Enrique Arturo Diemecke has been at the helm of the Buenos Aires Philharmonic for twelve years, a long period, and maybe it´s time to evaluate globally his good and bad points. For some people feel –and I agree- that it would be fruitful to change Principal Conductor.
On the plus side: fantastic memory; technical capacity; affinity with the Postromantic repertoire, particularly Mahler. On the minus side: a clownish personality aggravated each year by irritating and often mediocre and unnecessary comments; programming that isn´t inclusive enough ( some examples: almost no Schönberg-Berg-Webern; few good after WWII choices; neglect of composers such as Hindemith, Martinu or Milhaud; almost no relevant USA music, although he has worked there for decades); less subscription concerts than we should have (not 15 but at least 18); too much hogging: this year nine out of fifteen concerts are conducted by him; and too little presence of important colleagues, Argentine and foreign.
In this visual and light society, many like the showman aspects that trivialize concertgoing; but such recent visits as the mature Nagano and the young Bringuier demonstrate that you can be vital, perceptive and communicative without lowering standards of behavior. I believe we need another sort of Principal Conductor: one with Diemecke´s strong points but one that corrects the weak ones. There are a lot of fine conductors nowadays and a hunt should be on to find somebody that accepts the experience of working here.
Diemecke has led the Flint, Mich, Orchestra for 27 years; doesn´t anyone wonder why a man of such technical capacity hasn´t moved to a higher-rank USA orchestra? Or to a good European one? I do, and think that his personality is the problem. Let him come as guest, for he has quite a following, and his better concerts are quite enjoyable.
The tenth subscription concert was rather good, though it started with a crossover Mexican piece too often played here, the Danzón Nº 2 by Arturo Márquez, "danced" by Diemecke on the podium (he premièred it here fifteen years ago).
Then, an homage to Ginastera by one of his historic interpreters, the veteran pianist Luis Ascot: the Concerto Nº1, Op.28, a tough score of his Neo-expressionist period, premièred in 1961 both in Washington and BA by Joao Carlos Martins and conductor Howard Mitchell. Ascot has always been a Ginastera champion and has played this concerto often in his international career. Now there´s a sense of strain and intent concentration, but by and large his was a true voice, and was well supported by the conductor. Feted by the audience, he played two quiet encores: Liszt´s Consolation Nº3 and Ginastera´s "Canción al árbol del olvido" ("Song to the tree of oblivion").
The concert ended with a very good reading of Mussorgsky´s "Pictures from an exhibition" in Ravel´s unparalleled orchestration. Here Diemecke was at his best, giving its true character to every fragment of this extraordinary score, and there were brilliant solos (saxophone, trumpet) as well as powerful brass ensembles.
I wasn´t happy with the following concert, too short and strangely made up of two concerti and a famous Ravel piece, "La Valse". I love Poulenc´s Two-Piano Concerto, one of his best scores, particularly as they are played by the Labèque sisters; the artists brought over on this occasion are first-rate: Jean-Philippe Collard, a masterful French pianist whose white mane tells of a long career documented by splendid records, such as the two Ravel Concertos; and our Marcela Roggeri, who lives in Paris and visits us regularly. The concerto hardly lasts twenty minutes; in what was an exciting interpretation, I question some harshness from the orchestra and an excessively brusque rhythmic accent, almost machinistic at times, though played with stamina and clarity, apart from minor misadjustments. The charming encore was Poulenc´s waltz-musette "L´embarquement pour Cythère" ("The embarkation for Cytherea"), vaguely based on Watteau´s lovely painting.
I didn´t enjoy the South-American première of Pascal Dusapin´s Cello Concerto, of course well played by the Finnish specialist Anssi Karttunen, who was the first to execute 135 contemporary pieces! I found the music arid, though in some moments there are interesting sonic effects. There was an encore which I couldn´t place.
Finally, "La Valse" was played grossly, without the refinement that most of it needs; this was Diemecke in poor form.