lunes, diciembre 11, 2006

The endless variety of choral music

One of the valuable facts of our musical life is the abundance of choirs; few are professional, most are amateur inasmuch as they don't get paid but often have professional quality.The year has been intense and I have written about some of the highlights. Herewith a summing-up survey of the remaining season.

The Handel oratorios are fundamental in the history of the genre, although many of them are little-known here. Two recent revivals will be mentioned. I believe that "Israel in Egypt" is the composer's best after "Messiah", as well as being the most choral. It hadn't been done in recent years, so I welcome the enterprise of Guillermo Dorá, founder of the Coral del Siglo XXI, who asked Pedro I.Calderón to lead the work with the Handel Orchestra of Old Instruments. Dorá further had the musicological conscience of giving us the second version, in which "Exodus" and "Moses' Song" are preceded by "The Lamentations of the Israelites for the death of Joseph", adapted from the "Funeral Anthem of the death of Queen Caroline" (wife of George II). I appreciated the "Lamentations" and I marveled again at the ingeniousness and variety of Parts II and III; there was a grand total of 41 choruses! (counting in Part I). An enormous challenge for the chorus, very well met. I was astonished by the ease and professionalism of Calderón in a field that is new for him, despite his enormous experience, and the Orchestra responded quite well. Add to it very responsible soloists and you have an artistic success of proportions: Marcela Sotelano and Laura Delogu (sopranos), Pablo Travaglino (countertenor), Ricardo González Dorrego (tenor), and especially Sergio Carlevaris (baritone) and Alejandro Meerapfel (bass). The work was absolutely complete (first time here) and the venue was the Auditorio de Belgrano.

On the other hand, "Belshazzar", as offered by the Handel Society at the Church of the Holy Cross, was heavily condensed. More uneven than "Israel...", it's still a grand piece with substantial drama. It was offered semistaged, with biblical period costumes , which provoked some controversy, but Handel often offered his narrative oratorios in staged versions. A small historicist orchestra (16 players) was in fact too thin for the support of the 75-people Chorus of the Society. The founder of the Handel Society, Sergio Siminovich, was more controlled than in other instances; he loves the style but at times he exaggerates phrasings. Tenor Mario Martínez was a too emphatic Belshazzar, and his mother Nitocris was sung by Silvana Guatelli rather smoothly but with little character. Good work from countertenors Travaglino and Adriano D'Alchimio and bass Francisco Bastitta. Recitatives were replaced by a sober narration by Jorge Dulitzky.

La Bella Música wanted to do its own homage to Mozart and did so at the Coliseo with yet another interpretation of the Requiem (certainly the most over-programmed score of the season), though preceded by the very pleasant and rarely heard "Regina Coeli" K. 127. Conductor Antonio M. Russo was a guarantee of style and technical control. Although the Coro Lagun Onak is undergoing internal changes and there were reinforcements, it did good work under Miguel Angel Pesce. The ad-hoc Orchestra was competent. Silvina Sadoly sang nicely in the "Regina Coeli". The vocal quartet in the Requiem was made up of prominent local singers, though the ladies weren't quite in their best form: Soledad de la Rosa (soprano), Mariana Carnovali (contralto), Carlos Ullán (tenor) and Lucas Debevec Mayer (bass).

More innovative (and to my mind the only interesting thing done by the National Symphony in the whole deplorable year, underfinanced and undermanaged as they were) was Mozart's "La Betulia Liberata", on the Judith and Holophernes story, K.118 (but really K.74c), written at 15 on Italian stylistic models but an astonishingly strong and personal work, one of the best of the early adolescence of that incredible genius, and as far as I know done for only the second time here. Russo was again a tower of strength, and he decided to avoid an interval, complicated at the chosen venue, the Cathedral. The National Symhony played well and the Coro Nacional de Jóvenes under Néstor Zadoff proved again that it's one of the best. Some cuts in "secco" recitatives were good policy. The singers that Russo prefers were again on his team: de la Rosa, Ullán, Debevec Mayer, González Dorrego; Alejandra Malvino was competent as Judith, and a young countertenor, Pehuén Díaz Bruno, still has some maturing to do.

A severe and beautiful concert was offered by organist Mario Videla and the Estudio Coral de Buenos Aires (Carlos López Puccio) at the Convento de Santo Domingo. We heard the complete Mozart organ music (the futurist Fantasy K.608, the melancholy Andante K.616, and the Adagio and Allegro in F minor K.594). Interspersed we heard three pleasant motets by Salieri. A Bach Chorale, the Mozart "Ave verum" , and more Bach for the finish: Prelude and fugue K.543 for organ and the stupendous motet "Singet dem Herrn", in a swift version , and the only one offered in front of the public (the rest were played or sung at the organ loft). The organ playing was stylistic though not quite note-perfect, and the Estudio Coral was its usual admirable self (they offered recently , after the concert I comment, a concert of 20th century music in celebration of their 25th anniversary).

Para el Buenos Aires Herald - December 15, 2006

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