sábado, octubre 21, 2006

Visitors: a famous singer and a Galician orchestra

One of the toughest things in the life of a performing artist is to know when to retire. This is particularly true of famous singers, whose careers often coast along a good many years past their prime. As long as their level is on the plus side, one admits a certain falling off in their standards, but there comes a point where the law of diminishing returns settles in and the balance changes, for age is inexorable: we’ve had sad experiences with such artists as Victoria de los Angeles, Teresa Berganza or Katia Ricciarelli. I’m afraid the great Belgian bass-baritone José Van Dam, now 66, has reached the point where he should take that hard decision; what he does now is still dignified, but there were enough danger signals to give notice that this should be his last visit. It’s unpleasant for a critic to say so but it’s also a duty often shirked by colleagues. Mind you, there was still a lot to admire, but it’s no use simulating that his concert for the Mozarteum at the Colón (he did the same programme in two sessions) was quite the equal of his traversal of Schubert’s “Winterreise” some years ago, or of his unusual but talented Verdian Simone Boccanegra. He has never had a sensuous voice of Mediterranean appeal, but his focus was rock firm throughout his register and the timbre had a grave beauty. Moreover, his intonation was infallible, and he gave dramatic sense and variety to the words, even if one wished a bit more warmth now and then. A good deal of all this was still discernible in his recent recital but with an admixture of monotonous expression in the French “chansons d’art”, a lack of expansion, some very uncomfortable high notes and unsonorous lows. Of course, he remains a conscientious professional and there were some good things, but mostly in opera fragments (diminished by having a piano accompaniment instead of an orchestra). The chosen songs were quite beautiful in themselves and from the greatest masters: Fauré (three, including a heavily sung “Mandoline”), Duparc (four, with ups and downs), the second series of Debussy’s “Fetes galantes” and his rarely heard “La Mer” (interesting comparison with his orchestral masterpiece). But he was clearly more comfortable in an homage to Mozart where he sang both Figaro (“Non piú andrai”) and the Count (“Vedró”) from “The Marriage of Figaro” and Leporello’s catalog aria from “Don Giovanni”, where he was at his best. After a pianistic interlude (Liszt’s Fantasy on Verdi’s Quartet from “Rigoletto”), well played by Maciej Pikulski, came a French operatic panorama: from Berlioz, two sarcastic pieces for Mephisto from “The damnation of Faust”, done with much point by the singer; Nilakantha’s sweet aria from Delibes’ “Lakmé” , that curious song of a drunk lover from Bizet’s “La jolie fille de Perth” (“Quand la flamme de l’amour”) and another Mephisto, Gounod’s from “Faust” singing his perverse Serenade. As an encore he also did “Astres étincelants” from Massenet’s “Hérodiade”. There were enjoyable things in this last part, and he was well abetted by Pikulski, his longtime accompanist. In some moments Van Dam was his younger self and all was better than well. But the final verdict should be: this was a noble goodbye. The orchestral movement in Spain after the death of Franco has undergone incredible improvement, along with new quality concert halls. I had proof of both in 2000 when I heard the Gran Canaria Philharmonic under Adrian Leaper, the Orchestra of Castilla and León under Max Bragado Darman at Valladolid, and the Galicia Symphony at Santiago de Compostela’s beautiful and modern hall. In all three orchestras there was a characteristic: the abundance of Slav players along with the Spanish. And so it is with the Orchestra Real Filharmonía de Galicia, a recent visitor to BA in the Nuova Harmonia cycle at the Coliseo. It was founded in 1996 by Helmut Rilling and its current Principal Conductor is Antoni Ros Marbá, who conducted “Carmen” here in the Renán period at the Colón. Their concert here was devoted to the German/Austrian school with one exception, the deliciously Rossinian Overture to “Los esclavos felices” by that adolescent genius, Juan Crisóstomo Arriaga. The orchestra gave us two important symphonies, No.35, “Haffner”, by Mozart; and No.4, “Italian”, by Mendelssohn. At least as it came on tour, the organism isn’t big (53 players) but it’s enough for the chosen scores. Ros Marbá is a well-schooled and honest interpreter ; his rather robust Mozart and his nicely built but a bit slow Mendelssohn were good enough without scaling the heights, and the Orchestra, ditto. The best thing was Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No.4, which allowed the audience to welcome the debut of a notable Mexican artist, Jorge F. Osorio, a mature pianist who has recorded all five Beethoven concerti. His playing was imbued with a classical, solid feeling that made me think of Backhaus, with beautifully crafted phrasing and very sound technical means. The pleasure was prolonged with a sensitively played encore, Brahms’ Intermezzo in E major from op.116. The orchestral encores were a melancholy Galician song in a nice orchestration , and Falla’s famous “Fire dance” from “El amor brujo”. I see in this budding of good orchestras a state policy of cultural promotion and a result of Spain’s integration in the European Community. 25/10/06 para el Buenos Aires Herald

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