sábado, octubre 21, 2006

Symphonic brilliance from Czechs and Italians

The Czech Philharmonic is justly famous; its first conductor in 1896 was none other than Antonin Dvorák and it has had great principal conductors of that nationality: Vaclav Talich, Rafael Kubelik, Karel Ancerl, Vaclav Neumann. In 1993 a non-Czech was chosen: Gerd Albrecht. He was succeeded by Vladimir Ashkenazy in 1998; he was the first to bring the orchestra to our city, with fine results. And now we have a return visit in which Albrecht takes further contact with his former orchestra. Albrecht , now 71, is one of the most distinguished German conductors and this was his fourth visit. He came in 1973 when he was 38 to conduct the Colón Orchestra and in the following decades visited us with the Zurich Tonhalle and with another European orchestra. He has made many enterprising recordings, especially of twentieth-century opera. With the Czechs he again showed his patrician good taste, sense of balance and orthodox , stylistic phrasing. He makes music with precision and brio and eschews any eccentricity. The two programmes for the Mozarteum Argentino at the Colón were based on the most famous Dvorák symphonies, and whilst I generally root for innovation, I was certainly happy to hear masterpieces like the Eighth and Ninth in such splendid renderings by an orchestra has the music in its bones. The stunning unanimity, lustre and perfect intonation of the strings, the admirable quality of the brass (particularly a virtuoso horn soloist), the musicality of the woodwinds and the sheer rightness of every inflexion were a joy to hear. The first work in each programme was well-chosen: Ligeti, who has died very recently, left in “Lontano” (1967) a fine testimony of his craftmanship and vital ideas in an advanced idiom. And Dvorák’s Overture “Othello” is dramatic, intense and finely wrought; it was only the third time that such a piece was heard in Buenos Aires. Both scores were finely played, and so were the two encores (the same in both nights): the lovely Slavonic Dance op. 72 No. 2 (Dvorák) and that fun piece, the gypsy tango “Jealousy” by Jacob Gade , incredibly a Dane. The soloist in both concerts was the Georgian pianist Elisabeth Leonskaja, absent for long years from our city, where she reaped applause decades ago in several visits. Now sixtyish, she keeps well. The Schumann Concerto (first night) seemed a bit under-vitalized, without quite the forward motion and the strength it needs at climactic moments, and some of the phrasing seemed un-Germanic, but of course she was highly professional. In that session I preferred her encore, a beautifully rippling Impromptu op. 90 No.4 by Schubert. On the second night she faced the challenge of Beethoven’s Fifth Concerto (“Emperor”) and I rather liked her interpretation, even if she comes from a different tradition and some of the phrasing seemed strange; but the technical solidity was impressive and she was capable of poetic statements. Again the encore was fine: a delicate traversal of the Adagio from Mozart’s Sonata No.12, K.332. The Orchestra Giovanile Italiana (Italian Youth Orchestra) visited us some years ago and left an agreeable impression. In this new visit it had the advantage of a forceful and precise conductor making his BA debut: Roberto Abbado (nephew of Claudio). Their concert was a part of the Nuova Harmonia season and the venue was the Colón. I didn’t like the programme, however. A faded avantgarde Italian piece and two overplayed German standards isn’t my idea of something interesting. Probably Bruno Maderna’s “Serenata per un satellite” was a premiere. The composer lived between 1920 and 1973 and this work dates from 1969. The piece was dedicated to the Director of the European Space Operation Center on the occasion of the launching of the satellite Boreas. The trend then was aleatory music, leaving considerable leeway to the interpreters both in the choice of instruments and in the exact length of some fragments of composition. The whole thing seems sterile now and the eight minutes of Abbado’s version with a chamber ensemble left no mark at all. I was certainly sorry that something more substantial wasn’t found: Petrassi, Dallapiccola, Ghedini... Pianist Simone Pedroni is in his thirties and he made his BA debut meeting head-on the challenge of Brahms’ massive First Concerto . He has an ample technique that can solve all difficulties, although his tone isn’t quite as big as this score ideally entails. His phrasing can also be delicate where warranted, and I liked the decision and clear rhythm he imposed at the beginning of the third movement. He also showed his sensitivity in the encore, Rachmaninov’s Elegy op.3 No.1, rarely played. The Orchestra , under Abbado’s knowing leadership, dug into the forceful beginning of the Concerto with real punch, and generally played with good sound and intense delivery within a sane framework of well-chosen tempi and a right sense of tension and distension. Arguably Abbado’s view of Beethoven’s all-time hit, the Seventh Symphony, was a bit too harsh , with unrelentless hammering at the admittedly obsessive rhythms of the score , but anyway this music certainly needs dynamism and continuity, with its positively Dionysiac climaxes. It was just a bit overdone, that’s all, for you can have the same drive with greater euphony.I loved the encore, a crisp and sunny version of Rossini’s funny Overture to “Il Signbor Bruschino”. This was really Italianate. 18/07/06 para el Buenos Aires Herald

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