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