our best orchestras. As often happens in this disconcerting country, it was born in a period of crisis, in 2001.  The wages were good and an international competition to gather up the  players brought a cascade of Slavs after the implosion of the USSR.

            They are still there: as I perused the 88-player roster I found that the first desks of violins, violas, cellos and horns have surnames as Muradov, Iordanishvili, Lárina, Chornyy and Tabakov. Fortunately the orchestra kept its provincial financing and became the necessary symphonic organism for both Salta and Jujuy, as well as going to the Festivals of Ushuaia and Llao Llao.

            Jorge Lhez, graduated as Operatic Musical Director at the Colón´s Institute of Art, won in 2013 the title of Chief Director of the Salta Symphony in an international contest.  On the basis of this concert I have no doubt that Lhez is a talented young  conductor with not only a solid technique but also a sense of style.

            The inclusion of the Sibelius Symphony was a homage to the composer on the 150th annuversary of his birth. Lhez decided to place it as the beginning score of the evening, leaving two colorful Latinamerican pieces for the Second Part. As proved again by listening to it twice in 24 hours, the First is a marvelous opus of intense personality; I don´t subscribe to the idea of Tchaikovskian influence. The dark, ominous orchestration, the strong contrasts, the surprises of harmony and rhythm, the pregnant silences, are all his own.

            The Orchestra is powerful and fully professional in all its sections, even if some artists were particularly good (the tympani player, the clarinettist). It responds with unanimity and intensity to the conductor´s always clear gestures. 

            From density to lightness and brilliance: the very successful "Danzón Nº 2" by Arturo Márquez (Mexican) and the symphonic poem "Santa Cruz de Pacairigua" by Evencio Castellanos (1915-54, Venezuelan), a mosaic full of contrasts, showed the rhythm and joyful carefree spirit of those countries. It provided a field day for trumpeters and percussionists and made me think of the famous Bolívar Orchestra with Dudamel.

            I have already mentioned the stridency of the Whale´s acoustics and this was again in evidence, especially as I compared what my ears heard at the Colón in the same symphony: at the Whale everything was larger than life and at times became distorted,. At the Colón the sounds were rounded, with their natural harmonic halo.

            Víctor Hugo Toro, born in Santiago de Chile, made his local debut. His career has evolved mainly in Brazil, where he is currently Principal Conductor of the Campinas Symphony, but he has also been active in Mexico, Uruguay and Argentina. He is beginning to have contracts further ahead, in Italy and China. A big man of strong contexture, his gestures are ample and decisive and his readings proved orthodox and well-rehearsed.

            The programme was a doble homage, not only to Sibelius but also to the Danish composer Carl Nielsen, also due to the 150th anniversary of his birth (some will remember that I wrote about the recent interpretation of his Fourth Symphony by the Phil). He created the best Wind Quintet in history, and in the final years of his life he started composing concerti for each member that had premièred it. Alas, cardiac problems shortened his life and only allowed him to accomplish those for flute and clarinet. The latter was played on this concert by that marvelous first desk of the Phil, Mariano Rey.

             It is a quirky and fascinating piece, extremely difficult for the soloist and intriguingly orchestrated for just strings, bassoons, flutes, horns, and a small drum that dialogues with the clarinet. One movement in changing moods, sometimes excentric but always interesting. Rey´s playing was out of this world: I doubt if it could be bettered anywhere. Incredible dexterity but also an admirable command of dynamics in long notes, and unfailing phrasing. I was impressed by the quality of Toro´s accompanying, following it with my Danish score. Rey gave us an extra gift, Stravinsky´s Three Pieces for the instrument. 

            There are three  great Nordic composers; the third is Edvard Grieg, and his charming Norwegian Dances started the night. I don´t understand why he needed the services of orchestrator Hans Sitt, who transcribed them from the original for four-hand piano, for Grieg certainly had shown himself skilful in that art already in the early and famous Piano Concerto. Anyway, Sitt did a fine job, and these dances, based on folk tunes, are really charming. As they were nicely played, they provided a fine apéritif before Nielsen.

For Buenos Aires Herald

viernes, octubre 02, 2015

Another chance to meet the first Verdi

            April 2014. I wrote for the Herald about  "The first Verdi and the fourth Wagner". "A relatively recent private group, the Compañía Lírica G.Verdi, gave at the Avenida the long-awaited revival of Giuseppe Verdi´s "Oberto, Conte di San Bonifacio". "It was only offered in 1939 during the Colón Spring Season commemorating the centenary of its world première".

            "This year they billed it at first as a première, and when they were advised that the Colón had already done that, they changed it to ´complete version´. I sent them mails indicating that their version is indeed complete, for I checked it with the excellent Marriner recording, but neither they nor I could find concrete evidence about whether the Colón première had cuts".

            Now in late September the Compañía Lírica G.Verdi has revived it with the same production and a cast where some voices remained and others were changed. There were three performances with two casts; I saw the first (though it was the last of the three it repeated the cast of the initial night).

             The hand programme included no comments on the work, only a spare account of the plot. The opera has only two acts and the logical thing is to respect the interval after the First, but here they went ahead for another couple of scenes before the lights were on; I see no reason for this.  The total length is about two hours and twenty minutes.

            As Verdi´s second opera, "Un giorno di regno", has been done twice in recent years, and now the same thing happens with the first, we have a clear view of Verdi´s initial steps before he arrived at a style of his own in the third, "Nabucco".  I am glad that the effort of putting "Oberto" on stage has been reproduced this year, for it is not only fair but understandable that opera lovers might be interested in knowing Verdi´s early inspirations.

             I was sorry to see a sparse audience; the lack of curiosity is lamentable. And it doesn´t stimulate the company to go on exploring neglected Verdi. Nevertheless, I do hope they will continue and offer us, e.g., "I Masnadieri" (on Schiller´s "The Bandits"), or "Aroldo" (second version of "Stiffelio"), or "Il Corsaro"; they all have some striking music. However, the programme says that this revival has counted with the auspices of the city´s Culture Ministry; may it happen in the future.

            I wrote in 2014 and haven´t changed my views: "Mind you, ´Oberto´ is a first step in a long road and far from the quality of ´Nabucco´. Of course, the 26-year-old Verdi has influences (Bellini, Donizetti, Mercadante) but in the best fragments you already find the Verdian style, espcially the trio and the great ´concertante´, though there are good moments in some of the arias" (and I would add, "cabalettas", the fast vocal pieces that succeed them).

            "I won´t mince words, the libretto (by Antonio Piazza as revised by Temistocle Solera) is deplorable, telling a Medieval story of love and vengeance in primitive terms. But Verdi´s ability to extract dramatic force from unpromising material is already there."

            "The production by Adriana Segal (advised by Lizzie Waisse) respected time (1228) and in very general terms, place (Bassano, Ezzelino´s castle and surroundings)".

I have more space to write this time, and I do want to say two things: on the one hand, I think that these melodrammas must be done traditionally, with everyone concerned making us believe that THEY believe in the happenings, and there was an adequate intensity from the artists. On the other, some things seemed absurd: e.g., those stools transported by the chorus from scene to scene and either used to sit down or to be piled for fire.

            "Mariela Daga is an experienced hand at period costumes", and in fact, was the best element in the staging. I found the stage designs by Mariano Campero and Juan Bautista Selva bad rather  than middling this time, with inappropriate armchairs and three "stones" that looked like upright surfboards. Again, "the supertitles were untidy", though colleagues told me that they were much worse on the first night.

            As in 2014, "I was well impressed by the vigor and clarity of Ramiro Soto Montllor´s conducting". The hand programme mentions "Casa Musicale Sonzogno" as the editor; did they have this time better material? For last year the conductor "had a lot of previous work to make sense of poor orchestral parts". As in 2014, the 34-strong Orchestra and 35-voice Chorus "collaborated with enthusiasm though they have some way to go in purely technical matters".

            Again, "Sabrina Cirera dominated the cast with her fierce, dramatic Leonora (the first of three in Verdi´s career!)". But the others were changed. The angelical Cuniza was sung by Laura Domínguez correctly although with a lineal voice short on harmonics. Clara Pinto  is rather similar in her projection; she sang Imelda, Cuniza´s  lady of honor.

            The two rivals were new and interesting. In the title role Juan Font, a baritone, sang a "basso cantante" part (such was last year´s Walter Schwarz). He looks too young (better makeup would have helped) but he is a good actor; he has convincing timbre and phrasing, even if more volume was needed at times. Finally, Carlos Ullán, formerly a Rossinian and Mozartian tenor, sang with involvement and dash his seductive villain (Riccardo) notwithstanding some perilous moments. 

For Buenos Aires Herald

Pleasures, contrasts, surprises in concert life

            Again recent weeks provided activities full of pleasures (and displeasures), contrasts and surprises in what is a very rich concert life. I will start with the Orquesta Sinfónica  Nacional (National Symphony) at the Blue Whale. Unfortunately I had missed their previous session there on September 2 because it coincided with the Shanghai Symphony. That time it was conducted by the distinguished Gabriel Chmura (known for earlier visits) and had no less a soloist than Nelson Goerner in his yearly contact with BA. Two great Russian works: Rachmaninov´s Second Piano Concerto and Prokofiev´s Fifth Symphony.

            No less than an unconscionable 23 days passed before the National Symphony was back at the Whale, surely too long a time in full season. Chilean conductor Francisco Rettig was back, after his interesting interpretation of Mahler´s gigantic Third Symphony. Curiously he chose an identical programme than Gustavo Dudamel with his Simón Bolívar Orchestra some years ago: "La Rebelión de los Mayas" by Silvestre Revueltas and Stravinsky´s "Rite of Spring". A field day for the percussion players, who numbered twelve (!) in the first score and are basic in the seminal Stravinskyan score that liberated rhythm.

            It is  wrong and unfair to bill Revueltas as the sole composer of the four-movement suite, for it was concocted by José Yves Limantour from the 1939 music for the homonymous film by Chano Ureta. And the arranger did a splendid job. I haven´t seen the film or heard the music separately so I can´t compare with Limantour. So I will only say that the succession of four Nights is melodic and expressive; the fourth, "de encantamiento" (of enchantment") is as long as the other three: a stunning portrayal of a virgin sacrifice with long episodes of pure percussion featuring many indigenous Maya instruments.

            Rettig is a complete musician who gave much character to the music. The execution was accurate and often beautiful, though some horn whoops went awry.

            I am sorry to say that there were many errors of execution in the famous "Rite of Spring", maybe the most revolutionary score of the early Twentieth Century, with some really unacceptable horn playing. But I was especially bothered by the tremendous exaggeration of  the tam tam and sometimes by the bass drum; the unbalance was such that the other instruments disappeared. This is  evidence of the real acoustic problem of the Whale: the granite behind the orchestra is terribly reflectant. So, even  if Rettig is undoubtedly very conscientious, the end  result was disappointing. The saving grace was in the lyrical soft moments, where the sensitive phrasing compensated somewhat.

            For an incredible 47 years Alicia Terzian, now 80, has been at the helm of the International Festivals called Encuentros. Either with her own group or with Argentine and foreign artists she has premièred an enormous quantity of scores. Now in a succession of Mondays she is again offering –this time at the Fundación Beethoven- a season of  concerts, in this case six. Four pianists are showing their talent sandwiched in a series that started with the Grupo Encuentros and will end with a recital by mezzosoprano Marta Blanco with pianist Enrique Premoli.

            I couldn´t hear the first of the pianists, Aline Piboule, but I caught the concerts offered by Françoise Thinat and Lorenzo Soulès, all three French. I won´t be able to hear the fourth, Imri Talgam (Israel), but I found the two I attended first-rate. They are at both extremes of the age scale: Thinat (who was here some years ago) is a splendid old lady, and Soulès an extremely talented 23-year-old.

            As Thinat´s concert progressed, I was indeed surprised, for this modest teacher is admirable; she blends an exquisite sensitivity with a very complete technique, and she chose a very attractive programme. In the First Part, the very short and innovative "Klavierstücke" Op.19 (1911) by Schönberg were immediately followed (she didn´t allow applause) by those fantastic "Six Bulgarian Dances" (1939) by Bartók who close the last (sixth) volume of his didactic grand work, the "Mikrokosmos", and are a compendium of exotic rhythms. And then, two of the extremely hard Etudes by Debussy, written during World War I.

            The Second Part gave us three great composers with works written after World War II. From the admirable but little-known Henri Dutilleux (1916-2013), "Le Jeu des Contraires" ("The Game of the Contraries"), 1989, imaginative, brilliant music. From Luciano Berio (1925-2003), "Rounds" (1953, originally for harp), dominated by impulsive clusters (played by Thinat as if she were a young powerful girl). And from Olivier Messiaen (1908-92), the very complex "Canteyodjaya" (1953), one of his scores dominated by  Indian influence.

            I was sorry to miss due to a mishap the first work chosen by Soulès, "Variations on a theme by Schubert" (1956) by Helmut Lachenmann (b. 1935), but I heard the expansive "Klavierstücke" ("Pieces for keyboard"), 1909, by Schönberg, essential work of atonalism, and was captivated by the perfect execution and the clear reasoning of this young man. A première by the Swiss Stefan Wirth (b.1975), "Faims II" ("Hungers II"), didn´t impress me.

             More interesting were the "Piano Figures" (2006) written by the British George Benjamin (b. 1960, première), nine varied sketches. Finally, the enormous "La Fauvette des jardins" ("The Garden Linnet"), an extreme example of Messiaen´s obsession with birdsong, played with such exactitude and concentration by Soulès that the longueurs were masked.

For Buenos Aires Herald 

“Don Carlo”, dark opera of politics and love


            Some British critics consider "Don Carlo" as the very top of Giuseppe Verdi´s gigantic career; although I don´t quite agree (I see some flaws) it is certainly among the five most important ones. After World War II (not before) the high quality of "Don Carlo" is almost unquestioned.

            The story of how it came about is complex and troubled. Born as a "grand´opéra" in French following the precise requirements of the Paris Opera, its great length conspired against success in Italy, so he reduced it from five to four acts and in a revised libretto in Italian he gave it what he felt was its definitive form. It was his fourth opera on a Schiller drama.

            Some facts: original libretto by Joseph Méry and Camille du Locle; translation of the five-act version into Italian by Achille de Lauzières, later adapted by Angelo Zanardini for the four-acter. The opera was modified no less than eight times (!) before Verdi arrived to what he felt was the best formula for success of this very complex opera. Basic dates: March 1867, Paris Opera; January 1884, Milan La Scala. Friedrich Schiller´s "Don Carlos, Spain´s Infante" dates from 1787 and is typical of the playright´s libertarian ideas. As in other historical plays of his, he looks for dramatic impact and has no qualms about changing the truth: his play, further modified by the librettists, is what inspired Verdi, not straight history.

            So, even if the libretto as it stands has some non sequiturs, it´s what we have.  War, religion, unrequited love, all mixed in a dark, sometimes terrible way, as in the auto-da-fé scene

            The music makes almost no concessions to easy melody and stresses ambience and structure, as well as inventive orchestration and harmony. To seasoned music lovers, it is full of marvels. I will only cite the first two fragments of the Third Act: the great "scena" of Filippo and his confromtation with the Great Inquisitor.

            It is a major challenge for any opera house: you need a big stage, expensive designs, six great voices, and a long rehearsal period; even in the definitive version it is one of Verdi´s two longest operas .

            Since the 1950s the Colón has offered it in seven seasons before this one. Although the ideal of perfection remained elusive, there were great conductors and singers.

            Showing the relative decline of the Colón, the less interesting of these versions was the last one, of 2004. I´m afraid the same applies to the 2015 revival, where only the conducting of Ira Levin and two Argentine singers in two casts were in a high level (the baritone Fabián Verloz and the tenor Gustavo López Manzitti).  As to the staging by Eugenio Zanetti, although I thank him for avoiding stupidities such as transferring the action to our time, I have too many objections to put his work on the positive side of the balance.

            Space precludes getting into detail, so I´ll be synthetic. Levin led the orchestra with an exact feeling for the myriad moods and firm control of every aspect; the orchestra, save small smudges, responded well. The Chorus (Miguel Martínez) was uneven, with some weakness in the ominous phrases of the priests. The off-stage band and chorus sounded too distant.

            Two casts: international for the four subscription performances and local for two non-subscription (added by Darío Lopérfido, the Director that took over from García Caffi). Filippo: the young Russian bass Alexander Vinogradov has good material but communicates little; Lucas Debevec Mayer disappointed me with an interpretation full of mannerisms, gestual and vocal. Posa: Veloz is ready for the big time: a true Verdian voice of beautiful timbre, clean line and satisfactory volume; Alejandro Meerapfel is a fine artist but his voice sounds very German. Carlo: the Catalan José Bros has firm highs though the timbre isn´t attractive and he has little dramatic presence; López Manzitti was at his best, singing with impressive command and acting with conviction. The Grand Inquisitor: the Russian Alexei Tanovitski was unacceptable: his voice doesn´t project and is of poor quality; Emiliano Bulacios is powerful and firm though the voice is too bright for this ominous part. The Monk: both Carlos Esquivel and Debevec Mayer were correct.  The Russians made their debut.

            The ladies. Tamar Iveri (debut, Georgian) started indifferently and only showed her mettle in her big "scena" of the Fourth Act. Haydée Dabusti is too veteran for the young Elisabeth but compensates with taste and style, especially in the "scena". Eboli: Béatrice Uria-Monzon was a good Carmen here 21 years ago; now her vibrato is bigger but she sings with impetus and acts strongly.

            The small parts were well taken: Rocío Giordano (Tebaldo), Marisú Pavón (Voice from Heaven), Iván Maier (Count of Lerma), Darío Leoncini (A Royal Herald).          

            And now to Zanetti. He was almost completely the author of the staging: producer, stage and costume designer; lighting by Eli Sirlin, projections by Abelardo Zanetti. Problems: unnecessary or wrong addenda: the bells at the beginning, the dwarves, the dogs,  figurants where none are needed, a unit set of huge columns that certainly gave no illusion (e.g.) of a garden, incomprehensible and kitschy symbols (a gigantic hand with bloody heart, an immense oval over the heads of the singers), a poor auto-da-fé, allusions to a putrefied Empire when Filippo was in fact at the height of his power. And principally the austere Escorial court of Philip II represented as if it were in the dissipated times of Philip IV. 

            Compensations: a sense of symmetry, some nice costume designs (I saw no trace of the rags he mentions in interviews) and a few good dramatic markings.

For Buenos Aires Herald 

Paloma Herrera´s goodbye: a press conference

        Years ago Julio Bocca stunned ballet audiences when he announced that he would retire as a dancer at 40.  Good as his word, he did: now he is on his second career, as Director of Montevideo´s SODRE Ballet.  This year dance lovers received a new shock: Paloma Herrera would say goodbye to the stage before she was quite 40. In both cases they said they wanted to retire in their best condition, although Bocca was very honest in saying that his body had already taken a heavy toll and that some acrobatic parts hadn´t been in his repertoire in the final years of his trajectory.

            Some months ago, she gave her last performance with the American Ballet Theater, her company for 24 years, and it was apotheotic. For she had been a star performer in New York City, perhaps the most competitive in the world, and had kept her standards high throughout her long campaign.

            But her definitive goodbye will be in Buenos Aires; hence the press conference which I attended. She was flanked by Darío Lopérfido, the Colón´s Director, and Maximiliano Guerra, the Ballet Director, and  was presented (very well) by Mariana Arias. Her sponsor of many years, Galicia Eminent, was also present and at the end their CEO presented her with gifts.

            Said Lopérfido: " The fact that Paloma will retire at our house is to do justice to an international star. I think these performances will be memorable".

            Then Guerra declared, concerning "Romeo and Juliet", the Prokofiev ballet with Guerra´s choreography: "We chose it together, looking for a work that would allow her to have a true farewell. It is an honor and a pleasure that it occurs with a work of mine. We are rehearsing hard, so that her Juliet will be magnificent".

            And Paloma:"I want to say goodbye with a ballet that would represent me, that´s why we chose ´Romeo and Juliet´. I am happy, it´s a wonderful work."  Her speech was brief and simple, just a reference to the reasons for her decision and to her convictions about her career: discipline, ethics, hard work, and deep love for dancing.  And a mention about having danced "Romeo and juliet" many times (but of course not in Guerra´s choreography!).

            Then came the abundant questions. About John Cranko´s "Eugen Onegin", the ballet originally announced for her farewell: Guerra answered: the contract wasn´t signed...(one wonders why). The Germans (the Stuttgart Ballet) established hard conditions (he wasn´t specific) but it probably will be presented next year (a credible source informed me that they wanted Tatiana to be danced by one who knew the part; Paloma hasn´t done it).

            Guerra on his "Romeo and Juliet": he presented it at the Argentino in 2009. He admitted a strong MacMillan perfume (it will be remembered that his choreography was danced marvelously here by Bocca and Alessandra Ferri, and was supposed to be revived during Lidia Segni´s tenure, but at the last moment was replaced, again because of disagreements: I believe that only when a contract has been signed a ballet can be included in a subscription series). He has also seen the versions of Béjart and Aráiz. A feature of his choreography is that the "corps de ballet" will dance a lot on points.

            Paloma on her career: she made a tribute to her great teacher, Olga Ferri, who always said that she had to concentrate on her dancing. Paloma described herself as "superdedicated".

            She was irritated when a question referred to the substitution of the ballet with which she took her leave of the American Ballet Theater in May. She said that some media had distorted the truth: the ABT wanted her to be the star on a new lavish production of "Sleeping Beauty" as choreographed by Alexei Ratmansky, but she demurred, feeling that she had to go dancing a ballet that represented her career, and asked for "Giselle" (which she did here last year). She was given what was available in their calendar, and that was a Saturday matinée: she fully agreed and  felt it was one of the most joyful days of her life.

            She will give master classes and launch a garment design line. But she  lives from day to day, dislikes planning, although paradoxically she has always been very disciplined and professional (facts that make her valuable in institutions like the ABT).  Paloma has had difficulties with some choregraphers, but she took them as steps in maturity.

            She has just moved to Argentina, although she will keep liens with New York. She insisted that although technique is fundamental, it isn´t enough if you don´t have that special spark. Paloma makes no predictions about the future of the ballet.

            The general impression I got was of an artist that has always been deeply in love with her profession but doesn´t intellectualize her experience; she is still simple and direct.

              Performances: October 11, 5 pm; October 13, 15 and 17, 8 pm. Tickets: at the Colón, Monday to Saturday, 10 am to 8 pm, and Sunday, 10 am to 5 pm. Or on the telephone: 5254-9100. Or on Internet: www.teatrocolon.org.ar .

            Twice horrid fortissimo noises from the loudspeaker interrupted the occasion; the interviewees remained unfazed.

            The celebration was complemented by some splendid catering offered by Galicia Eminent.

For Buenos Aires Herald

Recent concerts brought us Bach motets, Italian and Slav artists

            Musical life in Buenos Aires is unbelievably intense and every week I have the same dilemma: what to choose and what to discard. In this article I will cover a marvelous concert in which we had the rare occasion of hearing all six motets by Johann Sebastian Bach, the presentations of I Solisti di Pavia led by cellist Enrico Dindo and of two Russians with the Buenos Aires Philharmonic.

            I give pride of place to the Bach motets simply because taken as a whole they are enormously important, a monument of the best Baroque, and its interpretation by the Grupo de Canto Coral directed by Néstor Andrenacci and La Barroca del Suquía under the leadership of Manfredo Kraemer was memorable. Mind you, I may be influenced by personal experience: back in 1955, still a teenager, I heard four of these motets in three August concerts by Bach´s own choir, the Thomanerchor of Leipzig, under Günther Ramin, and the impact was so great that I bought the six motets in two records by this group in Archiv.

             The motets were apparently written between 1723 and 1729 and vary a lot in length, from the almost six minutes of "Lobet den Herrn" to the near nineteen of Jesu, meine Freude. The requirements are sometimes for four-voiced choir but other pieces are for double choir (eight voices).  They have instrumental accompaniment but only as support.

            The texts come from Psalms, Isaiah, Romans, Luther and pietist writers. In two of them the structure is complex: eleven numbers in "Jesu, meine Freude", and in "Singet dem Herrn ein neues Lied" only three, but with double choir most of the way.

            The challenge was met admirably by the GCC (Grupo de Canto Coral), led since its inception in 1973 by Néstor Andrenacci, certainly one of our best choral conductors. The 22 singers are enthusiastic and fully professional, able to vanquish the intricate textures. A caveat: it wasn´t historicist in one sense: in the Thomaner the sopranos and contraltos are boys, here they were women.

            As to La Barroca del Suquía, it was a true luxury for the instrumental side could be a mere continuo of three or four instruments; here we had five strings, three types of oboe, bassoon and organ; it certainly sounded rich, perhaps too rich. And of course they all are expert players. The acoustics of the packed Central Methodist Church were ideal.

            I Solisti di Pavia have been here before and left a good impression. Now they were back for Nuova Harmonia at the Coliseo, led by their founder (they started on December 2001), cellist and conductor Enrico Dindo. The lion´s part was very much its leader´s, for no less than  three scores had him as soloist, and he proved to be one of the best Italian cellists: the sound rich and noble, the mechanism clean, plus good taste and adaptation to different aesthetics.

            The best score was Carl Philippe Emanuel Bach´s Concerto in A, Wq 172, 1753, originally for harpsichord; this is valuable Late Baroque music of a very personal imprint. It was quite pleasant to hear (perhaps a première) "Une Larme" ("A Tear"), Theme and variations by Rossini from the Ninth Album of his ·"Péchés de Vieillesse" ("Sins of Old Age"), 1857-68, as arranged by Eliodoro Sollima for cello and string ensemble (the original is for cello and "basso", understood in this case as piano); the music is light and charming. And the concert ended with "Le Grand Tango", written by Piazzolla for Rostropovich (he played it here); Dindo substituted the original piano by a string ensemble in his arrangement, very well done. This is substantial and sensitive Piazzolla, devoid of effects.

            The group, apart from accompanying Dindo, played on its own, conducted by Dindo, the Third Suite of "Antique Arias and Dances" by Respighi, a beautifully done orchestration of lute originals, and "Chrysanthemums", a melancholy piece by Puccini. Thirteen players , about half from each sex, make up these  efficient and disciplined Solisti, the paradoxical name for team players. One moot point: the C.P.E.Bach Concerto specifies a harpsichord in the continuo, here absent.

            Encores: a lovely "Ave Maria" by Piazzolla (Dindo as soloist)  and with just the cellist J.S.Bach´s Saraband in G from the First Suite.

            The Russians with the Phil were conductor Vladimir Lande and pianist Rustem Hayrudinov. Lande had been here with the Lithuanian National Symphony and had done a good job; however, this time I found him uneven. First because his programming wasn´t good: Verdi´s "Nabucco" Overture clashed violently with Tchaikovsky´s Concert Fantasy for piano and orchestra; we needed something like Borodin or Glinka before Tchaikovsky. Furthermore, his Verdi was rushed and loud.

            As to the Concert Fantasy, it must be said: it is the poorest of the four works for piano and orchestra written by the composer (the others are the three Concerti). The piano part is tremendously difficult but vacuous, and it includes a gigantic nine-minute cadenza completely out of proportion; the ideas are poor, with some flashes of fast melody and rhythm; and the structure is chaotic. Written in 1884, it´s a mere vehicle for a virtuoso, and at least we had one in Hayrudinov: he was fleet and accurate. His encore was the turbulent Rachmaninov Prelude op. 23 Nº7.

            A correct version -no more- of Brahms´ Third Symphony closed a lackluster evening.

For Buenos Aires Herald 

An important first: Chinese orchestra plays in BA

            Finally, a long-awaited event: the first visit of a Chinese symphony orchestra to our city. It almost happened last year, when the Beijing Symphony was announced and then  cancelled, replaced by a percussion ensemble. And this season there was talk of that same orchestra visiting us, but again it didn´t materialize. However, Nuova Harmonia obtained the presence of the Shanghai Symphony, and it was a positive experience at the Colón.

            This needs a lot of historical background. It is of course by now common knowledge that the Chinese economy has grown prodigiously these last thirty years and has now surpassed Japan as the second in the world. As Gorbachov was the wizard that led to the implosion of communism in the USSR, Deng Hsiao Ping did something even more amazing: he led China away from the disastrous Band of Four and its infamous Cultural Revolution and gradually put China in the road of prosperity with a sui generis brand of capitalism.

            Mind you, during the better years of the Mao Tse Tung (Mao Ze Dong) regime there were symphony orchestras in the Occidental mold, along with Chinese traditional instrumental groups such as those that the Colón saw accompanying the Peking (Beijing) Opera many decades ago. But the ten catastrophical years dislocated both cultural ways. However, afterwards matters gradually returned to some normality, as we can see in that wonderful film with Isaac Stern, "From Mao to Mozart".  New orchestras were born, and old ones were revived. And as their economic system started to expand, and the midlle class grew, audiences became bigger and more sophisticated.

            And late in the Twentieth Century, Hong Kong reverted to China. Their Philharmonic has been for decades one of the best orchestras in Asía, along with the NHK of Japan (the only Japanese orchestra that ever visited us, back in 1966). And another orchestra became important in that area, the Singapore Symphony. They have recorded a lot and would be most welcome here.

            And that brings me to another matter: the fantastic capacity of adaptation of Orientals to what is basically an Occidental idiom; viceversa it doesn´t work: we don´t have experts in their music or their instruments. However, that applies to interpreters: China, as far as I know, hasn´t produced outstanding composers; Japan, very few. Of the Chinese, I would only mention as well-known (but not first-rate) Tan Dun and Chou Wen-Chung. I mean, of course, academic music in the Western style: a Peking opera or a Kabuki show have their ages-old music, always unvaried in their style.

            This year Enrique Diemecke included some Chinese music in the Buenos Aires Philharmonic and, as I wrote, I found them rather poor, apart from the pleasure of hearing the pipa (Chinese lute).   Although the choices seemed to me better in the Shanghai Symphony programme, I fail to find them of any substance according to our Occidental standards (I can´t feel like a Chinese). But they brought along in this tour a wonderful artist, Russian violinist Maxim Vengerov, whose recital years ago at the Colón was a high point of the musical year.

            The Shanghai Symphony (95 musicians) took its current name in 1956 but started as the Shanghai Public Band in 1879, a time of strong British influence. In recent decades they had such guests as Muti, Masur and Dutoit, along with famous soloists. And they made many international tours. Long Yu, its Director since 2009, has also posts in Beijing and Guangzhou; also,  he founded in 1998 the Beijing Music Festival and in 2000 the Chinese Philharmonic.

            A ten-minute Symphonic Overture called "Instants of a Beijing Opera" (1999, revised 2004) was written by Chen Qigang (born 1951); the music was pleasant  and brilliant but superficial. "The Butterfly lovers" is a sentimental one-movement violin concerto based on a Chinese opera; it is a score created by students : He Zhanhao (born 1933) and Chen Gang (born 1935) wrote it in 1959; there are numerous versions of it, including one for typical Chinese instruments. It has been recorded often. The 25-minute sectionalized Concerto purports to follow the destiny of two lovers that eventually convert into butterflies and live forever! The music is pentatonic, quite melodic but treacly and undramatic.

            It was in the ideal hands of Vengerov, who adapted to his playing the constant sliding from one note to another; he was incredibly smooth with  constantly beautiful sound. In both works (of course premières) Long Yu and the Orchestra impressed very favorably. But where Vengerov showed his mettle was in the encore, the intricate Sonata-Ballad Nº 3 by Ysaÿe, done with marvelous command and bite.

            The great Symphony Nº 5 by Shostakovich proved a perfect choice to appreciate the quality of conductor and orchestra. Long Yu was completely faithful to the score and obtained both expressive pianissimi and massive climaxes, whilst his tempi were always right. The players were uniformly very good, though with some metallic feeling; they are probably more comfortable in this music than, say, Brahms, for they seem to lack the mahogany hues (especially the violins), but in a single concert with a Chinese First Part it would be unfair to go beyond a mere supposition.

            In that sense the encore wasn´t useful, for it was a three-minute Chinese melody. But I was left with no doubt that the Shanghai Symphony was a star visitor.

For Buenos Aires Herald

“Sylvia”, a delayed and necessary revival of a classic ballet

For decades I have been longing to see Léo Delibes´ "Sylvia" live; it  finally occurred and I am happy that the prolonged debt of the Teatro Colón with  this famous XIXth century ballet has been settled. Lidia Segni programmed and Maximiliano Guerra respected the idea of presenting Frederick Ashton´s choreography with the beautiful costumes and stage designs of the 1952 London revival imagined by Christopher and Robin Ironside.

 There were just two first-rate ballet composers in the second half of the Nineteenth Century: Piotr Ilych Tchaikovsky and Léo Delibes. The latter wrote two long ballets: "Coppélia" (1870 and "Sylvia" (1876); the first has remained an evergreen, but "Sylvia" has had a checkered history choreographically.

Delibes also wrote "La Source" or "Naïla", with Minkus (1866), and a "Pas des fleurs" (1867) intercalated in Adam´s "Le Corsaire"; this has been seen at the Colón.

"Sylvia, ou La Nymphe de Diane" ("Sylvia, or Diana´s nymph") is the full title of this three-act ballet with a duration of about one hour and forty minutes. The scenario by Jules Barbier and the Baron de Reinach is based on Torquato Tasso´s "Aminta" (1573), a pastoral drama, and the original choreography was by Joseph Mérante.  It was presented at the Paris Opéra

In fact the music was more appreciated than Mérante´s work; he was the   successor of  Saint-Léon but was less talented; however, he created an attractive    role for the "prima ballerina" Rita Sangalli, though the bland pastoral story            didn´t             attract like that of "Coppélia". It is curious in a way, for even Diaghilev       insisted on such  themes, witness Ravel´s "Daphnis et Chloë".

                        Few later choreographies for "Sylvia" showed staying power, but three           must be mentioned: the Neoclassic Serge Lifar in 1941, Ashton´s, and John    Neumeier´s staged at the Paris Opéra of which there´s a DVD.  I own the latter and frankly I don´t like it, although of course this famous choreographer does have some interesting ideas. But "Sylvia" is essentially "naïf", as Ashton sees it             (and he was right), and sylvan, to play with words (she is indeed a dryad, a   wood nymph). Neumeier gives us too much modern sophistication and little open-air feeling.

                        I have the sneaking half-memory that somewhere I´ve read about a 1940s première at the Colón, maybe of the Lifar, but I can´t swear to it. The hand           programme only publishes considerations by Anthony Russell-Roberts on    Ashton (the writer is his nephew) and his relationship with his Sylvia, Margot         Fonteyn. If the Colón indeed has offered it before, it isn´t serious not to mention         it.

                        And now to the performance I saw: it was the fourth of six and a non-           subscription night; although there´s no mention of it in the programme, I was       told that it was a special event for the Banco Ciudad, which may explain the            impression I had of a different sort of audience, less fanatic than usual.

                         I was angry, when details were announced about the casting with three       Sylvias and two Amintas, that no explanation was given about the absence of the great   Spanish ballerina Alicia Amatriain, mentioned in the booklet where the   whole season of the             Colón was published in March.  We need fine foreign         dancers as guests of the Colón Ballet, the same way that we have artists from    abroad in the             opera season.

                        The 1952 première of Ashton´s classic choreography was revived at Covent Garden in a reconstruction by Christopher Newton in 2004; it was a coproduction with the American Ballet Theatre that kept the Ironside designs inspired by Claude Lorrain and was also seen in New York, Berlin, Tokyo, Rome and Saint Petersburg, and it is very handsome indeed. In fact, a beautiful show in the proper style with additional designs by Peter Farmer and lighting by Mark Jonathan (here revised by Rubén Conde), a pleasure to see with no intrusive modernisms.

            Ashton defined the plot thus: "boy wants girl, girl is captured by bad guy, girl comes back to the boy through the god´s intervention (Eros)". Plus Diana, who kills the bad guy and allows Sylvia to love Aminta. There are plenty of members of the Corps de Ballet; in the First Act, Hunters, Naiads, Dryads, Sylvans, Fauns and Peasants; in the Second, Concubines and Slaves; in the Third, Gods, Muses, Goats, assistants of Sylvia and Diana, groups of Spring and Summer, Heralds, and the vision of Diana and Endymion.

            It was announced that the scheduled Aminta, soloist Fabrizio Coppo, would be taken by First Dancer Federico Fernández, and there were some other minor changes. I wasn´t surprised by the assured and handsome dancing of Fernández, but I was agreeably impressed by a new young dancer as Sylvia: Macarena Giménez. Long-legged, well-trained and personable, she gave relief to her nymph.

            Susan Jones, from the American Ballet Theater, was in charge of the revival and obviously knows her job: the general standard was quite good, important for there are many ensembles. Dalmiro Astesiano as the hunter Orion, Nahuel Prozzi as Eros (immobile as a statue for many minutes) and Paula Cassano (Diana) all did well. Luciana Barrirero and Jiva Velázquez as the Goats and Martín Vedia and Velázquez as the Slaves (doing an Ethiopian Dance) gave an exotic touch to the staging.

            Finally, Emmanuel Siffert conducted a reasonably good performance with the Buenos Aires Philharmonic.

For Buenos Aires Herald