lunes, enero 09, 2017

Witty Bernstein, Honegger Christmas and “Degenerate art”

            This is the last survey of the by now extinct musical season. Two of the five comments are about the Colón; two concern the cycles of the National Library.

            The Art Institute of our mighty theatre does a special project each year: a short opera wholly prepared, sung, staged and played by students, naturally with professors´ supervision. I find it a very rewarding and intelligent idea, for from it will come the professionals of the future, bred at the source. They call it Workshop of Operatic Integration. In 2015 it was Ravel´s lovely "L´enfant et les sortilèges", so good that it was presented again in 2016 in the series of events for children of the Colón (another interesting initiative). Claudio Alsuyet as Director of the Institute is doing a fine job, and this was proved by the December première of Leonard Bernstein´s witty 45-minute one-acter, "Trouble in Tahiti" (words and music by the charismatic American artist).

            Tahiti is only mentioned by the couple of the Thirties (Dinah, soprano; Sam, baritone)  living in New York´s suburbia. Married for ten years, their relationship is in trouble; the taut seven scenes have a sweet/sour taste but finally the unraveled becomes whole again. The music mirrors every mood, more dissonant when they quarrel, smoother when things calm down. The touch of genius (and a reminder of Bernstein´s  musical comedy side; arguably "West Side Story" is one of the very best) is that each scene is followed by a brief interlude in which a trio of singing comedians bring back the Roaring Twenties carefree cabaret style.

            The brilliant staging by Romina Almirón gave us a slice of American Zeitgeist, with talented handling of the singers and funny, à-propos projections, plus intelligent stage, costume and light designs. With first-rate support of a 15-strong chamber orchestra combining students and professors and led by Emmanuel Siffert with unerring sense of style, the couple was sung and acted with professional firmness by Vanesa Aguado Benítez and Mariano Gladic, and the trio did their bits with hand-in-glove precision (Milagros Burga, Germán Polón and Luis Asmat).

            The venue was the Teatro 25 de Mayo, nicknamed the Little Colón, a nice hall at Avenida Triunvirato.   

            At the Colón the Resident (Estable) Orchestra offered a Christmas concert which featured Honegger´s "Une Cantate de Noël", a late work (1953) which starts rather grimly with a "De profundis clamavi" but in its second part, "Peace and joy to you, Israel", becomes gradually exulting, with quotes from famous German and French Christmas carols. Both baritone Alejandro Meerapfel, the Colón Choir (Miguel Martínez) and the Colón Children´s Choir (César Bustamante)  sang with conviction, fine voices and accuracy.

            Before and after, things were aesthetically worlds apart. Brazilian conductor Roberto Minczuk, of vast career, initially had the ungrateful task of accompanying the fluffy and badly orchestrated  Concerto for oboe on motifs from Donizetti´s "La Favorita" by Antonio Pasculli (1842-1924), a mere vehicle for the virtuoso playing of Rubén Albornoz.

            After the interval the Estable, generally confined to the pit, had the challenge of Brahms´ majestic First Symphony, and both conductor and orchestra acquitted themselves with a powerful, concentrated reading of what is probably the best First  in history. Alas, at the cost of leaving aside (no explanation) the long-announced Second Symphony ("Rome) by Bizet, very rarely done and not the equal of the astonishing First of the teenager composer, but still a score of charm and freshness worth reviving.

            The National Library has a cozy Auditorio Borges of good acoustics and it is the venue of a worthy project called Plural Music (Música en Plural) organized since many years ago by Haydée Seibert and Bárbara Civita. The idea is mixing different textures in  the same concert, as a way of showing the variety of chamber music. In 2016 there were nine concerts and I could only catch the last one, although some of them were very alluring.

            In this case, a song recital by mezzo Mariana Rewerski accompanied by pianist Valeria Briático was followed by the pithy, intense Elgar Quintet for piano and strings. The singer chose well:  fast Villanelle by Cécile Chaminade, a beautiful melody by Massenet ("Nuits d´Espagne"),  Reynaldo Hahn both in French ("Paysage", very evocative) and English (three of the Five Little Songs on clever texts by Robert Stevenson), showing the versatility of this Venezuelan who spent most of his life in Paris; "Dream Valley", one of the numerous songs by the Britisher Roger Quilter; and two fine Argentine choices: "Cita" by Guastavino  and "Canción de la luna lunanca" by Ginastera. Both artists are accomplished professionals who sing and play with style, good taste and accuracy.

            The Quintet (1919) is mature Elgar at its best, written immediately after his Quartet (1918): dense  Postromanticism with real substance and structure, it was admirably played by Graciela Reca (piano, from Entre Ríos) and string players of true knowledge and sound technique who happen to be great friends: Haydée Seibert Francia and Gustavo Mulé (violins), Elizabeth Ridolfi (viola) and Myriam Santucci (cello).

            Civita and Seibert Francia had another splendid idea at the same venue: two concerts, one instrumental and the other vocal with piano, called "The forbidden sounds", centering on the music that Hitler and Goebbels called "Entartete Musik" ("Degenerate Music"). I could hear the second, with Susanna Moncayo (mezzo), Víctor Torres (baritone) and Pierre Blanchard (piano).

            The first group, with Moncayo, was a selection of music from Terezin, the concentration camp of Jews in Czech territory used by the Nazis to mock UN envoys by making them believe that the inmates could create plays and pieces of music and were well treated, when in fact after the visit they were sent to Auschwitz...The hymn and the song of Terezin plus a couple of cabaret songs by Karel Svenk and Adolf Strauss were heard in this concert.

            Than, those composers considered degenerate but  in exile. Schönberg is the man who invented the twelve-tone system, but his funny Brettl-Lieder (Cabaret songs) are tonal and sarcastic and quite early (1901). Finally, the  songs of Berlin leftist composers who lived the decline of the Weimar Republic: Hanns Eisler, Paul Dessau ("Song of the great capitulation") and Weill: "The ballad of sexual submission" from "The twopenny opera", plus "Abschied" ("Farewell") , by Moncayo. Cynical, harsh, disenchanted songs.

            I was surprised that they ended with a funny Fred Raymond duet, for he belonged to the different world of light operettas during the Third Reich. But the afternoon was interesting, with Moncayo´s crossover way opposed to the more classical Torres, both finely accompanied by Blanchard.

            Have you ever wondered about whether there were cantatas extolling Hitler, paralleling those written for Lenin and Stalin? I have never found any reference to them; how strange in a megalomaniac regime if they were absent...

For Buenos Aires Herald

            




Buenos Aires Lírica and Juventus Lyrica announce their seasons

            The two principal private opera seasons have announced their programmes for 2017. Buenos Aires Lírica (BAL) innovates: only two titles will be presented at their tradiitional venue, the Avenida;  two will be at the Teatro Picadero, and one will be done jointly with Nuova Harmonia at the Coliseo (coproduced with the Teatro Regional de Rancagua, Chile).  Juventus Lyrica will stick to the Avenida and will stage just three operas.

            At the Coliseo: Monteverdi´s "L´incoronazione di Poppea" (produced by Marcelo Lombardero). April 22 and 23. At the Avenida: not an opera but incidental music to plays: Beethoven´s "Egmont" and Mendelssohn´s "A Midsummer Night´s Dream". June 4, 8 and 10. Picadero: Rossini´s "La scala di seta". Mondays: June 12, 19 and 26; July 3, 10 and 17. Avenida: Puccini´s "La Bohème", coproduction with Rosario´s El Círculo. August 11, 13, 17 and 19. Picadero: Offenbach, Ba-Ta-Clan. Mondays: October 16, 23 and 30; November 6, 13 and 20.

            Juventus Lyrica (JL). Bellini´s "Norma". May 12, 14, 18 and 20. Conductor (C): Hernán Sánchez Arteaga. Producer: Florencia Sanguinetti. Puccini´s "Turandot". September 1, 3, 7 and 9.  C: Antonio María Russo. P: Ana D´Anna. Rossini´s "Le Comte Ory". November 3, 5, 9 and      11. C: Hernán Schvartzman. P: María Jaunarena.

            Comments on BAL: two coproductions; Picadero on Mondays; inclusion of an operetta.  Applied to both BAL and JL: Puccini´s orchestra has to be strongly reduced due to the Avenida´s small pit.

            Suggestion: if BAL and JL can work with the Coliseo, in the future they should take advantage of that theatre´s big pit.

For Buenos Aires Herald


Great piano recital and closing concerts of the Phil and the National Symphony


            By the time to read this the season will be over. So here are the parting shots divided in two articles each covering five events. A Monday benefit concert provided the unexpected pleasure of witnessing a piano recital by one of the remaining great veterans: the Brazilian Nelson Freire, an old friend of this theatre, in his middle seventies still a redoubtable virtuoso of magnificent technique and style. Presented by Dar Cultura, Fundación de Acción Social de Jabad, Freire gave a masterclass, so to speak, in  his traversals of two fundamental Nineteenth Century Sonatas: Brahms´ Third, Op.5, and Chopin´s Second, Op.58.

            The Sonatas were played with scrupulous respect for the composers´ indications, readings of marvelous continuity, tonal beauty and control, which revealed the transcendent quality of both composers at their best. Before Brahms, some Bach (an Organ Prelude) arranged by Siloti; and before Chopin, Freire´s ideal way with the music of Villalobos: the beautiful Prelude from Bachianas Brasileiras Nº4 and three pieces from "A prole do bebé" ("The baby´s family").

            Encores: a lovely performance of an especially expressive Chopin Mazurka (Op.17/4) and a brilliant one of Grieg´s "Wedding Day in Troldhaugen", one of his most joyous pieces (he lived there).

            The penultimate concert (Nº 14) of the Buenos Aires Philharmonic was one of the best. We had the revelation of a talented conductor, Carl St Clair, and the best Argentine pianist of his generation, Nelson Goerner, playing Tchaikovsky´s First concerto with amazing firmness. St Clair is a Texan disciple of Bernstein and in his early sixties (I believe) he conducts with the intensity and concentration of his mentor. His career has had two very different high points: Principal Conductor in Weimar and in Berlin´s Komische Oper;  and for twenty years the PC of the Pacific Symphony; plus guest conductor with a host of first-rank orchestras. And he has recorded all the Villalobos symphonies.

            He started with what may be a local première, Bernstein´s "Slava!", subtitled "a political overture", a 4-minute dazzling homage to the composer´s great friend nicknamed Slava, cellist and conductor Mstislav Rostropovich, revered here in both capacities. Why political? Because his being named PC of Washington´s  National Symphony was a way to recognize both his musical talent and courageous anti-Stalin attitude; and at the time the Cold War was still on. St Clair made the Phil sound like a top rank USA orchestra.

            Goerner, as unassuming and non-charismatic as ever, played a supervirtuoso concert with such aplomb and exactness that one could only hear open-mouthed at such a display, always very musical; in some passages  the only thing lacking for perfection was the mercurial hobgoblin touch of Argerich. And St Clair galvanizing the Phil to offer Goerner the right give-and-take and rhythmic strength he needed to shine as he did.  The encore was a beautiful performance of Chopin´s Nocturne Nº15, Op.55/1.

            St Clair talked to the audience after the interval, an impassioned defense of Shostakovich´s Tenth Symphony as the expression of his pent-up suffering during the Stalin years. And the conductor then proceeded to prove it with an enormously concentrated and beautifully played performance of what is arguably the composer´s most important symphony. The impact of this great work in St Clair´s reading was one of the great moments of the year. He should come back.

            An unfortunate medical delay allowed me to hear only the second part of Leonid Grin´s concert with the Phil (last of the season, Nº 15). So I missed Weber´s "Oberon" Overture and Tchaikovsky´s Concerto with the Phil´s concertino Pablo Saraví, but I could hear a thrilling interpretation of the best Glazunov Symphony, Nº 5 (1895), warm, melodic and admirably structured music. Grin is Ukrainian, a disciple of Kyril Kondrashin, now in his early sixties. He has held posts at Saarbrücken, Tampere (Finland), San José Symphony (California) and currently at Santiago de Chile. Two decades ago he visited the Phil repeatedly. His solid métier and natural empathy with the Russian repertoire provided an exhilarating ending to the symphonic year.

            The special interest of the National Symphony´s concert at the Blue Whale conducted by Christian Baldini was the inclusion of  essential Sibelius: his last Symphony, Nº7 (1925), rarely done here; just one vast movement of consumate organic cohesion dominated by an unforgettable trombone theme, it crowns the career of the most eminent Nordic symphonist. After good performances of two standards (Beethoven´s Violin Concerto with the National´s concertino Luis Roggero and Sibelius´ "Finland"), Baldini showed his insight and fine technique in the Seventh, abetted by a great trombone player and a responsive orchestra.

            The final concert of the National Symphony was conducted by the Chilean  Francisco Rettig, much appreciated as a Mahlerian. He closed the season with some of Mahler´s extraordinary Lieder with orchestra, certainly the best in history. The orchestral work and Rettig´s sensitive conducting gave much pleasure, but alas, the baritone Luciano Garay showed a startling decline of his vocal means both in the wonderful "Songs of a wayfarer" ("Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen") and in the songs allotted to him in the endlessly varied "Des Knaben Wunderhorn" ("The magic horn of youth"). Mezzo Alejandra Malvino was her reliable, musicianly self both in her participation in "DKW" and in the "Rückert Songs" that end with a marvel, "Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen" ("I have retired from the World"), though more volume came amiss at several points.

            A sour note: the unacceptable policies of having no comments on the hand programme and even worse, no subtitles; this is the CCK´s fault, not the NS´, and I hope it is revised next year.

For Buenos Aires Herald