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