jueves, noviembre 12, 2015

Britten´s War Requiem, moving plead for peace

            July 1995. I contemplate the two Coventry Cathedrals: the ruins of the old one, ravaged by Nazi bombs, and the new, Saint Michael´s, built between 1955 and 1962 by Sir Basil Spence.  The remnants of the Gothic original (Fourteenth Century) are still beautiful, especially the Tower. The Porch leads to the vast and luminous great cathedral dominated by a gigantic modern Aubusson tapestry showing Christ surrounded by the four Beasts of the Apocalypse.

            It was inaugurated by the most moving post-WWII choral-symphonic work, Benjamin Britten´s War Requiem. The author imagined two orchestras: a full symphony and a chamber one; he led the latter and Meredith Davies the former; plus a full mixed choir and a children choir. And the three soloists: a British tenor (Peter Pears), a German baritone (Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau) and in the original intention of the composer, a Russian soprano, Galina Vishnevskaya (for during the War the Russians were allies). But she wasn´t allowed to leave the USSR, and her place was taken by British soprano Heather Harper.  A year later, however, the Soviets allowed their soprano to intervene in the marvelous recording conducted by the author.

            As I was visiting, that music came to my mind constantly: ever since I bought that recording and after hearing its BA première in 1966 (conductor, Alexander Gibson) the extraordinary combination of war poems by Wilfred Owen (who died in battle durring WWI) and the Requiem text has remained for me the most stirring memorial to the dead and the greatest homage that a pacifist creator could give us (Britten was a consciencious objector during WWII and had already written an admirable Sinfonia da Requiem in 1941).

            The War Requiem was splendidly offered again in BA during 1979 as part of that astonishing Festival Purcell-Britten.  It was conducted by Antonio Russo and three great artists intervened: Harper, Gerald English and John Shirley-Quirk. After the Malvinas War a long time elapsed before Steuart Bedford presented it, and another extended period passed before Guillermo Scarabino led it at the Colón in September 2013.

            And now the National Symphony tackled the mighty score at the Blue Whale conducted by Facundo Agudín, an Argentine living in  Switzerland. Two admirable choirs gave their full collaboration: the Coro Polifónico Nacional prepared by Darío Marchese, and the Coro Nacional de Niños (María Isabel Sanz). And three carefully chosen soloists: Mónica Ferracani (soprano), Philip Salmon (tenor) and Víctor Torres (baritone).  It was a triumphant success; so this towering work has again been done with the utmost respect and quality, as happened in  the antecedents I mentioned.

            I was again amazed by the constant creativity of the composer, his consumate mastery of orchestration, transition, harmony, never losing sight of his purpose, imbricating the two orchestras and the alternating texts, and giving the soloists fragments that are challenging but also meaningful and expressive. There´s only one bit that irks me in the otherwise astonishing Owen poems (how can one forget that encounter of the two dead soldiers, with the German one saying: "I am the enemy you killed, my friend"): the change in the Biblical account of Abraham and Isaac, for in Owen the boy is killed! Probably a metaphor of war, but I dislike it.

            Agudín is a very precise technician and obtains more communication than his gaunt, rather semaphoric persona suggests; he studied the score deeply and obtained fine results. Ferracani was her steady, musical self; Torres had an excellent night, his pliant lyric baritone giving all the inflexions needed; and Salmon´s very British timbre is quite what his part needs. It certainly helped that both tenor and baritone sing in convincing English.

            The penultimate concert of the Buenos Aires Philharmonic´s subscription series, in the sure hands of Enrique Arturo Diemecke, lost some of its interest for those that like myself saw the Prokofiev ballet "Romeo and Juliet", replacement for "Eugen Onegin". Although it isn´t the fault of the conductor, for he had programmed music from the two suites many months ago, I was disappointed that with his huge repertoire he didn´t change the programme. Of course, to hear this wonderful music on the stage and not in the pit certainly heightens the attention of the audience, and as the Phil knew it thoroughly and Diemecke is much more intense than Emanuel Siffert (the workmanlike conductor in the ballet) the reading was worth hearing anyway.

            So the main interest was in the First Part, when the married couple Lucille Chung and Alessio Bax played with virtuoso dexterity the Two-Piano Concerto by Mozart.  The composer played it with his sister Nannerl, who was a talented pianist in her own right. Written in Salzburg in 1779, it was his last Concerto (numbered 10) before he went to Vienna. Brilliant rather than deep, this is enjoyable music throughout.

            We knew the talents of Bax through his recitals for the Mozarteum earlier this season and as accompanist for violinist Joshua Bell, but this was the debut of Chung here, and she proved to be a seasoned professional although she looks quite young. Indeed her training and curriculum are impressive, and this Montreal-born girl was a pleasure to listen to, for she plays with elegance, charm and accuracy.  Of course the two understand each other impeccably. They had fine support from the Phil, and Diemecke told us that they were using a wider orchestration than the manuscript; it sounded well.


For Buenos Aires Herald