viernes, octubre 02, 2015

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