sábado, octubre 21, 2006

Welcome visitors from the North(I)

Fortunately the flow of visitors from the Northern Hemisphere proceeds apace .This is a first installment. The Bach Choir of Mainz under Ralf Otto made an excellent impression a couple of years ago, hence a return visit for the Mozarteum 2006 season, and centred on Mozart. They were supported by the Rheinland-Palatinate Philharmonic and four soloists traveled for the tour. Two were known here: tenor Daniel Sans and bass Klaus Mertens. Two made their local debut: young Canadian soprano Hélene Guilmette and mezzosoprano Mechthild Georg replacing the announced Gerhild Romberger. Deplorable circumstances –a strike in Norway and the parlous state of Varig- impeded the much awaited presence of the Norwegian National Opera Company here, for they would have done the complete “Peer Gynt" music by Grieg , a premiere for us. This forced a reprogramming and the solution for the subscribers was to offer for each cycle two performances by the German groups; but as the Colón had available only the originally planned two dates, the other two had the Opera Theatre as venue. The wonderful Mass No. l8, K.427, was left unfinished by Mozart, and it is thus that it has been heard here many times in recent years. However, the Mainzers brought a novelty : the Mass as completed by Robert Levin, musicologist, harpsichordist and pianist . Levin gives us 25 more minutes, mostly adapted from Mozart’s sole oratorio, “Davidde penitente”. The extra music is worth hearing though not quite in the same level, so we now have a very long Mass of about 75 minutes. As Illuminism came to Vienna, it had some torchbearers such as Baron Van Swieten. He not only commissioned Haydn to write his great oratorios, he also asked Mozart to orchestrate along Classicist lines some of Handel’s scores; among them, “Messiah”. This version was heard here some years ago and now we met it again. I followed the original Handel and the instrumental additions were clear enough; some seemed rather incongruous, such as the clarinet. I don’t know if Mozart allowed choral lines to be sung by soloists, as happened several times in the Mainzers’ performance, but I don’t like it: this is plainly choral music. To me the Mozart version is a curiosity worth knowing, but I’m quite ready to go back to pure Handel, and in the historicist line. The big thing in this visit was the Mainz Bach Chorus: it has splendid voices very well-trained by Ralf Otto, a sober and knowledgeable conductor. Their firmness and clarity was a constant pleasure. The Orchestra was more variable, and along with many well-played passages there were also some misadjustments. Of the soloists two were good: soprano Guilmette did find some of the great difficulties in Mozart beyond her but she sang well elsewhere with a fresh timbre and nice style; and Mertens, who has made dozens of recordings (especially the Bach cantata series under Koopman) is a dependable artist though the voice is a bit small for the Colón. I’m afraid the replacement mezzo couldn’t cope with the music in either case, and Sans seems to me weak in every department. As happened last year, through the good offices of Jorge Helft we had the several concerts by three marvelous players of the Ensemble Intercontemporain (Paris), long associated with Pierre Boulez: Jeanne Marie Conquer, violin; Alain Damiens, clarinet; and Dimitri Vassilakis, piano. They were joined by French soprano Sylvie Robert, who resides here, and several Argentine musicians. I could hear three of the four concerts they offered and I count them among the most stimulating of the year. The first was at the Casa de la Cultura of the Fondo Nacional de las Artes, a small venue of rather poor acoustics. The programme was quite unconventional: several of the “Little preludes and fugues” by J.S.Bach; the three imaginative “Chansons de négresses” by Milhaud; three “Clairs de lune”: two by Debussy (piano piece and song) and one by Fauré (song), and with the bonus of the Verlaine poem read by that talented old lady, Alix Bader, in perfect diction; the arduous First Sonata by Boulez; “Jatekok” by G. Kurtág; songs by Joseph Kosma and Jacques Prévert; and the monodrama “La Dame de Montecarlo” by Cocteau and Poulenc, a lovely period piece in a staging by Alfredo Arias . Bader intervened before Poulenc with some Jules Supervielle. An exquisite night with Vassilakis and Robert in great form. A rather uncomfortable venue, one of the exhibition halls of the MALBA (dicey acoustics and seating and no doors), was what could be obtained for a transcendent occasion: the fascinating 40 “Kafka fragments” by Gyoergy Kurtág, based on the diary and letters of the great writer, audaciously scored for just soprano and violin. It was a “tour de force” for Robert and Conquer and they emerged with flying colors. The work is endlessly varied and very strong, and the necessary texts were distributed to the public. A stupendous concert at the Museo Fernández Blanco was dedicated to the Vienna School with masterpieces by Schoenberg (“Pierrot Lunaire”, “Fantasy”), Berg (an arrangement of the Adagio of the Chamber Concert and the Four pieces op.5 for clarinet and piano) and Webern (Four pieces op.7 for violin and piano). There was also an homage to Gyoergy Ligeti, recently deceased: these piano pieces: “Capriccio No.1”, “Invention” and Etude No. 5 (“Rainbow”). All was marvelously done. 28/09/06 para el Buenos Aires Herald

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