The second concert of the cycle Armonías organized by Patricia Pouchulu´s La Bella Música at the Brick Hotel was splendid. We have two admirable quartets in our city, the Gianneo and the Petrus, and both are programmed in the season. Although chamber music generally isn´t demagogic, it can be relatively light. Not this time: masterpieces in minor tonalities by Franz Schubert and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart surrounded the very last work of Astor Piazzolla: "Five Tango Sensations" (the title is in English) for bandoneon and string quartet.
Although the programmed music lasted only an hour, it seemed longer; not because it outstayed its welcome; rather, it demanded empathy with its concentrated, intense, melancholy or forceful moods: not easy for the general public. However, the artists conveyed the scores with fierce conviction and the audience responded with sincere enthusiasm. Not just for Piazzolla, a creator with a crossover appeal, and played by such a recognised talent as Rodolfo Mederos, but also for the dramatic intimacy of the two great Austrians.
Three factors added more than an hour: ten-minute delay plus 20-minute interval, comments on the works by Sebastián Masci (useful because the hand programme only gives the list of the pieces and brief biographies of the interpreters) and two welcome encores.
Schubert´s "Quartettsatz" is the first movement of Quartet Nº 12, a strong piece closely argued with two main elements, a somber, angry outburst, and one of those heavenly melodies so unmistakeable of this composer. We have a fragment of a second, Andante movement, but that´s as far as Schubert went in this 1820 score that seems to announce the tragic Quartet Nº 14, "Death and the Maiden".
Mozart´s Quartet Nº 15, K.421, is the only one in a minor tonality (D) out of the 23 he wrote, and as happens in the Piano Concertos 20 and 24 and the Symphonies 25 and 40, also in the minor, they seem to be prophetic of Romanticism´s dark adventures of the soul. The work is wholly admirable, though the first movement gives us not only a sustained tragic mood but also a constant richness of invention. The encore at the end gave us the only light-hearted moment of the night: the impish Presto of the teenager Mozart´s Quartet Nº4, K.157, an excellent choice to send us home happy after strong emotions.
And now to Piazzolla. Months after these "Tango sensations" he died. The combination of bandoneon and string quartet is rare but lovely. Four of the five titles are in English; the first three are "Asleep", "Loving" and "Anxiety", but curiously the fourth is "Despertar" ("Awakening") and the last, "Fear". After the slow and very lyrical first two, we get some harshness in the third: as so often happens, in sleep we have contradictory feelings. To be awakened by a nightmare sometimes leads to real fear, and maybe Astor had a premonition that his life was near the end.
The interpreters have recorded these "Sensations", so this was a reunion for them, and they obviously feel good playing together. (Piazzolla also recorded it, with the Kronos Quartet; curiously the author and the string players made their contributions separately). Mederos is a great tango musician and the quartet comes from another world, but both understood the give-and-take of this music which participates of both sensibilities. The beautiful, nostalgic mellowness of the bandoneon blended both with the lyricism and when so required the incisive impact of the strings. The encore was a nice Mederos melody, "Serena", inspired by a Gelman poem.
And now let´s go back to the Baroque: the Bach Academy opened its season at their usual venue, the Central Methodist Church, with an intriguing première: the St Mark Passion. Of course, any Johann Sebastian Bach enthusiast knows well the St.Matthew and the St John Passions, but Mark? As Mario Videla, our foremost Bachian and founder of the Academy (season Nº 34!), explained, most of the found music is a reworking of Cantata Nº 198 ("Trauer-Ode", "Funeral Ode"), but unfortunately as it has come to us the recitatives of the Evangelist have disappeared. This reconstruction, BWV 247R, gives us only eight pieces, as long as many cantatas, and basically comprises four arias, an initial chorus, two short chorales and a long and complex final chorale.
The libretto is by Christian Friedrich Henrici (Picander) and the St Mark was presented in 1732. Mind you, if you buy the Ton Koopman recording you will hear 29 numbers, but only eight are legitimated and Videla has accepted just those. Two arias were sung here by countertenor Martín Oro, very well indeed, though whether it should be done so is a moot point (Bach used boy contraltos and sopranos, neither countertenors nor women). Rocío Giordano (soprano) sang nicely her aria, but tenor Esteban Manzano was quite weak. Periferia Vocal, led by Pablo Piccinni (he also conducted the instrumental group), gave a firm account of the choral music.
The Soloists of the Bach Academy included this time two gambists and a theorbo player in the St Mark. Before it, they played a very clean and convincing Brandenburg Concerto Nº5, with fine work from Pablo Saraví (cello) and Claudio Barile (flute). But of course the harpsichordist has the lion´s share (including a big cadenza) and Videla played with style and firmness.
For Buenos Aires Herald