sábado, mayo 28, 2016

Admirable veteran pianist and Mahler´s overwhelming “Resurrection Symphony”

             We have just lived a rich symphonic week, led by the Buenos  Aires Philharmonic and the Teatro Argentino. The first, conducted by Enrique Arturo Diemecke, gave us the long-awaited return of Philippe Entremont, still active and technically in shape  weeks away from his 82nd birthday, playing Beethoven´s First Concerto. And to boot, the hour-long magnificent Fourth Symphony ("Romantic") by Bruckner.  As to the Argentino, their musical director Carlos Vieu tackled no less than the overwhelming "Resurrection Symphony"  (Nº2) by Mahler.

            Entremont has had an enormous career, for this Frenchman born at Reims started at l8 when he played Jolivet and Liszt concerti at Carnegie Hall with great success. During the last thirty years he added conducting, and as such he came here at least twice at the front of the Vienna Chamber Orchestra ( he was also Chief Conductor of the Denver Symphony). When he was 80, a box of 19 CDs compiled all his recordings of concerti.  I was lucky enough to hear him twice in recitals back in 1957 at Washington, where I was studying, but   I don´t remember when he was here as a pianist; such information should be in his hand programme biography but it isn´t.

             He is still very much worth hearing: the playing was clean and stylish, with fine timbre and clever use of the pedal. A minor misadjustment at the coda of the last movement matters little. In the first movement he played the shorter of the three cadenzas left by Beethoven, but he added some extra music that might be his. Diemecke and the Phil accompanied well. Entremont ´s encore was Chopin, the brief and charming Three Écossaises that I used to relish when played by Brailowsky.  Entremont´s interpretation was airy and rhythmically free.

            Diemecke has demonstrated before that the great symphonic challenges are for him; he has confronted Bruckner´s heavenly lengths before and has managed to give this controversial composer the necessary coherence, the care for its chamber moments and the immense power of the abundant climaxes. The Fourth, "Romantic", has been done often in our city and under first-rate maestros such as Moralt, Van Otterloo or Decker. In fact, it is the most often played, along with the Seventh and Eighth, and with good reason, for it has lovely melodies, stirring impact, feats of counterpoint, and an ambience of its own in Bruckner´s peculiar evocation from a Romantic point of view of Medieval castles, cities, knights and hunts. We generally hear the revised version; the original was heard here only once, by Rozhdestvensky and the Vienna Symphony.

            The Phil was at its very best, with unfailing work from  that most dicey section, the horns, and a high degree of concentration from all concerned. And again there was that irritating contradiction in Diemecke´s personality: his inane and unnecessary comments and his world-class conducting.

            Again after the applause the orchestra protested with placards saying "carrera 2012?". To decode it, the players are showing their anger because they are claiming since 2012 that their "career" be recognised with  money added to their salary; in other words, e.g., a first violin with 25 years of experience in the Phil deserves better payment than one that entered last year. Seems fair to me.

            Mahler´s Second has marked my musical life so stromngly that I have to declare my very special predilection for a score so elevated and masterful that it restores my faith in humanity...at least whilst I´m listening to it. It was one of my very early vinyl albums back in 1951, when I was twelve: the wonderful Klemperer/Vienna Symphony recording.  But the first live performance in BA was only during the Illia presidency, led by A.C. Paita. From then on it was heard with some frequency: Calderón, Bodmer (at the Bombonera!), Decker, even Mehta with the Israel Philharmonic! (wonderful), and last year´s high point with Diemecke and the National Symphony at the Blue Whale.

            At La Plata Luis Gorelik did an interesting Nº2 some years ago. Currently the Argentino goes through a difficult period marked by budget restrictions and plans of building restoration. But there are  stalwart facts in their concert life: a big orchestra of good standard conducted by Vieu, one of our most able artists; and a splendid chorus well prepared by Sánchez Arteaga. So the basic conditions are there, and if we add the positive spirit with which they worked, and an enthusiastic big audience, plus two talented soloists, mezzosoprano Florencia Machado and soprano Daniela Tabernig, things had to go well, and they did.

            Foremost, Vieu commanded the extremely complex and fascinating score, and had lucid phrasing ideas. Not all players were perfect but only one thing jarred, the ugly bells (they must be changed), after all not the fault of the instrumentalist. But so much was right that, after a tremendous First Movement (the huge Funeral March) and the fantasy of the following two, the mezzo sang "Urlicht" ("Original Light") from  "Des Knaben Wunderhorn" as the moving interlude before the gigantic Fifth movement, and we were ready for the total catharsis of the greatest choral-symphonic music, on Klopstock´s Resurrection ode, but only after almost twenty minutes of traversing the most contrasting moods imaginable.

            The chorus enters "pianissimo" and from then on the music grows and grows (adding the two soloists) until the most glorious final minutes in history.


For Buenos Aires Herald


“Fidelio”, Beethoven´s unique opera, in a delirious production

 

            Few operas have had such a troubled initial history as "Fidelio", Beethoven´s only and unique opera. Unique because stylistically it has no predecessors and no imitators. Two "fs" define it: freedom and fidelity. Formally it is a Singspiel (spoken and sung fragments alternate). And it´s a member of a trend of those times: the "rescue opera".

            It is based on a true story told by Jean-Nicolas Bouilly, who transported it to a prison in the suburbs of Seville to avoid French censorship. His "Léonore, ou l´amour conjugal" was translated and adapted by Joseph Sonnleithner and as "Leonore" and in three acts, the opera was premièred at Vienna´s Theater and der Wien on November 20, 1805, just a week after the city had been invaded by Napoleon, hardly the appropriate time.

            No other opera in history has had four overtures: Leonore 1 was discarded  and has remained as a symphonic piece; Leonore 2, longer than Leonore 3 but with similar material, opened the three-act "Leonore", but when it was reduced to two acts by Stephan Von Breuning, Leonore 3 was played. This was on March 29, 1806. The opera we know as "Fidelio"  was premièred in May 23, 1814, but the homonymous overture (with different material from the three Leonores) was finally heard three days later. And at that time the opera triumphed; Napoleon was vanquished, a new Europe existed.  This version had numerous changes and a new libretto by Georg Friedrich Treitschke, and it´s the one heard nowadays.

            Nevertheless there have been revivals of "Leonore", I suppose in its 1806 revision, and there are recordings such as the one conducted by Blomstedt; I have it and two things strike me: the longer time assigned to Singspiel Romantic aspects such as the Marzelline-Jaquino relationship, and the much more expanded monologue of Florestan. The ideal (will we ever see it?) would be to offer staged "Fidelio" and in succesive nights a concert version of "Leonore" and the four overtures.

            The main dramatic problem is that suspension of disbelief is carried to the extreme, for Fidelio is Leonore and we are supposed to accept that the jailer Rocco, his assistant Jaquino and his daughter Marzelline are convinced that Fidelio, Rocco´s new helper, is a young man (of course, for spectators it´s even harder for she-he is a dramatic soprano, generally of Wagnerian size). The main musical problem is Beethoven´s essence: he is an instrumental rather than a vocal composer, and his lines are often uncomfortable and very high-ranged (as they are for both chorus and soloists in the Choral Symphony and the Missa Solemnis). But Beethoven´s impetus, imagination and individuality are inimitable, and we would all be poorer if "Fidelio" didn´t exist.

            I am sorry to say that the current "Fidelio" has one of the weakest casts and conductor and by far the worst production I ever saw (this is my "Fidelio" Nº 16 and  the eighth at the Colón). The cast first. The yearly booklet announced Elisabete Matos but it was later changed: Nadja Michael (the admirable Kundry of last December) came, rehearsed but quit for mysterious "personal reasons". And Carla Filipcic Holm, of the second cast, was promoted to the first. She had sung the part at Buenos Aires Lírica in 2010  rather well. This time I found her uneven, with powerful moments followed by others of little vocal and dramatic presence.

            Serbian tenor Zoran Todorovitch (debut) was metallic and forced in his big monologue but later was better, as he found a more agreeable timbre and phrasing. The two basses were the best: Manfred Hemm (Rocco, debut) gave a well-practiced performance with a serviceable voice, and Hernán Iturralde was his usual assured self as Don Fernando, the Minister whose timely appearance puts things right. The villain Pizarro was sung with little focus to his tone by Homero Pérez Miranda, who didn´t transmit the evilness of his character.

            I was disappointed by the shrillness that has invaded the high notes of Jaquelina Livieri, whose Marzelline was far from the quality of last year´s Sophie in "Werther". Santiago Bürgi was a correct Jaquino. But the real heroes were the members of the Chorus under Miguel Martínez, with singing that according to requirements was fresh and full-voiced or subtle and soft. 

            And Francisco Rettig, a conductor I usually admire, for some reason  got questionable results from the orchestra (poor horns, crucial in the Leonore scene) and there were misadjustments with the stage. Also, he committed a serious mistake: Mahler instituted the practice of playing Leonore 3 between the two tableaux of the Second Act, and there it works perfectly, for  the trumpet signal reiterates the arrival of Fernando heard some minutes before. But Rettig put it in the worst possible place, just before the anguished Prelude to Florestan´s monologue.

            Eugenio Zanetti did almost all: production, stage, costume and multimedia design. (The lighting was by Rubén Conde). "Fidelio" needs starkness and simplicity. Here we got delirious ideas packed together. A short list: endless comings and goings during the overtures, which are meant for listening; an ugly, bloody drop; witnesses where there shouldn´t be any (voyeurism); Florestan singing inside a luminous tube when he is exclaiming "God! How dark it is!" ; Pizarro clad in XVIIth century attire at the top of a small tank; prisoners that don´t come out of jails; and a big etcetera.


For Buenos Aires Herald 

Our three main orchestras are in good shape

            In just two weeks our three main orchestras offered free concerts at the Usina del Arte (two) and at the Blue Whale (one). And all three were in pretty good shape. C    Let´s start with the Usina and its slow transition with a new team led by Marcelo Panozzo, substituting Gustavo Mozzi who is working at the CCK. He has had important former posts: BAFICI´s Artistic Director (2012-5), editor of Penguin Random House and of La Nación´s ADN magazine, as well as Entertainment editor of Clarín. But nothing that indicates an interest in classical concerts.

            Of course, in this case the change of guard is within the same political party, which should make it easy, but up to now  things are going very slowly and the logistics leave much to be desired. Item: you will look in vain in their Internet site for a telephone or a mail address.

            As to programming, up to now the Usina is saved by the Colón, which may have many faults but it has a yearly programme and a booklet giving all details.  What´s relevant and positive is that the Buenos Aires Philharmonic, apart from its subscription series at the Colón, is giving  no less than eleven programmes at the Usina, with completely different programmes than the ones at the Colón (last year they were similar, so the new policy is quite a gain). No less commendable is the fact that the Estable (Resident) Colón Orchestra is taken out of the operatic pit and will offer seven concerts at the Usina.

            The Usina hand programmes , except for one line that reads "Usina del Arte", are clearly the Colón´s: its authorities are stated there, not the Usina´s, a mere venue. (By the way, they are very poor, with no commentaries on the music played). I had recourse to the Colón to obtain my press tickets for the concert of April 30. Once I arrived at the Usina, I finally got the press contact and the telephone I needed and now things are normal, but it´s an ABC of communication  whenever there´s a team change to send a presentation mail to habitual newspaper reviewers.

            One of the great mistakes of the Usina in preceding years was that it didn´t have a year schedule: you got the information one month at a time, and generally you were informed, say, about June in May´s last week; hardly the right way to run a concert-giving institution. Up to now, things haven´t changed, and the other non-Colón activities haven´t been interesting in the field of classical music.

            Meanwhile, a useful piece of news: a parking lot has just opened. There should also be a system at the Usina to be able to call for cabs, they are quite absent in that zone . And more security: Caffarena is very dark.

            But now to the good things. On April 30 Francisco Rettig conducted an attractive combination: Richard Strauss´ "Duetto-Concertino for clarinet, bassoon and orchestra" and the Fantastic Symphony by Berlioz.  The Duetto, rarely played here (though it has at least nine recordings), is a charming piece written in 1947 when the composer was 83; completely tonal and nostalgic, it has no pretensions: just pleasant but individual writing, a bit too repetitive. It was beautifully played by Carlos Céspedes (clarinet) and Ezequiel Fainguersch (bassoon).

            As to the "Fantastic", created in 1830 just three years after Beethoven´s death, after dozens of performances I remain amazed: it opened a new world of sound  both in the richness of its ideas and the ceaselessly innovative orchestration.  The Chilean conductor showed his mettle in a faithful rendition of the score´s many moods, and the Orchestra responded with considerable virtuosity.

            On May 12 it was the turn of the Phil under Javier Logioia Orbe and with the return of a much loved pianist: Ralph Votapek. By now he must be seventy and he has lost none of his splendid musicality and command; also, he looks 55. Prokofiev´s Third Concerto (his best) is notoriously a great challenge, with its mixture of lyricism and savagery. The pianist gave us impeccably the relentless dynamism of the climactic passages and the delicacy of its dreamy bits.

            Logioia  is a firm and studious conductor, though he has a tendency to force the sound and this was felt both in Prokofiev (he also conducted the short March from "The Love for Three Oranges") and in Elgar´s wonderful "Enigma Variations", certainly well understood and expressed, but at times too clangorous. However, my seat in the very last row and under a roof may have had an acoustic influence on what I heard.

            Finally, the National Symphony at the Blue Whale gave a splendid concert on April 13. Two valuable works were played with a degree of technical accomplishment and artistic comprehension that speaks highly of the orchestra, their conductor Günter Neuhold (who has come several times to BA in preceding seasons) and the pianist of the orchestra, Marcelo Balat. Ginastera´s Piano Concerto Op.28 (1961) is extremely difficult; its aesthetics are Expressionistic with a touch of Argentine rhythms. Balat played marvelously.

            Shostakovich wrote a 55-minute masterpiece in his astonishing Tenth Symphony (1953, the year of Stalin´s death). Neuhold showed an admirable grip on the phrasing of chamber passages and the buildup of climaxes, and the Orchestra responded with stunning impact.


For Buenos Aires Herald 

The Rome Santa Cecilia Orchestra visits us for the first time

             Italy has three main symphony orchestras. Two have come to BA in earlier seasons:  Milan´s La Scala  with Gavazzeni and later with Muti, and that of the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino with Maazel. And now, to complete the trilogy, the Mozarteum Argentino brought us from Rome the Orchestra dell´Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia under Sir Antonio Pappano and with Beatrice Rana (piano). All made their local debuts.

            The three are of high quality and can compete internationally. La Scala´s has a special regime: during Autumn it is a concert orchestra, but come Winter they go to the pit for the operatic season. That of the MMF of course is the basis for the homonymous yearly Festival in which such great names as Bartoletti and Mehta have presented interesting opera programmes, but they also offer many concerts during the year and they are the pit orchestra for the Teatro Comunale´s opera season.

            The Santa Cecilia, instead, is a concert orchestra with  weekly activity from October to June at the magnificent new  Parco della Musica. Each concert is given three times.  However, it has recently recorded "Aida" with a starry cast (Kaufmann/Harteros/Schrott) and "Madama Butterfly" with Gheorghiu. The Accademia also supports a Chorus, and so the choral-symphonic repertoire often appears during the season.

            It is the oldest Italian organism dedicated almost exclusively to concert music. It was founded in 1908 as Orchestra dell´Augusteo di Roma. Bernardino Molinari had a long tenure as Principal Conductor from 1912 to 1944. Later the Orchestra was called Santa Cecilia (she is the patroness of music) and had eminent Principal conductors: Fernando Previtali (1953-73), Igor Markevich (1973-5), Giuseppe Sinopoli (1983-7), Daniele Gatti (1992-7), Myung-Whun Chung (1997-2005) and now Pappano. To their appellation they later added Nazionale (I would have thought more adequate to add "di Roma").

            The Academy was established by papal bull as "Congregazione" in 1585, and became Academy in the Nineteenth Century. Nowadays it also has a Conservatory, what they call a "Bibliomediateca" and a Museum of musical instruments.

            Vinyl lovers will recall that the orchestra, though a concert outfit, was employed in dozens of famous operatic recordings in the 1950s and 1960s. Anyway, I can vouchsafe that in concert the Santa Cecilia was first-rate even in the Fifties, when I heard in Rome a wonderful evening with Previtali and the greatest pianist in my experience, Wilhelm Backhaus, who played both  Beethoven´s Concerto Nº4  and Brahms´ First  in the same evening!   (February 6, 1954).

            And now to Sir Antonio Pappano (why Antonio and not Anthony? He´s British!). Born 56 years ago, he studied in the United States,  he was Musical Director of the Norwegian Opera at Oslo and at Brussels´  Théâtre de la Monnaie prior to taking over the main post at London´s Covent Garden in 2002. So he divides his time between opera and concerts.

            The programmes he brought over for the Mozarteum´s two cycles played safe, too safe. On the tour came Beatrice Rana, a 23-year-old Italian pianist who recorded Tchaikovsky´s First Concerto and Prokofiev´s Second  with Pappano and the Santa Cecilia. If she had played Prokofiev on Tuesday 12 and Tchaikovsky on Wednesday 13, it would have been much better, but no, it was Tchaikovsky both days. Or if the Russian composer´s Fifth Symphony on the 12th would have been replaced by a symphony of, say, Shostakovich, there would have been a good balance. But no, we had both Tchaikovskys together on the first night, and one hopes to hear something more varied from a visiting orchestra, especially if it´s their first time here.

            But apart from that caveat, everything went swimmingly.  The conductor was right in starting both evenings with Verdi: the Overture to "La Forza del destino" and the following day, the Sinfonia (another name for overture) to "Luisa Miller". The phrasing was unfailing, showing Pappano´s knack for dramatic music, and the Orchestra sounded admirable (as listed in the hand programme it is huge, 117 players, but surely fewer came).

            Rana is a find: a fantastic and effortless technique that combines a big sound without harshness and impeccable digitation at all speeds. Just one reservation: in the first movement she slowed down too much in certain passages, though generally she dazzled in the virtuosic passages. The accompaniment was very professional. Her encore on Wednesday was beautiful: a Schumann song from "Frauenliebe und Leben" as arranged admirably by Liszt. But on Tuesday her Gigue from Bach´s First Partita sounded like a perfectly executed cross-hands etude rather than a dance.

            The symphonies showed both Pappano´s mettle and the orchestra´s quality; except for some horn fluffs the playing was very firm, with attractive solos from the woodwinds and the strings and a warm, in tune, brilliant overall sound. The conductor was orthodox and gave sure readings of both the Tchaikovsky Fifth and that strange and fascinating symphony, Saint-Saëns´ Nº3. The final minutes of the latter were thrilling; organist Daniele Rossi played on the Colón electric organ placed on the avant-scène loge and it sounded good, though never replacing a true pipe organ (impossible at the Colón).

            Encores: on Tuesday, "Nimrod" from Elgar´s Enigma Variations, and the last part of Rossini´s "Guillaume Tell". On Wednesday, a marvelous interpretation of Puccini´s Intermezzo from "Manon Lescaut" and a romping close with the galop-like ending to Ponchielli´s "Dance of the Hours" from "La Gioconda". 


For Buenos Aires Herald 

Juventus Lyrica´s “Merry Widow” suffers from wrong casting

            The fathers of operetta are Jacques Offenbach and Franz Von Suppé: in the 1850s they set the rules of a genre that would be immensely popular until WWI and would decline later, for cosmovisions and music history changed enormously. The ftivolous wit of the libretti, the charming music based on contagious melodies and dances, the very consonant harmony and the basic desire to please mainstream audiences made a concoction that was easily swallowed.

            Many hundreds were composed (and there was a similar trend in Spain: the zarzuela). Some were French (Messager, Lecocq), others Viennese or Hungarian (Johann Strauss II, Millöcker, Kálman, Lehár); there was also the special British case of Gilbert and Sullivan, or a tendency to picaresque vaudeville in Italy. And in the USA it thrived both with expatriates (Romberg, Friml) and Americans such as Herbert, until in the Thirties it was supplanted by musicals.

            As happens with opéra-comique and German Singspiel, operettas alternate between sung and spoken passages (and also what is technically known as melodrama: spoken words accompanied by music). But the problem with operettas is that they only sound authentic in their original language: translations ruin them (if you are not convinced, think of a Spaniard visiting Vienna and hearing "La Verbena de la Paloma" in German...).

            During the second half of the Nineteenth Century many operetta companies visited our city and offered many interesting pieces that were never heard again, but in the Twentieth Century such enterprises dwindled (in fact, the last time I can recall was an Italian company in 1966).  In my experience (since the Fifties) the Avenida mainly offered zarzuelas, few operettas. And the Colón a few times included them at the big house but generally gave them translated and in the Summer season, either in open air or in other theatres.

            In Viennese operetta two names dominate: Johann Strauss II and Franz Lehár. Of course, the King is Strauss´ "Die Fledermaus" ("The Bat"), the only operetta that the Wiener Staatsoper includes in its programming: the others are offered by the Volksoper.

 From Strauss the Colón has presented "The Bat", "The Gypsy Baron" ("Der Zigeunerbaron") and "A Night in Venice" ("Eine Nacht in Venedig"). Apart from Lehár, the only other operetta done with the auspices of the Colón is Kálman´s "Gräfin Maritza" ("Countess Maritza").

            The Colón has  put on stage Lehár´s "Die Lustige Witwe" ("The Merry Widow") in 1955 (in Spanish) and in 2001 (in German). (There was also "The Count of Luxembourg" –"Der Graf von Luxemburg"-  in Spanish but at the San Martín).  The latter will remain as an indispensable reference for it was an admirable production by Lotfi Mansouri, beautifully conducted by Julius Rudel and it had a wonderful cast that could give us refinement in droves: Frederica Von Stade, Thomas Allen, Elisabeth Norberg-Schulz and Paul Groves.

            Against such a precedent to programme "The Merry Widow" is quite a challenge, and I feel Juventus Lyrica was wrong to start the season with it, for they didn´t have a protagonist that was up to the requirements. And also because they had given it in 2009 with a better main singer and production. If they wanted to start with an operetta, why not Lehár´s "The Count of Luxembourg" or particularly "The Land of Smiles" ("Das Land des Lächelns")?

            But there was one great merit: they did it in German, no mean problem for an Argentine cast. And the singers managed acceptably the risk, for mainly they were intelligible, though not idiomatic.

            And André Dos Santos, the Brazilian conductor, proved an expert in the genre: he obtained from a good orchestra the lightness, flexibility, charm and accuracy that the music requires. The Choir under Hernán Sánchez Ortega responded with characteristic enthusiasm.

            Ana D´Anna produced with care and dynamism in stage designs of her own and Constanza Pérez Maurice and costumes also by D´Anna but with her daughter María Jaunarena. The costumes were quite adequate to the pre-WWI ambience. As to the stage designs, the rather abstract Act I was quite attractive; Act II, at Hanna Glawari´s (the Widow´s) house, was functional; but Act III at Maxim´s lacked the appropriate atmosphere. The traditional lighting was by Gonzalo Córdova.

            Unfortunately the vocal means of María Goso (I saw the first cast) have a basic liability: a harsh, metallic upper range, in a part that needs above all beauty of tone. As her appearance doesn´t help (nor does that of the tenor Duilio Smiriglia, as Camille de Rosillon, but he sings agreeably), the theatrical aspect suffers.

            This operetta is a spoof on the Balkan countries (Pontevedro is clearly Montenegro) and on greed: Hanna´s pretenders want her millions, and only Danilo (an old flame) loves her although he leads a dissolute life with Maxim´s midinettes. And Valencienne, Baron Mirko Zeta´s wife (he is Pontevedro´s ambassador) flirts with Camille.

            Danilo was well taken by baritone Ernesto Bauer, who looked, sung and acted with considerable efficiency. Ivana Ledesma as Valencienne showed a sufficient though rather incisive voice for a part that admits lighter vocality, and she moved with the proper spirit.

            Carlos Kaspar (Zeta) is an experienced actor, and along with Norberto Lara as Njegus (his secretary) they provided some fun. The five suitors were an uneven bunch.  The choreography by Igor Gopkalo was better in the Pontevedran dances than  in the Maxim´s cancan; the girl dancers were correct.


For Buenos Aires Herald

​The Argentino plays safe with an old warhorse

             Opera companies should always try to obtain a reasonable balance between the surefire,  the moderately known and the novelty of whatever century. However, the Teatro Argentino has inherited Puccini´s "La Boheme" from the preceding tenure of Valeria Ambrosio; it was cancelled last year due to money restrictions, and the new Director, Martín Bauer, has honored the contracts with the stranded singers reprogramming that opera for this season.

            There was a significant change in this "Boheme": following an inclination of her own, Ambrosio, whose career has been attached to modern musical comedy rather than opera, had announced as producer Ricky Pashkus, a man identified with Cibrián´s projects for decades. But Bauer put the production in the hands of a veteran Argentine with a big operatic career in Europe and the Canary Islands: Mario Pontiggia. In fact, he was the one that presented in 2006 the final Colón Opera before it closed in 2006: the première of Mussorgsky´s complete original version of "Boris Godunov".

            Just two observations on the work itself, for anything else would be redundant in what is one of the five most popular operas. Curiously, Verdi´s "La Traviata" belongs to that select bunch, and both depict the same world of Parisian bohemians and kept women of the 1840s, for that´s when the books of respectively Henri Murger and Alexandre Dumas Fils were written. The other matter concerns the weather: the first three acts happen in crude Winter, but the librettists (otherwise witty and very able) put the action of Act II OUTSIDE the Café Momus, a square in the Latin Quarter, and no one seems aware of the cold in one of the most joyful and carefree acts in all opera...

            Pontiggia showed his professionalism in clever handling of the relationships between the characters and in the case of Act II  of the logistics involving a very intricate mélange of people that change constantly (quite a challenge). But there were faults:

a)      The libretto states very clearly that we are witnessing the times of King Louis Philippe and of his minister François Guizot: the 1840s; but the producer gives an unequivocal proof of how far ahead he moved the action: in Act II we see a poster of a Dietrich-Cooper movie of 1936! Also, the Third Act happens at the Barrière d´Enfer, one of the numerous customs posts that existed in Paris before the reforms of Baron Haussmann, who during the reign of Napoleon III  (1852-70) led a deep modernisation programme that among other things eliminated such posts.

b)      In Act II the big feast with clowns and a man on stilts evokes Carnival but we are in Christmas!

c)      Unnecessary innovations such as a second presence of the owner Benoît in the caper of the bohemians just before the tragic entry of Musetta (Act IV).


​​
There was a curious description of stage and costume design in the hand programme: Pontiggia did the "costumes adaptation" and María José Besozzi the "stage design adaptation", implying that both were based on pre-existing materials at the Argentino. Costumes: well-chosen from the Argentino´s splendid array. Stage designs: completely apposite to the necessities of each act: the two-level garret (Acts I and III), the square with Momus in the background, the Barrière (also two-level). Good lighting from Gabriel Lorenti.


A point worth stressing is the amplitude of the Argentino´s stage, even wider than the Colón´s: this is the ideal for Act II, in which amidst the multitude in the last minutes paraded the  military band (very good players from the orchestra).


 There were two casts; I saw the first and found it as positive as can be assembled locally, plus an interesting debut: the young Chilean Yaritza Véliz as Musetta. Daniela Tabernig grew gradually into her Mimì, well-sung though not very personal in the first two acts, but intensely dramatic in the last two, her lyric soprano expanding at climactic moments.


Gustavo López Manzitti was once again our most reliable resident tenor: his Rodolfo was professional, powerful and personable (three "p" that define him). Young baritone Ricardo Crampton, after some apprentice years, is now ready for a firm career as a lyric baritone, with his fresh timbre, fine line and agreeable presence. And Véliz was a revelation: she has the sweet insinuating required voice for this coquette, she is musically accurate and plays the comedy well.


The other bohemians were  both individually and as partners of a group completely believable: Mario De Salvo, in excellent voice,  as an assertive Schaunard, and Emiliano Bulacios (Colline) confirming that he is our most promising bass. Add Alberto Jáuregui Lorda as a Benoît well versed in the buffo manner and Víctor Castells as a dignified Alcindoro fooled by Musetta.


Carlos Vieu showed again that he is equally at home conducting concerts and opera. With full support from an orchestra that keeps its high standard and from the first-rate two choirs (the adult under Hernán Sánchez Arteaga and the children led by Mónica Dagorret) this was a convincing and enjoyable Puccinian evening.


The Argentino is going through a difficult period of labor demands (a soberly written complaint was read before the audience at the beginning) and also needs reparations in various parts of the huge building: there is a plan to do them in several years.  I wish them well: it´s the most important opera house we have after the Colón.

For Buenos Aires Herald​

jueves, mayo 12, 2016

Schönberg and Ferneyhough, a century of avantgarde

            Colón Contemporáneo is a feature incorporated by Pedro Pablo García Caffi during his tenure at the Colón and it has been maintained by the current Artistic Director Darío Lopérfido. From the beginning its director has been Martín Bauer, in charge since its inception two decades ago of the November contemporary music programming at the Teatro San Martín as main venue. In fact, in recent years some events that demand an orchestra have been under the auspices of both theatres.

            Bauer has always shown a marked inclination for the avantgarde to the detriment of other worthwhile trends; even so, there are marked differences between those whose aim is to explore new boundaries but based on solid  principles and those that merely want to disrupt and "épater le bourgeois".  Reviewers take sides; mine has always been the first category and I reject sometimes strongly the second. Bauer reveres Feldman, Cage and Sciarrino, I don´t; but people like Schönberg, Stravinsky or Ligeti have really advanced the history of music in a positive (though controversial) way.

            The preceding paragraph is by way of prologue to what for me was a revealing and important concert: the Arditti Quartet, founded in 1974 by its first violin Irvine Arditti, has become the very symbol of contemporary quartet music. They have premièred hundreds of scores and recorded two hundred CDs. Bauer of course has invited them three times before, always with admirable results, but probably their most revealing recital has been this year´s (their second presentation at the Colón).

            Although Colón Contemporáneo started in March with Goebbels´ strange experiment "Stifters Dinge", the true musical start is with the Arditti. For their programming this time was as intriguing as it proved fruitful.  Both Arnold Schönberg and Brian Ferneyhough did avantgarde in their own time and the quartets we heard are separated by close to eighty years. But another thing unites them: both did a rare thing, a quartet combined with a voice (there are few other instances; I remember Respighi´s "Il tramonto" and Barber´s "Dover Beach").

            And that brought the magnificent local debut of soprano Claron McFadden, an artist capable of singing stratospheric roles (Berg´s "Lulu" and Strauss´ Zerbinetta in "Ariadne auf Naxos").  Also, the  fact that Ferneyhough, long championed by the Arditti, came to our city and offered the same day a lengthy lecture at the Colón´s Salón Dorado (he was present at the concert).

            Arditti, now a veteran, showed no decline, and was partnered with stunning efficacy by Ashot Sarkissjan (second violin), Ralf Ehlers (viola; not Elhers as wrongly printed in the hand programme) and Lucas Fels (cello).

            We heard the premières (not so stated but they are) of Ferneyhough´s Quartets Nº3 (1987) and Nº 4 (1990), text by Jackson MacLow on the "Canto LXXII" by Ezra Pound. Ferneyhough, born in Coventry (1943), has written music "born of total serialism, combining a complex interweaving with an instrumental virtuosity to the edge of possibility" (hand programme´s biography). It´s what many define as "new complexity".

            Ferneyhough (also in the hand programme) describes the chosen scores thus (abbreviated here).  Quartet Nº 3: "The First movement pictures an autistic world inhabited by isolated fragments and unmotivated sudden impulses. The Second is a torrent of irate images;...three strata of processes are played at the same time".

            Quartet Nº4: "The texts are deconstructions of Cantos by Pound done by MacLow...Words become isolated syllables...(There is an) alienation of the texts. In the second movement the voice depends on the quartet´s textures; in the fourth (there are) two incompatible discourses rarely superimposed". I would add that I felt a strong influence of Berio´s  Sequenza III for human voice alone. As to the instrumental movements: "the First tries with no success to create a linear discourse; the Second is a kaleidoscopic experience permutating and yuxtaposing loose figurations".

            Schönberg´s Second Quartet is an essential work in history: finished in 1908, on poems by the talented Stefan George (unaccountably omitted in the hand programme: they are fundamental to understand this masterpiece), when the soprano sings "Ich fühle Luft von anderen Planeten" ("I feel air from  other planets") indeed she does: it is the first atonal music ever written! The instrumental movements are of very advanced chromaticism but not quite atonal.

            McFadden was fantastic; born in 1961 (New York), her vocal means are intact. In Ferneyhough she matched Cathy Berberian (Berio´s wife) and in Schönberg showed the same stylish penetration as Evelyn Lear´s famous recording, but always with her own personal touch of singular magnetism and technical perfection. The symbiosis with the Arditti Quartet was ideal. A great night. The audience was sparse but enthusiastic.


For Buenos Aires Herald

Complicated transition at the Blue Whale ends with successful concert

 

            Changes of Government can be complicated for cultural institutions even within the same party, but much more so when a different political line takes over. Especially when certain decisions are arbitrary and feel wrong. Such is the case of the Centro Cultural Kirchner; as readers may remember, it was inaugurated last year half-baked, when a good deal of the wholesale transformation of the historic building wasn´t completed.

 When President Mauricio Macri took over he had a problem: last year the control of the CCK was divided between the Ministry of Planning (De Vido) and the Ministry of Culture (Parodi).  Although the justification of this strange coupling was that the partnership was due to the complex works going on in parallel to the abundant cultural programming, it made for difficult logistics and a degree of chaos.

Macri did two things: he eliminated the Ministry of Planning and created the Federal System of Media and Public Contents (Sistema Federal de Medios y Contenidos Públicos). He put Hernán Lombardi (ex Culture Minister of Buenos Aires City) in charge of it. And here´s the moot point: the logical thing was to assign the CCK to the new Culture Minister, Pablo Avelluto, but no, it went to Lombardi. And so the latter (who also will supervise Tecnópolis and Public Radio-TV) formed a team to reorganize the Cultural Center.

There were two main factors: although it was obvious that the CCK had too many people, the touchy matter of layoffs and hiring new personnel was untidy and there are still conflicts; and from January to late April an ample team tried to finish several pending lines of architectural work, and to obtain the official seal of having terminated the big endeavour of restoration. In particular, there were intensive acoustics tests to ameliorate the Blue Whale (and other halls); the National Symphony collaborated at its new home and there were many rehearsals with and without an audience to allow the specialists to decide the improvements.

Gustavo Mozzi, who had led the Usina del Arte in 2014-5 with good results, is now the Director of the CCK, but he isn´t mentioned as such in the hand programme. Instead, his title is National Director of Federal Expressions (Director Nacional de Expresiones Federales)… Isn´t it enough to be at the head of the CCK?

There was a promise to announce the reopening and programming of the CCK starting in May; it stands to reason that the information had to be available at least a week before, but it wasn´t so. By happenstance I was told on April 26 about the National Symphony´s "rentrée" at the CCK on May 4th by one of the two concertinos, Luis Roggero. I tried to confirm it during the following days communicating with the CCK, but to no avail: they knew nothing or weren´t allowed to speak.

However, there was a strange press conference by Avelluto on May 2, midday: the NS works at the CCK but depends on the Culture Ministry, and so the Minister had to mention this first concert at that venue, along with plenty of other information about the nine organisms within the scope of his portfolio. But when I insisted on hard information about tickets for the general audience and for reviewers, he admitted that connexions of the ministry with the CCK were still fuzzy. Only on the afternoon of May 3 I got a firm contact with the CCK and the concert was announced.

So with minimal advance we went to the NS´ concert, of course with less people than usual (generally the house was full last year). Two policies must be reversed: no age restrictions and all events are free.

Last year the much appreciated American conductor Stefan Lano gave a concert with the OSN but I couldn´t attend; later there was a row because he complained he wasn´t paid (it happened  many times throughout the history of the NS, for the Culture Ministry has rarely been well administered). Apparently the matter was finally solved for he was back; it is to be hoped that the current Government will put an end to such disgraceful practices.

Lano often programmes well, and this was certainly true on May 4. He started with a homage to Alberto Ginastera´s centenary of his birth: the admirable "Concertante Variations".  Although Diemecke did them recently with the Buenos Aires Philharmonic, I don´t complain for this is the composer at his best: an equanimous balance between refined technique and inspired ideas. The soloists had a field day and showed again that the NS is a first-rate organism worthy of full support, and Lano reaffirmed his professional ability.

Béla Bartók wrote his only important choral work in 1930: the Secular Cantata subtitled "The enchanted stags" written for double choir, tenor, baritone and orchestra, on an old Romanian ballad adapted by the composer. The three parts are called "The nine children", "Meeting with the father" and "Thus was the legend"; they last 20 minutes. It´s about hunters transformed into stags; their father (baritone) searches for them and one of the stags (tenor) tells him: "Father, don´t shoot, now we are stags and will remain so". No text was available for the audience!

Strong, dense music, it´s difficult and rarely done. Although the acoustics for the orchestra are better now, the chorus is placed on a First Floor level and the sound that came out was granulous and unpleasant, although the Coro Polifónico Nacional under Darío Marchese sang too loud. Enrique Folger (tenor) also forced his tone; Leonardo Estévez (baritone) was more controlled.

But the splendid interpretation of Richard Strauss´ masterful "Thus spoke Zarathustra" (on Nietzsche) was the crown of the night. The enormous tone poem in nine joined movements was admirably understood and communicated by the conductor and the orchestra (Xavier Inchausti was the impeccable concertino). The sustained inspiration left us breathless. A great start for the season.


For Buenos Aires Herald

Met Opera: From Greek tragedy to Elizabethan times

            Met Opera´s productions seen  simultaneously via satellite at the Teatro El Nacional, organized by Pupi Sebastiani´s Fundación Beethoven, have become an indispensable way for  local audiences to experience first-rate opera with artists that mainly haven´t been at the Colón. The final two of the 2015-16 season have been seen now, always on certain Saturdays at 2 pm.  In October starts the 2016-17 activity, but many of those that have been appreciated in the recent series will be programmed again later this year at the Auditorium of the Fundación.

            The operas I am reviewing reflect the enormous variety of the world of opera both musically and dramatically. Gaetano Donizetti´s "Roberto Devereux" immerses us in the Late Elizabethan period through the lens of bel canto. Richard Strauss´  "Elektra" transports us to the dark world of Greek tragedy in Mycenaean times but with a Freudian twist.

             The prolific Donizetti wrote about 70 operas, buffo or dramatic. Success came only with his 34th, "Anna Bolena" (1830). It became his first to be staged in Paris and London and was followed by "Maria Stuarda" (1834) and "Roberto Devereux" (1837) to form the so-called trilogy of British Queens. After WWII there was a revival of bel canto and Maria Callas was essential in this trend: her Bolena set a pattern that was followed by  great artists.

            Beverly Sills sang all three  and here Adelaida Negri performed that feat with her own company. It is sad to consign that the  Colón only offered "Anna Bolena" in 1970 and ignored the other two. But the Met has presented all three with a great artist unknown here: Sondra Radvanovsky.

            "Roberto Devereux", with libretto by Salvatore Cammarano based on a tragedy by François Ancelot ("Elisabeth d´Angleterre") , recounts a dramatic episode of the aging (69) Queen Elizabeth I.  The year, 1601. Devereux, Earl of Essex, was the favorite of Elizabeth but theirs was a conflictive relationship. The Virgin Queen was called so because she never married, though she did have liaisons. Essex was brilliant, charming, in war courageous to the point of temerity; however,  he lacked judgment and that was to prove fatal. Probably the Queen´s lover, he quarreled with her publicly and opposed her principal minister, Lord Robert Cecil. After failing to win a crucial battle against Scotland´s Tyrone, he plotted against the Queen, was tried and executed.

            The political facts are lightly touched upon in Cammarano´s libretto; instead, the accent is put on Robert´s affair with Sarah, Duchess of Nottingham (and the Duke is Robert´s best friend!). Cecil wants Robert´s death, but the Queen will only agree when she has the evidence of her lover´s romantic treason. In the final scene, the old monarch falls to pieces in desperation.  The music is prime bel canto, with plenty of lovely melodies, although less elaborate than "Anna Bolena".

            None of the four principals has ever come to BA; any or all should be warmly welcomed in the future. Radvanovsky is marvelous, both in her singing and acting: a vast register, fine timbre, total control of florid passages, but foremost a moving transformation in the final half hour when she throws her wig away and is no longer a queen but a wretched old woman in total anguish. As her rival Sarah we have Elina Garança, to my mind the best mezzosoprano in the present scene: beauty, poise, perfect voice and style, expressive but contained.

            Tenor Matthew Polenzani has a sweet timbre and a firm technique; he transmits the mercurial quality of Essex. And baritone Mariusz Kwiecien gives us the two aspects of his role faithfully: he defends his friend to his own risk until he knows Robert´s treason and then becomes his infuriated enemy.  The other parts are well taken. Conductor Maurizio Benini is a specialist in the genre, and of course both chorus and orchestra are excellent.

            Sir David McVicar´s staging respects time and place and it looks handsome (he is also stage designer; costumes by Moritz Junge). One fault: voyeurism (witnesses where there should be none).

            "Elektra" is Strauss´ undisputed masterpiece: his most audacious and intense score and the best one-acter in history. The libretto by Hugo Von Hoffmannsthal, based on Sophocles,  makes it clear that we are seeing the ideal example of Freudian Electra complex. The main role is the longest and most exhausting of all in opera.

            Unfortunately Patrice Chéreau´s production (his last before dying) continually contradicts the libretto from the very beginning. Here voyeurism is stretched to the extreme and makes nonsense of most scenes, and apart from that he ruins the finale: it is basic that Klytämnestra and Aegisth (the assassins of Agamemnon) should be killed offstage, but here they die in full presence of the audience; and Electra doesn´t die, when the whole point is that once vengeance is accomplished she has no reason to live.

            But the three leading feminine parts save the day. I hadn´t had the opportunity to hear and see Nina Stemme, considered one of the great dramatic sopranos nowadays: and she certainly is. The voice is firm, the musicality strong, she acts vividly and has the stamina to stay the course. The veteran Waltraud Meier was a subtle Klytämnestra and Adrianne Pieczonka a radiant Chruysothemis. Only the Orest of Eric Owens seemed poorly cast. Esa-Pekka Salonen´s conducting was professional but short on impact; the enormous orchestra didn´t seem so.

For Buenos Aires Herald 

“Don Quixote, dreamer of La Mancha”, Guerra´s Cervantes ballet

            This is Cervantes´s 400th anniversary of his death, and as the same applies to Shakespeare, we are living a special year of literary evocation. In the field of ballet, "Don Quixote" has been very popular here after WWII, either in Marius Petipa´s version as revised by Alexander Gorsky or particularly in Zarko Prebil´s attractive and funny choreography. And now Maximiliano Guerra premières in BA his own concept, commissioned by the famous Stuttgart Ballet back in 2.000: his first choreography.

            Although there were several ballets before Petipa (the legendary Noverre, Vienna 1786, or the two Taglionis, Salvatore and Paolo),  only his 1869 opus has survived. The French choreographer lived long decades in Russia and became the essential figure of their balletic tradition, but before that period he had worked in France and later in Spain, where he deeply enjoyed their folkloric dances.  And he brought that experience to Russia.

            Moscow´s Bolshoi Theatre was then (and still is) their fundamental seat of opera and ballet. Of course there was (and there is) a pronounced rivalry with Saint Petersburg´s Maryinsky; both have presented the best of both genres. So the Bolshoi witnessed the première of "Don Quixote" on 14 December 1869. Petipa, as was his style, was very precise in requesting the composer exactly so many minutes for a dance or a narrative scene, and also what sort of music he needed.

            As happened later with Tchaikovsky, so it was with  Ludwig Minkus, a skilled master of effective exoticism. His music is certainly light, but he has been attacked more than he deserves: he had a sense of melody, a talent for effective music that jells easily with dance steps and the ability to adapt folk idioms to the necessities of the choreographer. You´ll find nowhere the imagination of Tchaikovsky and Delibes, but Minkus´  music accompanies very well the show on stage.

             Petipa revived his ballet two years later, and decades afterwards, in 1900 Gorsky revised it; later still and during WWII (!) it was again revised by Rostislav Zakharov (1940).  Rudolf Nureyev presented his own conception in Vienna, 1966.

             One fragment was and is hugely popular, the final Grand Pas de Deux, in this case revised by Anatol Obukhov.

            Two other "Don Quixotes" may be mentioned here: those of Ninette de Valois on Roberto Gerhard´s interesting music (1950) and of George Balanchine on music by Nicholas Nabokov (1965).

            In fact, Petipa´s ballet is centered on one specific episode of the Cervantes novel: "The Wedding of Camacho". And both Don Quixote (and Sancho Panza as comic relief) are decorative figures, for what matters is the love story of Basilio and Kitri and their stratagems to convince Kitri´s father, an innkeeper, from forcing her to marry the rich aristocratic Camacho. Both the First and the Third Acts are dominated by them, adding several torero dances to those of the people in the village square.

            However, in Act II we have two tableaux: one concerns a band of gypsies and the famous episode of the Don´s fight with a windmill; the other is his dream, a pure "ballet blanc" of academic equilibrium.

            Prebil told the story with great skill and genuine fun; his revision had a great success in BA, being present dozens of times during a long period. It was a Colón staple.  Lidia Segni presented her own rather staid revision in recent years. And now Guerra offers his very different views.

            He feels that Petipa took too little notice of Quixote, and so he gives them more participation in different places. His Sancho is less funny than Prebil´s. But the real innovation is the presence of Cervantes, who identifies with Quixote (in fact, the same dancer), and the Don´s idealised love, Dulcinea, appears several times, particularly in the Dream Scene. Also, the Innkeeper is a boor throwing his weight around (not so in Prebil) and Camacho isn´t half as ridiculous and easily consoles himself with another woman.  Some scenes are confused (the fight of the Innkeeper with the gypsies) and others add little (at the beginning, Kitri is Cervantes´ maid and Basilio his barber, and several characters from other Cervantes works appear briefly).

            As to the dances, they are generally good, though I found the toreros more convincing in Prebil, and the "ballet blanc", although clean and aesthetic, lacks the charm of Prebil´s with the little Cupids.

            A few musical fragments are adapted by Thomas Volk. The costumes are quite beautiful in texture and color; they are by Ramón Ivars. The stage designs of Enrique Bordolini were no more than functional. The correct lighting was by the Finnish Olli-Pekka Koivunen.   Emmanuel Siffert  conducted with fine sense of rhythm and give-and-take the Buenos Aires Philharmonic, in good shape.

            On the performance I saw (Friday) Basilio was the Argentine Emmanuel Vázquez (debut) from the Santiago Ballet. He gave a fine impression: his technique is very accurate and he has a pleasant presence. If he lacked some of the playful malice that, e.g., Julio Bocca used to give us, Prebil´s steps certainly had helped back then. Carla Vincelli was a professional Kitri, far from the level of the great ones. The torero José Antonio was correctly done by Juan Pablo Ledo. But in fact the one I liked best was Sergio Hochbaum as a virtuosic King of the Gypsies.

            Other good soloists: Natacha Bernabei, Julián Galván, Roberto Zarza, Ayelén Sánchez, Macarena Giménez, Luana Brunetti. And a disciplined Corps de Ballet.


For Buenos Aires Herald

Meditative Piazzolla flanked by dramatic Schubert and Mozart & Splendid evening with the Cuarteto Gianneo and bandoneonist Mederos

           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 

From Krasnoyarsk in deep Siberia a splendid orchestra visits BA

             About twenty years ago the Novosibirsk Ballet came here and presented great performances of Khachaturian´s "Spartacus" with the young Maximiliano Guerra, in the apogee of his career. It served notice that  gelid Siberia was alive and well. Now we got the first visit of an orchestra from those immense expanses: the State Symphony Orchestra of Siberia, which comes from Krasnoyarsk, a city of over one million people 51 hours away from Moscow by the Trans-Siberian Railway. Nuova Harmonia in its 30th season presented it at the refurbished Coliseo on April 22 starting its subscription series.

            As we know little about that region, it´s useful to give some data. Krasnoyarsk means "Red Ravine". It was founded in 1628; in the Nineteenth Century it was the center of the Cossack movement; in the early years of the Twentieth Century Chekhov praised it as one of the most beautiful Russian cities. Alas, during Stalinism several gulags functioned there. After the "perestroika" there was a deal of corruption but in recent decades the city recovered and is now prosperous.

            It is, after Novosibirsk and Omsk, the biggest Siberian city. They have two rivers, quite a privilege: the great Yenisei and the Kacha (which runs through the very center). Although the latitude is practically that of Stockholm, Krasnoyarsk is an extreme example of continental climate: terribly cold in Winter (-40 sometimes), but in Summer the temperature can rise to 35 degrees.

             Big industries, several universities, plenty of sports, but also museums and two musical highlights: the State Opera and Ballet Theatre is larger than Moscow´s Bolshoi! And this year it offers from September to late April 16 operas; currently Cherubini´s "Medea" can be seen. And the Great Concert Hall (Krasnoyarskaya Kraevaya Filarmoniya),  the home of the orchestra I am reviewing.  The famous baritone Dimitri Hvorostovsky was born in this city.

            The State Symphony of Siberia was founded in 1977. At least as it came here, it isn´t one of the biggest orchestras, as it numbers 73 players; and, what is a rarity, the majority are women.  Vladimir Lande has conducted here before in two seasons with other orchestras; in 2011 he came with the Saint Petersburg Symphony; he is nowadays  since last year the Principal Conductor of the Siberian orchestra. He has recorded a lot, very specially a cycle of 17 CDs with the integral symphonic music by a composer much appreciated by Shostakovich, Mieczyslaw Vainberg.

            In previous visits I found Lande a serious professional, though not an inspired interpreter. This time I appreciated in the purely symphonic pieces a very firm hand. The Orchestra is identifiably  Russian in its collective sound: the strings are brilliant in the case of the violins and soulful in the cellos; the horns are rather woolly, the trumpets  bright, the trombones quite brash; the woodwinds competent and a bit retiring, except the tweety piccolo.

            The programming was all-Russian, which is fine, but too surefire: all three scores are admirable and justifiably famous, leading all three to thunderous appaluse if well played. However, a little more enterprise would have been welcomed, even  with the same composers: from Glinka, instead of the dazzling Overture to his opera "Ruslan and Ludmilla", "Kamarinskaya", a catchy and dynamic short tone poem. From, Rachmaninov, not the Second Concerto but the Fourth, unfairly neglected; and from Rimsky-Korsakov, "Scheherazade" is wonderful, of course, but the Second Symphony, "Antar", is also a masterpiece and much less heard.

            "Ruslan and Ludmilla" was played at a really fast clip, reminding me of the famous Mravinsky version. At this speed, you must have excellent players able to respond with unanimity from the very first note: these certainly are, and Lande kept them together. By the way, will the Colón ever repair the shame of never having staged Glinka´s two operas? (the other is "A Life for the Czar").

            Xiayin Wang (debut) is a young Chinese who studied at the Shanghai Conservatory and the Manhattan School of Music. She is of course technically proficient, as so many pianists are nowadays, but on this showing her interpretation lacks maturity of concept. The initial minutes of Rachmaninov´s Nº2 sounded unsettled, rather confused, and the blending with the orchestra was dicey (there´s blame from the conductor, too). But things grew gradually better; the slow movement had lovely moments, and the virtuosic Finale was much more fluid, so the final result was good. The encore was a light Chinese ditty.

            I was much impressed by most of "Schéhérazade", for here Lande showed his mettle: he understood that the gist of the matter is the contrast between the sinuous, sweet concertino lines (Scheherazade) and the violent, even brutal theme of the Sultan. The episodes of the four tales are interspersed with these co-protagonists. The marvelous orchestration was expressed with intensity, color and strong dynamics. There wasn´t a boring moment in the 40 minutes, and the wreck of Sindbad´s boat near the end was overwhelming. The concertino is a talented veteran of very pure sound.

            The encores were very enjoyable, for they were samples of Shostakovich´s inimitable acid humour: the Tango from the ballet "The Bolt", and a vivid piece from his operetta "Moskva, Cherymushki". Here both conductor and orchestra communicated enjoyment with perfect ensemble and the right tongue-in-cheek attitude. They are probably satisfying as a team for the composer´s symphonies. So, warm welcome to the Siberians!


For Buenos Aires Herald

Joyce Di Donato conquers again the Mozarteum audience

            Four years ago a mezzosoprano well-known to the New York Met´s public gave recitals for the Mozarteum Argentino´s two subscription series at the Colón and was an immediate success. Joyce Di Donato had conquered Buenos Aires with her vocal talent and easy communication. She came back in 2014 and now she punctually returned after another two years.  She is one of the few undisputed stars that has made it a point of visiting us regularly.

            Her recitals always include bel canto arias, for she is a specialist in the fine art of expressive roulades of enormous difficulty. This season she sings at the Met Donizetti´s "Maria Stuarda" and Rossini´s "La Donna del Lago":  an aria from the latter closed her B.A. recitals.

            She brought along a splendid pianist: Craig Terry (debut). Throughout he displayed not only an infallible technique but an exquisite ability to play very softly; and unexpectedly he showed his capacity as a jazz player (more on it later).

            There was a problem: with the exception of three songs by Granados and one by Strauss (an encore), which are legitimately for voice and piano, all the rest were arrangements. Of course, if you include zarzuela and opera, this is inevitable. But I can´t help feeling that Ravel´s "Shéhérazade" loses a lot (even if the arrangement is by the composer) without its sumptuous, perceptive orchestration.

            Joyce, beautifully dressed (she changed after the interval), has a commanding presence, and talks to the public in Italian, a bit of Spanish and some English and French. There´s people that like this sort of communication, others think that the music speaks for itself and you have the information in the hand programme. And that the personality of the singer should only exude from the music she interprets.

            Her first selection was a famous fragment from a zarzuela: "De España vengo", from Pablo Luna´s "El niño judío". The voice wasn´t quite settled in it, with some incisive tones and not completely accurate florid singing.

            She said that she felt very Spanish but curiously she was immediately much more convincing in "Shéhérazade", that delicious suite of Oriental songs that Ravel composed on texts by the poet with the Wagnerian pseudonym Tristan Klingsor. Her French is very accurate, and after a couple of fixed notes she found her voice, which can be quite powerful but also be subtle, soft and insinuating.  The very long "Asie" goes through various moods and is in fact a narrative rather than a song; "The enchanted flute"  and "The indifferent" are sensual portraits of girls attracted by men. Di Donato conveyed all this with great art and Terry almost (not quite) made me forget the orchestration.

            And now, Rossini: "Bel raggio lusinghier" from "Semiramide" was as expected dazzling; in this music, ornaments are the melody and the fluidity with which she accomplished it is the necessary and rarely heard condition to fully appreciate the Rossinian style.

            I love the tonadillas of Enrique Granados but they require a fully idiomatic acquaintance which seems to elude non-Spanish singers: "La maja dolorosa" in its three parts was sung in correct Spanish and let us hear Di Donato´s deep lows, but something was missing: the Spanishness of Berganza or De los Ángeles.

            Di Donato was splendid in that stately and noble aria from Händel´s "Rinaldo": "Lascia ch´io pianga"; her Baroque style is impeccable and the ornaments were all the right ones.

            Now we come to a moot point: three "arie antiche" from Parisotti´s famous recopilation (1885-8) which still are the way the Baroque is learnt by students, notwithstanding its Romanticized harmony: Giordani, "Caro mio ben"; Pergolesi, "Se tu m´ami"; and attributed to Salvator Rosa, "Star vicino".  Most of the audience, I presume, were set to hear them from a great professional singer: what they got was very different (no warning in the programme). After a few seconds, jazzy sounds came from the piano, and from then on we  had an excursion into a popular Twentieth-Century style; it was fun of its kind but many  would have preferred the first option.

            Finally, more Rossini: from "La donna del lago", based con Scott´s "The Lady of the Lake", the scintillating final rondo in which Ellen expresses her joy, for the benevolence of the King allows her to celebrate her reunion with Malcolm (the man she loves) and her father Douglas. Three reflexions: the splendid version with Di Donato of the whole opera was offered last year by the  Met and I commented it on the Herald; this is the same Ellen that sings her prayer in the famous Schubert Ave Maria; and both "La Donna del Lago" and "Semiramide" should be considered for future seasons of the Colón: neither has been ever done there, which is a shame.

            Encores: Irving Berlin´s "I love a piano" comes from the film "Easter Parade" and was originally sung by Judy Garland; it is an unabashed romp and was done to a T by singer and pianist. Then, in total and lovely contrast, Richard Strauss´ dreamy "Morgen", so ecstatically sung and played that I was sorry they didn´t include more Lieder. Finally, another Garland standard, Arlen´s "Over the rainbow" from the film "The Wizard of Oz", in the nicest of performances.

            To complete the mezzosoprano Heaven it would be wonderful to have in the future the visit of Elina Garança.


For Buenos Aires Herald