Musical ambassadors: BBC National Orchestra of Wales and National Youth Choir of Wales.
About 50 years ago I traveled with my father to Chubut and in successive days
we visited Trevelin near Esquel and then, across the immense Patagonia, Gaiman, Dolavon, Trelew and Rawson. It was a wonderful experience.
And in 1995 I visited for just one day the Welsh North, with stops at the fascinating castles of Caernaerfon and Conwy and the visit of the gorgeous Snowdonia area. Unfortunately I couldn´t go to the South and so I missed Cardiff and Swansea. But what I saw made me nostalgic of a longer visit which alas never came.
I have a natural empathy for the Celts: Irish, Welsh, Scottish, Cornish, and in the continent, Brittany (France) and Galicia (Spain). They have a refreshing frankness. imagination and charm and I respond to it. So I was very glad that the sequicentennial of the Chubut arrival of the Welsh people was beautifully commemorated with the visit of a first-rate orchestra and a charming choir.
The Mozarteum Argentino ended its season at the Colón with the first visit of the BBC National Orchestra of Wales under Grant Llewellyn (debut); they did two different programmes. An unforeseen illness of harpist Catrin Finch forced the last minute replacement in the initial concert of Ginastera´s Harp Concerto with Mozart´s Fourth Concerto for horn with the first desk of the orchestra, Tim Thorpe. But she recovered for the second session and then she played the Ginastera replacing the announced Glière Harp Concerto, a comprehensible decision considering that they wanted to pay homage to an Argentinian composer and commemorate in advance the centenary of his birth (2016).
Llewellyn is Welsh; currently he is Principal Conductor of the North Carolina Symphony and of the Flemish Royal Philharmonic, Principal Invited Conductor of the Stavanger Symphony (Sweden) and Invited Associate Conductor of the Welsh BBC Orchestra. You will remember thatb the English BBC Orchestra came some years ago and gave splendid concerts with Andrew Davis; the Welsh BBC is almost in the same rank, which is saying that it is a very good organism. Its Principal Conductor is Thomas Sondergard since 2011. They do a lot of radio work and concerts in Cardiff and Swansea, plus their annual presentation in the Summer Proms at London´s Albert Hall. The Orchestra isn´t big (73 players) but as they play with great intensity their sound seems larger, even overbrilliant at times.
In the first concert they included two Welsh composers: William Mathias (1934-92) wrote a very agreeable Dance Overture (première) in 1962, alert music with a touch of Malcolm Arnold and Walton. And Huw Watkins (born 1976) wrote intelligent and rather quirky arrangements of Three Welsh Songs (also première). But both pale in comparison with a Britten masterpiece, the "Four Sea Interludes" from his opera "Peter Grimes". In all this music both conductor and orchestra showed a high degree of professionalism.
Tim Thorpe was wholly admirable as soloist in the Mozart Fourth Horn Concerto: beautiful timbre, perfect intonation and stylish phrasing provided sheer listening pleasure; he was well accompanied.
Dvorák´s Seventh Symphony was the "pièce de résistance": marvelously wrought symphonism in a large scale and with a very personal language, even if Brahms is an influence. Conductor and orchestra showed here that they are strong, tasteful and knowledgeable.
But as the encores went by, the aesthetics of the concert took several steps down, and I don´t commend Llewellyn´s choices, except the first, a truly symphonic arrangement of that excellent tango by Gardel, "Por una cabeza". But Schifrin´s "Mission: Impossible" main theme is crossover stuff, and a bad semi-mambo sent me away rather disgruntled.
The second concert was to be all-Russian, but as I mentioned Ginastera replaced Glière. Catrin Finch is a splendid harpist; she plays a magnificent instrument complementing her virtuoso technique and phrases with uncanny refinement. The work is complicated and I find the orchestra pretty heavy for such a delicate-sounding instrument; there´s too much malambo in it, but there are interesting moments.
I enjoyed the Russian side very much, for we had robust and well-played, orthodox readings of Mussorgsky/Rimsky-Korsakov´s "A Night in Bald Mountain", phantasmagory at its best, and of Tchaikovsky´s mighty Fifth Symphony, done with fortitude in the big moments but much beauty in the lyric melodies, such as the famous horn solo of the Second movement.
Encores: again Gardel and Schifrin, but this time preceded by a good version of Piazzolla´s "Libertango", with Finch as soloist.
The National Youth Choir of Wales had two directors: Nia Llewellyn Jones and as a guest the Argentine Camilo Santostefano. It was the last Concierto de Mediodía of the season at the Gran Rex, organised by the Mozarteum. The choir is disciplined and musical, though the voices are somewhat light. There were two valuable Argentine scores led by Santostefano: Ginastera´s "Lamentaciones de Jeremías" and Fernando Moruja´s "Lux Aeterna". And an odd-man-out: Hernán Crespo playing two chamamés in a Welsh Patagonian context! Incomprehensible.
It was interesting and useful to hear Welsh material: Mathias, Mervyn Burtch, Mansel Thomas, Paul Mealor, Hilary Tann and an Argentine of Celtic extraction, Hector MacDonald. All this was nicely sung.
It´s worth mentioning that before the BA concerts there was a week-long seminar in Chubut with members of the orchestra and the choir training Argentines of Welsh extraction. Back to their roots!
For Buenos Aires Herald