sábado, diciembre 15, 2007

Last stitches on the operatic and symphonic fabric

Two last operatic stitches. One, Donizetti's "L'elisir d'amore" as offered by Buenos Aires Lírica. Quite unnecessary, for the piece has been staged often in recent years, but pleasant in its own terms. Producer Claudio Gallardou, as is his particular mania, once again put "commedia dell'arte" characters where they don't fit, but otherwise the acting was mostly adequately imagined The best artist was Fernando Santiago as Dulcamara, sung with ample means and acted with genuine comic vein. Two Chileans made their debuts and were good enough but hardly worth importation: soprano Patricia Cifuentes and tenor Luis Olivares. Suffering from the producer's exaggeration, Leonardo Estévez wasn't in his best voice as Belcore. Stylish conducting from Dante Ranieri and agreeable stage (Gastón Joubert) and costume designs (María Clara Beitía).

I found merit in the concert performance of Verdi's "Nabucco" at the Auditorio de Belgrano. This opera was the composer's first success and is impressive in its dramatic discourse, as well as containing that evergreen chorus, "Va pensiero". It hasn't been done for quite a while. Mario Perusso conducted with firm hand and authentic phrasing responsive players, members of the Colón Orchestra, and the Regina Coeli Choir was nicely handled by Santiago Pusso. Four of the cast members were strong : Haydée Dabusti managed to solve most of the difficulties of Abigaille, a killer part; Enrique Gibert Mella was intense and accurate as King Nebuchadnezar; and both tenor Carlos Vittori and mezzo María Luján Mirabelli were in fine fettle. Octogenarian Nino Meneghetti came out of retirement to sing an insufficient Zaccaria.

Now to symphonic concerts. Nuova Harmonia at the Coliseo gave us two valuable sessions. In one we met the Deutsche Kammerakademie Neuss am Rhein under Lavard Skou Larsen doing historicist and heavily accented Haydn (Symphony No. 52 in C minor), a very interesting Johann Christian Bach Symphony (op.6 No.6, in a minor tonality, G, which is unusual in this sunny author), a beautiful performance of Mozart's Concertante Symphony K. 364 with Lena Neudauer (violin) and Skou Larsen (viola), and in a wrong change of programme, the weak humor of Schnittke's "Mozart a la Haydn" instead of Stravinsky's fine Neoclassical Concerto for strings. But the group is remarkably proficient.

A luminous occasion joined the augmented Camerata Bariloche under Peter Bellino and pianist Nelson Goerner. The programme started with the charming "Soirées Musicales" by Britten, an arrangement of piano pieces by Rossini, in a perfect performance. Then, Goerner tackled Beethoven's Concerto No. 3 and again showed he is the most magisterial of our pianists; sovereign command and beautiful style in a truly memorable reading, very well accompanied. A wonderful performance of Mendelssohn's "Scottish Symphony" (No.3) showed Bellino's mettle and the high concentration and enjoyment of the players.

The final weeks of the Buenos Aires Philharmonic were troubled: the last three concerts were cancelled, according to reliable sources because money had run out to pay fees of conductors and soloists. Prior to this, I heard some general rehearsals of other concerts. The best was conducted by Arturo Diemecke and had a fine programme: the inimitably sarcastic suite "Lieutenant Kije" by Prokofiev, the Korngold Violin Concerto with the fine debut of the conductor's brother, Paul Diemecke; and Mahler's Fourth Symphony, with a Mónica Philibert in good voice. The concert conducted by Mario Perusso offered a good version of Sibelius' First Symphony (unfortunately not the announced Sixth). A splendid young violinist made her debut: Jennifer Koh in Tchaikovsky's Concerto. In another session Luis Gorelik offered a solid version of Sibelius' Second Symphony. Finally, Nir Kabaretti discarded R. Strauss' "Macbeth" and Tchaikovsky's "Hamlet", replacing them with the overplayed Brahms First. I didn't stay for that but I heard a nice First Part: the lovely Overture from Nicolai's "The Merry Wives of Windsor" and five fragments from Mendelssohn's "A Midsummer Night's Dream" (the original idea was to have an all-Shakespeare programme). Now the season has ended and many of the intelligently chosen woks chosen by Julio Palacio have been heard, but others fell by the wayside. The new Director of the Colón, Horacio Sanguinetti, has chosen clarinettist Eduardo Ihidoype as Director of the Philharmonic.

The National Symphony has had to work from week to week since the labor conflict ended, and very few works were interesting, for they were further limited by a ridiculous incompatibility rule that left us without many scores that require tuba or contrabassoon. Also, the venues were acoustically bad. Nevertheless, I went to hear them three times. , also in general rehearsals. And I got some pleasure. The debut of Román Revueltas Retes showed a thorough professional. Unfortunately he was deprived of conducting his relative's (Silvestre Revueltas) "Sensemayá". He was orthodox and clean in Beethoven's "Leonore No. 3 " and Schubert's Ninth Symphony. And one of our best pianists, Antonio Formaro, did a notable interpretation of Liszt's Concerto No. 1, with all the necessary virtuoso skills but privileging its musical substance. Talented American conductor David Handel (Principal Conductor of Cuyo University Orchestra) did an excellent interpretation of Bernstein's admirable "Chichester Psalms" with fine work from the Coro Polifónico Nacional (Darío Marchese) and good vocal soloists. And Roberto Rutkauskas did a rarity: the original and considerably different score of Beethoven's Violin Concerto, quite well played. Finally, Alejo Pérez gave us Elgar's Cello Concerto, with good work by Myriam Santucci, and Dvorák's Symphony No. 9, "New World", in a well-considered interpretation.

Para el Buenos Aires Herald

viernes, diciembre 14, 2007

A miscellany of musical events

This is summing-up time. I will start with some of the sessions of the habitual Cycle of Contemporary Music organized by the Theatre San Martín by Martín Bauer.
One thing stood out: the collaboration of the Colón Chamber Opera with the Festival brought to the audiences the premiere of Bruno Maderna's "Satyricon" (1972), on the Petronius bawdy classic. Maderna (1920-73) was an important member of the Italian avantgarde along with Berio and Nono, and BA appreciated him as a valuable conductor of twentieth-century music. In the chamber "opera buffa" we heard, pastiche prevails and aleatory practices allow the conductor some adjustments. Quotes from famous operas, songs "a la Weill", a sarcastic musical language, all tend to soften the rigors of the '70s avantgarde. Synthetic and to the point, the scenes are a portrait of a decadent and hedonistic society.

Producer Marcelo Lombardero gave us a sophisticated updating of the original Roman scenes, with the collaboration of Pablo Maritano (stage design and video) and Stella Maris Mueller (costumes), and the musical side was quite well handled by conductor Alejo Pérez. Although announced, Laura Rizzo didn't sing (some colleagues thought she did...), her part substituted by instruments (allowed by the composer). The 17 players were very good, and Pablo Pollitzer, Hernán Iturralde and Santiago Burgi etched well their characters, the ladies less so (Virginia Correa Dupuy, Graciela Oddone).

Satyricon. (Foto: Victoria Conci)

The concert by KNM (Kammerensemble Neuer Musik) was disheartening. The ten players plus a sound designer are certainly proficient, but the programme of very recent pieces by European composers was exceeedingly barren (Helmut Lachenmann, Aldo Clementi, Bernhard Lang, Stefan Bartling, Georges Aperghis, Marc André, Marc and Peter Sabat).

The idea behind "Correspondences" was good and it worked: three Argentine composers took as a model a masterpiece from a dead European composer and tried to create in a similar spirit. Anton Webern's "Concert", op.24, found its foil in Julio Viera's Quintet XXX; Edgar Varese's "Octandre", in Graciela Paraskevaídis "Paths" ("Sendas"); and Gyorgy Ligeti's Chamber Concerto in Marcos Franciosi's "...que colma tu aire y vuela". Excellent players from the Compañía Oblicua under Marcelo Delgado and the stimulating music made this a worthwhile occasion.

Finally, the playing of cellist Rohan de Saram and pianist Aki Takahashi were of such high quality that they gave added value to music that is mostly overrated, with the exception of the interesting Luciano Berio "Sequenza" for cello. Morton Feldman's morosity exasperates me and sends others into Nirvana; Marc Sabat, the violinist of the groip, composed a piece in Feldman's style that I disliked even more; and Iannis Xenakis' abrupt and harsh pieces certainly have more variety but are often ugly rather than intense.

The Midday Concerts at the Gran Rex offered some agreeable chamber fare. The French team of Thomas Dolié (baritone) and Henri Bonamy (piano) gave us some Duparc, Ravel's "Histoires naturelles" and Schumann's "Liederkreis" op.24. Although the singer had some trouble in certain notes, the voice is pleasant and he sings tastefully; the pianist was quite professional. The Trío Ayo showed the artistic longevity of violinist Félix Ayo, still a good player at about 75, well abetted by Ricardo Sciammarella (cello) and Eva Pereda (piano). It was quite enjoyable to hear them in Mozart (Divertimento K. 254) and Mendelssohn (Trio No. 1). The Tartini Quartet comes from Slovenia and played with careful consideration the Smetana Quartet "From my life", a bit short on intensity; and gave us a Neoclassic encore: Glazunov's "Interludio in modo antico".

Two "Soirées Musicales" at the Sofitel had some good points. Trios by Haydn ("Gypsy"), Beethoven ("Ghost") and Mendelssohn (No. 1) were played by an ad-hoc ensemble: the Catalan violinist Edgar Pujol, accurate but not very ingratiating in tone; and two satisfying Argentine players: cellist Marcelo Bru and pianist Orlando Millaá. The song recital I now comment had considerable ups and downs. The ups were in the beautiful voice of bass-baritone Lucas Debevec Mayer singing in the First Part an eclectic group of songs ranging from Schubert to Guastavino, and some operatic arias and duos, as well as Haydn's oratorio "The Creation", in the Second Part. On the other hand, soprano Silvina Martino and pianist Diego Licciardi couldn't cope with their assignments.

Two valuable debuts of foreign players: a young and talented violinist, Malwina Sosnowski, who plays a Guarnerius, tackled with admirable technique and fortitude a solo violin programme: Bach, Alphonse Roy, Kreisler, Grazyna Bacewicz and the impressive Ysaye Sonata No. 2, with as encore Salonen's "Laughing unlearnt". The venue was the Museum Fernández Blanco. A sturdy Ukrainian pianist, Eugeni Skovorodnikov, played with thunderous firmness a difficult Russian programme (apart from some Chopin Mazurkas): four works by Tchaikovsky, Miaskovsky's Sonata No. 2, six Shostakovich Preludes and two "Moments musicaux" by Rachmaninov. Interesting and illuminating, this was in the Chopiniana series at the Panamericano Hotel.

Finally, two AMIJAI concerts. Xavier Inchausti, an Argentine violinist, still a teenager, took on the mighty challenge of Paganini's 24 Caprices for solo violin and came out unscathed of the ordeal; a great talent. And Inca Rose Duo, made up of Annelise Skovmand (singing) and Pablo González Jazey (guitar) did a very special recital of refined vocal music by Guastavino (the cycle "Flores Argentinas", texts by León Benarós) and Ginastera, including the "Cantos del Tucumán" with guest players. Charming material done with high professionalism and taste. The guitar arrangements are by González Jazey.

Pablo González Jazey (Foto: Geraldine Bardin)

Para el Buenos Aires Herald

jueves, diciembre 13, 2007

Death and birth seen by Verdi and Berlioz

There has been quite a number of choral-symphonic concerts this year, but in the final weeks two stand out: Verdi's Requiem conducted by Stefan Lano , ending the Colón lyric season at the Coliseo; and sharing the same theatre, "L'enfance du Christ" ("The birth of Christ") by Berlioz, conducted by Carlos Vieu and produced by Patricia Pouchulu for her institution La Bella Música.

Apart from the musical results, there were many symbolic aspects in these particular performances of the Requiem. It ended a difficult season where the Colón has had to rely on alternative venues due to the building's closure under the Master Plan of renovation. But these sessions were among the last shots of the Marcelo Lombardero period as Artistic Director, and Stefan Lano said goodbye to his years as Musical Director of the Colón. In almost every performance a member of the Orquesta Estable read a communiqué where the orchestra asked for Horacio Sanguinetti (who has since taken over as Director of the Colón) to reconsider his decision to annull the Lombardero-planned season for 2008, to prolong Lano's involvement with the Estable and to provide for fair pension arrangements for the players. Apart from minuscule groups, the audience was overwhelmingly in favor of the communiqué, but no avail: the cancellation stands and Lano goes.

There were other problems; in a season plagued with replacements, there were several in the Requiem. Bass Greer Grimsley, who was supposed to make his debut and was announced months ago for next year's "Parsifal" (scrapped since then), pleaded illness and was replaced by Hernán Iturralde. With the tenor there was a true comedy of errors: Jean-Luc Viala was theoretically substituted by Dante Alcalá, but he too fell ill (or so we were told), and the first performances were taken by Argentine Enrique Folger, whom I didn't hear (but reports weren't good); for the one I heard, the debut of the Cuban Raúl Melo was secured.

Lano was determined to go with flying colors, and I have seldom seen him so involved. One could cavil at the excessive fortissimi of the Dies Irae and on the other hand the singing wasn't quite as soft as required in certain passages, but by and large this was music-making of intensity and reasonable adjustment. Lano's tempi, as is his wont, tended to slowness, but it never became bothersome. The Colón Choir under Salvatore Caputo certainly provided thrilling moments, although some singers are over the hill; and the Orchestra was generally accurate, except celli, basses and some trumpets.

The solo singers are fundamental in this work. Uruguayan soprano María José Siri had an excess of vibrato and one of her high notes broke, but she is a sincere artist with the right type of expression. I enjoyed the debut of German mezzosoprano Annette Seiltgen; her register is true throughout, the musicality is never in doubt; her timbre isn't quite as creamy as could be wished in some passages (she too was supposed to sing in "Parsifal" next year). The revelation of the night was Melo; a beautiful, firm voice handled with much skill, he has recently sung at the Met and he should have a bright career. Iturralde has recorded the work but I feel his voice isn't of the right type; not a true "basso cantante" but a character baritone, this time he phrased rather blandly, without the powerful firmness he has often given us.

"L'enfance du Christ" is late Berlioz, from 1854 . It was offered here late in the day; the premiere was conducted by Serge Baudo in 1980 for the Wagneriana, and the score was revived in 1999 under the octogenarian Jean Fournet. It was a good idea of La Bella Música to offer it, and in December, so close to Christmas. I was sorry that a silly polemic over whether or not it was a premiere (due to very ambiguous announcements from the institution) took some luster from the real merit of this endeavor.On the other hand, although the piece is certainly worth knowing, it isn't quite a masterpiece of the order of "La Damnation de Faust" or "Roméo et Juliette". The text, by Berlioz himself, is very weak, often mawkish. And the music, often very beautiful, does have ininteresting passages. Berlioz, who was so good in fantastic stuff, here lacks contrast and sometimes imagination. I write as a true Berliozian, for I asked Baudo to premiere "Roméo..." in 1973.

Although I was surprised that La Bella Música's admirable habitual conductor, Antonio Russo, wasn't summoned, I of course have great respect for Maestro Vieu, probably the best of his generation. The ad-hoc orchestra was integrated by excellent musicians mostly from the B.A. Phil and the National Symphony, and the generally professional response to Vieu's sensitive phrasing allowed the music to make its effect. The instrumental chamber interlude was accurate and charming: Claudio Barile and Stella Maris Marrello were the flutists and Lucrecia Jancsa the harpist. The Choir Lagun Onak under Miguel Angel Pesce wasn't in top form; the voices seemed muffled , lacking true dynamic range, although some parts were admirable, particularly in the last a capella chorus.

The soloists were a fine lot. I especially liked Lucas Debevec Mayer and Daniela Tabernig (Joseph and Mary), but there was very good work from Carlos Ullán and Oreste Chlopecki; only Emilio Estévez (Herod) seemed tired, though acceptable.

Para el Buenos Aires Herald

martes, diciembre 11, 2007

La Plata and Avellaneda: valuable alternatives (II)

In this second part I will refer to the Roma Theatre in Avellaneda. Its small size and the very restricted budgets assigned to each operatic project mean that you go to the Roma knowing that some limitations are simply too great to be fully overcomed and that the audience must keep them in mind.

Only last year Ponchielli's "La Gioconda" was revived by Adelaida Negri's Casa de la Opera after a 40-year hiatus since the Colón 1966 performances. I was surprised that the Roma chose it so soon after, for it was even harder to do it well there, but I came out pleasantly surprised by the generally high level of the cast and by the mostly acceptable solutions found for the stage business.

Giorgio Paganini (habitual conductor for Negri) and Boris (Laurés), the producer, managed to assemble a really valuable cast that gave much vocal pleasure and showed yet again that if the artists are carefully chosen some tough titles can be done more than honorably. Probably Haydée Dabusti has done nothing better than this Gioconda, a role that calls for stamina, a deep sense of drama and conviction and powerful vocal means. Showing an impressive firmness in all registers and great involvement, she was always good , particularly in her big aria, "Suicidio!".

Antonio Grieco probably has our best local voice of "spinto" tenor, a category intermediate between "lyric" and "dramatic", the timbre for Manrico and for Ponchielli's Enzo. He lacks some professionalism and presence, but he does thrilling things. And thrilling María Luján Mirabelli certainly is when she finds a congenial role and is in vein; both factors concurred this time, and her Laura was one to remember. The qualities of Omar Carrión are rather those of honest professionalism and style rather than volume and charisma, so his Barnaba ( a villain if there ever was), lacked some impact. Lucila Ramos Mané was in good voice in the contralto part of La Cieca, and Walter Schwarz sang correctly as Alvise; he is still rather poor in dramatic projection. Paganini did a decent job with the Avellaneda Orchestra, certainly not first-rate.

The Venetian ambience was appropriately suggested by the stage designs of Atilio de Laforé and Hugo Ciciro, and there was the important help of having access to the splendid costume collection of the Teatro Argentino (La Plata). As you probably know, there's a famous ballet sequence, curiously just before the gory scene where Alvise show the presumably dead Laura to his horrified guests: the "Dance of the Hours". It was performed by five dancers following an acceptable choreography by Daniel Galve; of course it needs more space and show. Stage movements were generally well marked by Boris, even in the crowd scenes, except in the very poor resolution of the ship's fire, and commendably he respected time and place.

It was also Boris who produced Donizetti's "Lucia di Lammermoor", conducted by Roberto Luvini. Three facts distinguished this event: a) The opera was offered absolutely complete, which meant that we heard such things as the Wolf's Crag scene between tenor and baritone (powerfully dramatic) and Raimondo's aria, among other things, and we heard florid writing generally substituted by later traditions. b) Boris introduced characters and actions from the Walter Scott original, "The Bride of Lammermoor" (or "Lammermuir"), which I find doubtful: it is an opera, not a novel, and the libretto rules. Here Enrico commits suicide, Edgardo gets a blind lady companion, Normanno is killed by the courtesans, etc. c) Raimondo is generally a minor role, but here, with the addition of his aria and the revelation of a major young bass, Fernando Radó, he got a bigger hand than the protagonists.

Soledad de la Rosa isn't helped by her rotund physique, but she certainly sings beautifully, with a crystalline voice. But there's the rub. She's a Lucia of the old Tetrazzini/Pons tradition, and now we are accustomed to Lucias of the Callas/Sutherland manner, where you ask more than command of florid singing; we want to hear the tears in the voice, and that never happens with De la Rosa. And she doesn't compensate with meaningful acting.

The tenor, Gerardo Marandino, had the opposite problem: his singing is intense and expressive, and he got some excellent moments, but there were fissures in his emission now and then within a generally high level. The young baritone Esteban Hildebrand is making giant strides: this Enrico was well sung and acted with intensity, and the voice is pretty good.

But Radó simply stunned; a country that has produced few basses of quality, we now have a wonderful "basso cantante" of noble timbre and line; winner of the "Neue Stimmen" contest, he is now going to Germany and should have a great career; time will deepen his lowest register. Add to it that he is very personable and you have the makings of an important international career; I hope we don't lose him altogether.

Of the others I liked Iván Maier (Arturo) but disliked Pablo Selci (Normanno) and Sandra Pianigianni (Alisa). The Chorus under Ricardo Barrera was weak and disconcerted. Luvini conducted well. And Boris was uneven, with things that were well solved and others that were simply absurd (the swashbuckling, or the perilous entrance of Edgardo from a loge just before the famous sextet). But balancing all, a "Lucia" worth anyone's time.

Para el Buenos Aires Herald

La Plata and Avellaneda: Valuable alternatives (I)

Due to reasonable distances, the operas, ballets and concerts offered by the Teatro Argentino (La Plata) and the operas at the Roma (Avellaneda) are really part of the available experiences for residents of Buenos Aires City. And the excursions are often well worth it.

The theatres can't be more dissimilar: the Argentino is huge and modern, with an important budget and several hundred employees; the Roma is a pocket old Italian house of decadent charm and ad-hoc small budgets for different projects. The Argentino's dependence is from Buenos Aires Province; the Roma's , from the local Avellaneda government.

The imposing Argentino tends to determine a destiny of organized, steady work, although it can be altered by bad administration (it was, two years ago). The Roma had its own crisis about four years ago, and it has had since more modest aims, but has managed to stay in business. Due to lack of space, I divide this report in two parts; I will start with the Argentino.

The current Artistic Director of the Argentino is the veteran maestro Reinaldo Censabella, a dyed-in-the-wool conservative who programmes only standards. Don't expect from him intellectual stimulation such as Suárez Marzal provided some years ago, but he knows how to cast . Things go smoothly under his hand.

Rossini's "The Barber of Seville" showed (as had happened earlier in the season with Donizetti's "Don Pasquale") that Censabella allows some degree of innovation in the stage productions. The producer, up to now tenor, was Rubén Martínez (Paula Almerares' husband); he opted for respecting the place, Seville, but not the time, and he moved the Beaumarchais/ Sterbini comedy to the 1910s, putting a period car on stage. The transposition from the eighteenth to the twentieth century meant that the libretto collided frequently with the action; he tried to enrich the specified stage action with visual gags, sometimes funny but also obtrusive. I liked the incredibly immobile statue (Marcel Canelo) that steps down from her pedestal at the end of the scene. He was helped by the beautiful Seville imagined by stage designer Daniel Feijóo, but much less by the sometimes kitschy and tasteless costumes by Cristina Pineda . I found exaggerated in number of interventions and acting the always yawning valet Ambrosio (Néstor Villoldo).

The musical side was alright, but nothing impressed. Esteban Gantzer (conductor) and Sergio Giai (choir director) did decent and accurate jobs. There were two casts, I heard the first. All were good in varying degrees. I least enjoyed soprano Elina Bayón, for I prefer the role sung in the mezzo (original) version, and this artist replaced the necessary charm with a vulgar ostentatious arrogance; the singing was correct, no more. Of the men Ariel Cazes was a traditional Basilio done with sonorous aplomb and well acted. Omar Carrión was a practiced and professional Figaro with a rather small voice; Carlos Ullán sang as Almaviva his difficult music with some style and firmness though as an actor of good presence he seemed unconfortable with the monkeyings marked by the producer. Another seasoned performer, Gustavo Gibert, sang a clean and rather understated Bartolo, lacking in the rotundity of utterance and girth associated with the tutor. A well-sung Bertha from Vanesa Mautner, somehow converted into a mulatto girl; a firm and clean Official from Víctor Castells, and a rather vibrato-ridden Fiorello from Fernando Alvar Núnez.

The Ballet presented two big works, Tchaikovsky's "Sleeping Beauty" (Petipa revised by Pablo Aharonian) and Prokofiev's "Romeo and Juliet" (Paul Vasterling). Under Cristina Delmagro the current ballet forces are very profficient; they of course have the benefits of a huge stage. The fine Aharonian revision of Tchaikovsky's best dance score was well served, and there was the revelation of a splendid Prince Désiré, the Russian Mikhail Kaniskin, all suppleness and elegance (debut). Genoveva Surur was the very agreeable Princess. Rather dull conducting from Guillermo Scarabino.

The Vasterling choreography for the Prokofiev masterpiece seemed to me too unvaried, with lots of push and shove to underline violence and little lyricism in the love scenes. Again nice work from the home star, Surur, and a very promising Romeo, Bautista Parada. Homogeneous cast all round. Professional but underpowered conducting from Bruno D'Astoli.

The Argentino boasts, apart from its main Ginastera hall (2.200 capacity), the smaller and cozy Piazzolla hall (about 600). The innovation lacking in the principal venue sometimes appears in the secondary one, and a good example was the rare occasion of appreciating a lovely Menotti work, "The Unicorn, the Gorgon and the Manticore". Highly original, it is a medieval fable told in dance and through several madrigals, with distinguished music. I'd have preferred an appropriately medieval staging, but choreographer Alejandro Cervera opted for strong modern dance, and Leonardo Haedo impressed as the Man in the Castle. Fine playing and singing under Néstor Andrenacci.

Finally, I want to put in a good word for the programming and seriousness of Dante Anzolini in the series of symphonic concerts with the Argentino Orchestra. The concert I saw was outstanding in its adventurousness and quite good in its results. I had the rare chance to hear not the suites, but the complete scores, of two great creations: Ravel's "Ma Mere l'Oye" and Stravinsky's "Firebird" . And there was a rather interesting premiere: "Three songs for soprano and orchestra" by the much-promoted Osvaldo Golijov, well-sung by Mónica Philibert.

Para el Buenos Aires Herald

martes, diciembre 04, 2007

An "Aida" on fire and three Puccinis

Verdi and Puccini are undoubtedly the bestsellers of the Italian operatic repertoire and have been so for many decades. In recent weeks Verdi's "Aida" has been seen in the open air and Puccini ended the seasons of Buenos Aires Lírica and Juventus Lyrica at the Avenida. This has been a year with very little intellectual stimulation in the choice of operas from practically all institutions: mostly we were given the same meals.

Verdi's "Aida" is a favorite of open-air opera companies and it has been a staple at the Verona Arena and the Roman Caracalla Baths. In the case of "Aida", the opera lover certainly remembers the debacle of ten years ago at the Polo Field, where everything failed, from ticket placement to essential technical aspects.

The presentation I'm commenting upon passed muster, but there's some significance in the fact that there was only one performance (15 in Brazil!). The organizers knew about the Polo affair and evaluated that the audiences would have a healthy distrust this time. The chosen place was the San Isidro Hippodrome, certainly enormous, and it was limited to one sector of it. It was by no means full but there were several thousand people. In one sense the occasion was ominous: it took me 50 minutes circulating in the Av. Márquez at a crawling pace to reach the parking place, and the opera started quite late.

The project is international and this "Monumental 'Aida' on fire" (thus billed) has been presented dozens of time in Europe and America. Credits: General Producer, Franz Abraham; staging director: Joseph Rochlitz; stage and costume designs and projections: Pier'Alli; choreography, Simone Chiesa; lights, Andreas Kisters; the wrongly called Lemberg Philharmonic (it should be Lvov, Ukraine), the Lumka Academic Choir (Ukraine) and the Ballet Group from the Usti nad Labem Theatre (Czech Republic). The hand programme was distributed at the end (quite a snafu!); it has good photographs but the written material is simple shameful and the cast was wrong (no announcement).

Singers: the two women were interesting and made their debuts. The Mexican soprano Eugenia Garza has the right type of voice for Aida and manages it with considerable skill, and Assia Davidov made an imperious and tragic Amneris with very adequate vocal means . All male singers were new here. Ernesto Grisales started poorly as Radames but gradually found his feet and ended up a decent exponent of the role. The lower voices were Ukrainian and I only liked the Ramfis, Oleg Korotkov. As the King, Ilia Popov was undervoiced, and as Amonasro, baritone Nikolai Nekrasov was rough to a fault. A correct Messenger (Nikolai Visnakov) and a poor Priestess (Ramona Eremia).

Haupt, the conductor, proved an efficient maestro who knew the score inside out, and he obtained orthodox and satisfying results from the Orchestra; the Chorus was more uneven. And the production? Well, the bursts of fire were arbitrary, unnecessary and noisy, a major mistake; but the projections were quite interesting, at times surreal and intense. A very symmetrical stage design and mediocre actoral work, Egyptian symbols from the Pyramids to Akhnaton and Ramses II in merry mixture, costumes of some quality but not always apposite (Amonasro's). The amplified sound was passable as such things go and was inevitably affected by the rather strong winds. There were clear titles with the libretto. Final impression: much too expensive for what it offers ($ 600 the best seats) but with some good points.

Puccini's "Trittico" assembles three wildly disparate one-act operas: "Il Tabarro", maybe his most "verista" style; "Suor Angelica", a lachrymose tale with just one good scene (the confrontation with the Princess), and that masterpiece of "buffo" writing, "Gianni Schicchi". All much done here. Buenos Aires Lírica decided to give us a diptych, eliminating "Suor Angelica"; I didn't mind. "Il Tabarro" had a very convincing stage design by Daniela Taiana, cunning lights by Horacio Efron and adequate costumes for the simple people of the plot; producer Rita Cosentino got right most of the action but botched the stunning ending Puccini wanted, when Michele opens his "tabarro" (ample coat ) and Giorgetta's lover Luigi sinks dead to the ground.

Most singers were correct, no more: Ricardo Ortale, José Azócar, Mariela Schemper, Elisabeth Canis and Walter Schwarz; Carlos D'Onofrio is a young tenor to watch. Carlos Vieu conducted with his accustomed intelligence and taste the Panizza orchestration (quite good, adapted to smaller pits).

"Gianni Schicchi" was mixed. The production team was identical. I disliked the staging for this is a medieval story and it was transported to a kitschy 1920s, making nonsense of a lot of the libretto, and the comedy was too gross. The costumes were tasteless. But there was a great singing actor in the title role, Luis Gaeta, and the revelation of an expansive and radiant tenor, Arnaldo Quiroga. Ana Laura Menéndez was agreeable as Lauretta though she lacked creaminess. Of the others the best were Marta Cullerés, Schwarz and D'Onofrio. Fine conducting from Vieu in the Panizza orchestration.

The completely unnecessary "Madama Butterfly" of Juventus boasted fine conducting from Antonio Russo but it had a poor Pinkerton (Norberto Fernández) and an unconvincing production (Horacio Pigozzi, Juan José Cambre, Mini Zuccheri). Mónica Ferracani was meritorious as Cio-Cio-San , Fernando Grassi opaque as Sharpless, Guadalupe Barrientos good (Suzuki), Hernán Sánchez Arteaga excellent (Goro) and Fernando Radó a sonorous Bonze.

Para el Buenos Aires Herald

jueves, noviembre 29, 2007

The Colón in deep trouble

Since 1998 the Teatro Colón has gone through difficult times, marked by grave conflicts that have sometimes interrupted the season, such as the feud over the non-payment of rentals of musical scores, or the labor strikes late in 2005, or the scandals that ruined the Argerich Festival, and of course the tremendous impact of devaluation and of a perverse contracting system that doesn't allow hiring an artist with the at least three-year advance required by international conditions. Add to that the delay in the Master Plan of renovation that has kept the Colón closed since last November; now the confession is out: the Colón centenary in May 2008 will find the theatre still under intensive restoration, against all promises of the authorities; a very tentative date of reopening is October 2008. So, as Marcelo Lombardero had to do this year, the season should be offered in alternative venues. But the General Director designate, Dr. Horacio Sanguinetti, has already announced that there will be no season.

His rationale is simple: recently the Telerman Administration sent about 400 telegrams intimating retirement to Colón employees 65-years-old and older. Promptly the affected personnel has already sent writs of administrative action against the Government for gross unfairness, for their pensions will be quite low according to the old system. After the mentioned strikes, pensions were "whitened" ; up to then, as much as 60% of the theatre's salaries wasn't considered for the pensions. As you know, the absurd system in our country provides that only the salary of the last ten years is taken into consideration for the calculus of the pension (which leads to very unjust situations where a manager who made high contributions during decades but is fired at 55 and afterwards finds no job will get the lowest pension).

And that's the gist of the problem: all Colón employees between 56 and 65 years old and beyond are penalized because some or all of their work years will be in "black" and won't fully count for the pension. The Theatre's population is obviously too old; those 400 that were urged to retire are 65 and over, and should be pensioned off. But... an essential agreement after the strikes had been that those employees 56 to 65 and over would be included in a special compensation system to keep their income reasonable after retirement. And...nothing was done! So those 400 , as they come from all the personnel, affect with their absence the operative logistics. You can't have an orchestra with 30 less people .

There are solutions but Sanguinetti doesn't seem to contemplate them. In truth, the right way would have been to put in place the compensation system and then call for the covering of the vacant posts through adequate competitive contests , and this should have been done during the Ibarra and Telerman governments. Why did Telerman take such an irritative course just months away from the end of his mandate? A very moot point indeed. Was there an agreement with Mauricio Macri? In that case, why ?

Sanguinetti has simply closed down the shop. However, during many years there has been a much used expedient to cover vacancies: a limited-time contract. You certainly can find thirty competent dancers or choir singers, etc. That the total integration of the new people takes some time is true, and there will be signs of inexperience, but the season will be saved.

As is known, this year the operas were offered at the Coliseo, whose owners opened up the big pit that was left of the old building (torn down and rebuilt with completely new architecture in the Fifties), allowing for operas like "Elektra" to be played. The fact is that Marcelo Lombardero, the current Artistic Director, managed to put on an acceptable season, even with the limitations of that theatre (the stage isn't deep or large enough for big productions) and its dry acoustics (nevertheless, clear and strong). The Coliseo isn't ideal but it's the only option for the Colón (no other theatre has a big enough pit). But Sanguinetti won't have it, he prefers to discard the Coliseo and cancel the season. This is really lamentable, for the 2008 season was fully planned by Lombardero with dates reserved, opera titles decided upon and chosen casts with pre-contracts or letters of intention. Though these don't have the full force of a contract, they have to be honored if credibility is considered important. Those artists that now will have to find other places to perform will certainly have a jaundiced view of the Colón. Reputation matters.

Macri certainly hasn't been inspired in his cultural choices; having a good candidate, Ignacio Liprandi, for Minister of Culture (he had edited a campaign book, "Nuestra PROpuesta cultural", in which I collaborated with an article on the Colón), he dumped him for obscure reasons; tried to name Rodríguez Felder, whose published interviews provoked such rebuff that he too was eliminated; he finally chose Hernán Lombardi, whose special field is tourism, not culture. And Lombardi announced his cabinet, confirming Sanguinetti, but also naming a dreaded ex Director General of the Colón, Pablo Batalla, as "Secretario de Gestión Cultural". Sanguinetti has asked for the status of autarchy for the theatre, but until (and if) that happens he will remain under Lombardi and Batalla. No, things don't look good. Not good at all.

Para el Buenos Aires Herald

martes, noviembre 20, 2007

Foreign orchestras end Big Three's seasons

It has been a steady trend of recent decades for the Big Three to offer foreign orchestras as a substantial part of the seasons; this year they ended their activity with distinguished visitors from abroad. The Mozarteum Argentino with the Sao Paulo Symphony under John Neschling ; Nuova Harmonia with the debut of the Warsaw Philharmonic conducted by Antoni Wit; and Festivales Musicales with the Galicia Symphony (debut) led by Víctor Pablo Pérez in the two final concerts of that institution.

This was the third BA encounter with the "Paulistas". In their first they played a stunning interpretation of Mahler's "Tragic" Symphony that left no doubt on my mind: this was surely the leading Latin-American orchestra. The authority and stamina of Neschling, the discipline and quality of each sector of the orchestra, the intense drive, all were first-rate . I was a bit less impressed the second time around, and I'm afraid that was my feeling this time as well. Mind you, I still believe it is a fine orchestra, a pleasure to hear and an example of how to achieve results, but some of the intensity in both organism and conductor is gone and there were very minor but discernible fissures in the playing .

I couldn't hear their first programme, including Gomes' Overture to "Il Guarany", the Sibelius Concerto for violin and the Shostakovich Fifth. The second started with a rarity, probably a premiere, the so-called cinema fantasy by Milhaud on his ballet "Le boeuf sur le toit", an irreverent and funny concoction based on the composer's nostalgia for Brazil. I prefer the original to this arrangement for violin and orchestra (with an interesting cadenza by Arthur Honegger) but it was beautifully played by American violinist James Ehnes (debut), who also did very well in the devilishly intricate "Tzigane" by Ravel. Neschling and the players accompanied with fine transparency and rhyhm in both cases. The violinist was a fine Bachian in his encores, "Prelude" and "Gigue" from "Partita No.3".

I did have some doubts, however, about their version of Tchaikovsky's difficult, uneven but often fascinating programmatic symphony "Manfred" (on Byron's Romantic antihero). Marginally unstuck unisons, some lack of electricity, but also beautifully clear intricate textures, euphony and tasteful phrasing (too tasteful?).

Two finely chosen and beautifully played encores: the "Brazilian Dance" by Camargo Guarnieri , and what probably was a premiere, the "Entr'acte" from Korngold's "The Snowman", written at eleven! (a lovely, schamaltzy waltz in Zemlinsky's orchestration).

I certainly welcome the debut of the Warsaw Philharmonic under its distinguished principal conductor, Antoni Wit. The organism has a long and distinguished history; starting in 1901.

A mishap put in jeopardy their local debut and delayed the beginning of the concert a whole hour: for some not clearly explained reason the instruments weren't sent simultaneously with the players and they –as us- had to wait until their artistic tools got to the Coliseo. The instrumentalists had their work clothes but curiously Wit didn't get them (his baton was also left behind and he conducted with his hands and without a coat). Worse, they couldn't rehearse and so had to adapt cold to the hall's acoustics. I believe thay are very good players and Wit a most able conductor, but probably they couldn't quite give their best in such conditions.

Paradoxically what I liked best as interpretation and execution was a short Polish work, Lutoslawski's "Petite Suite": charm, wittiness and rhythm. Players and conductor showed a total assimilation of the idiom.Then, a worthwhile discovery: the 24-year-old Chinese pianist Mei-Ting Sun played that hoary chestnut, Tchaikovsky's First Concerto, with such impulse and breathtaking brio –but also such lyricism in the slow melodies- that he made it appear new. There were many stunning passages, and the orchestra accompanied well.

Brahms' magnificent First Symphony is nevertheless an overplayed standard; the orthodox and unimpeachable version was certainly good enough but didn't go beyond that. I disagree with the encore for I don't accept mutilation: we heard parts 3 and 4 of Rossini's Overture "William Tell", very well done however.

I attended the two concerts of the Galicia Symphony (created 1992) under their Principal Conductor since 1993, Víctor Pablo Pérez (debut), and was pretty well impressed, for this typically cosmopolitan orchestra (more Slavs than Galicians in it) responds to a professional and somewhat impersonal mold: well-paid first-rate professionals and generous budgets to function , coupled with an eclectic and capable conductor. Responding to the character of this year's Festival, the first concert was all-Brahms: the Violin Concert with the admirable violinist Julian Rachlin (known here), whose gorgeous lyrical playing just needed more bite in some passages to be memorable; and the Fourth Symphony, very judiciously expounded by Pérez. Among the orchestral encores I enjoyed the zarzuela fragments: the waltz from "La Tempranica" (Jiménez) and the Prelude from "El Bateo" (Chueca).

The final concert was all Falla except for the charming short Galician work at the beginning, Andrés Gaos' "Nocturnal impression". Beautiful and idiomatic playing of three great works: "Noches en los jardines de Espana" with the splendid Catalan pianist Josep Colom (debut) , the suite from "El amor brujo" and the Suite No. 2 from "El sombrero de tres picos". New encores: the Prelude to "Agua, azucarillos y aguardiente" by Chueca, the First Dance from Falla's "La vida breve" and a lovely anonymous Galician song, well arranged.

Para el Buenos Aires Herald


lunes, noviembre 05, 2007

The Phil's varied season proceeds apace

The Buenos Aires Philharmonic (the Phil) is having an interesting and varied season as programmed by Julio Palacio. Although there have been changes on the originally announced season, this is almost impossible to avoid in such an uncertain context as the Colón is going through, and all programmes have had at least one good reason to attend them, for scores of real quality and undeservedly neglected were always present. Of course, I won't harp on the lack of true auditoriums that afflicts our city but it's still true that the Gran Rex and the Coronado (of the Teatro General San Martín) are inadequate.. Any way, the medium-sized Coronado may be dry but I prefer it to the weak and colorless , enormous Gran Rex. The so-called Winter Season took place at the former hall, with non-subscription concerts.

Chilean conductor Rodolfo Fischer made a rather neutral impression in a potentially fascinating session combining musical works on Romeo and Juliet: the fantasy overture by Tchaikovsky, fragments of Suites 1 and 2 of the Prokofiev ballet and three pieces from the dramatic symphony by Berlioz. Difficult and wonderful scores, they were read with indifference though with some technical accomplishment. Fischer also conducted the following concert, where he obtained reasonable results in Grieg's two suites from "Peer Gynt" (a logical homage on the composer's centenary of his death) and Ravel's "Spanish Rhapsody". However, the most valuable choice of the evening, five parts of "Iberia" by Albéniz in the orchestrations by Fernández Arbós (some very rarely heard) , fared poorly, with many mistakes and confused textures (granted, the orchestrations are sometimes too thick).

By far the best thing in the session conducted by José Luis Castillo (debut, Spanish living in Mexico) was the vibrant "Janitzio" by Silvestre Revueltas, seven dynamic minutes played here for only the second time and after 64 years. I was disappointed that Piazzolla's "Concert de Liege" for bandoneon and guitar couldn't be played (the score didn't arrive in time) and it was replaced by the oft-repeated Concerto for bandoneon with the habitual and skillful collaboration of Néstor Marconi. Villa-Lobos' "Bachianas brasileiras No.2 is a splendid work but it was mediocrely played (especially bad intonation from the celli). Gershwin's "Cuban Overture" completed this concert of American music. Castillo seemed competent but not exciting.

Arturo Diemecke is a favorite of the Phil's players, and although this year he isn't their Principal Director he was hired for four concerts and an opera, for his talent is undoubted. I saw the general rehearsal of a very short but intellectually stimulating programme based on Faust. He started with Ginastera's "Obertura para el Fausto criollo" (a classic of Argentine music), followed with the rarely heard and valuable "Faust Overture" by Wagner, did a colorful version of Liszt's magnificent "Mephisto Waltz No.1" and finished with five pieces from that strange and imaginative socre by Berlioz, "La Damnation de Faust". In the rehearsal the Phil responded well to Diemecke's enthusiastic and accurate indications.

I wasn't so happy about Diemecke's following concert. The programme had been grossly modified; out went "Rítmica ostinata" by J.C.Paz and R.Strauss' "Four last songs" , in went some Mendelssohn ("Fingal's Cave" and "Nocturne" and "Wedding March" from "A Midsummer Night's Dream") and Elgar ("Pomp and Circumstance No.1"); and the evening's main piece, Bruckner's Symphony No. 1, was transferred to the First Part and very superficially done. It was a DAIA concert in homage to the victims of the terrorists 13 years ago.

Back at the Gran Rex for the second part of the subscription series. English conductor Jan Latham Koenig offered a short but difficult programme, with the premiere of the brief Weber Overture "Lord of the Spirits" (pleasant, no more) and of Hans Werner Henze's Symphony No. 1, who wrote ten; No.1 dates from 1947 but was revised in 1963 and 1991, for chamber orchestra and omitting one movement. It lasts only 17 minutes and is quite complex. Latham Koenig showed his mettle in this and in Franck's intense Symphony and the Phil had a good night. I unfortunately couldn't hear Latham Koenig's non-subscription concert premiering Julio Viera's "Three nocturnes", including Schubert's Symphony No. 8 ("Unfinished") and Weill's "The Seven Deadly Sins" with Ute Lemper, the greatly talented German artist.

Pedro Calderón, who was the Phil's Principal Conductor for almost 25 years, gave his Golden Jubilee concert (50 years since his first concert with the Phil). I saw the general rehearsal: a well-written premiere by Argentine composer Claudio Alsuyet ("...de luces"), two French works for violin and orchestra with Sami Merdinian, Argentine, substituting the French player Virginie Robilliard: Chausson's expressive Poem and Saint-Saens' "Introduction and Rondo capriccioso" (Merdinian was excellent), and Sibelius' expansive Fifth Symphony in a valuable performance.

I was badly placed in the Gran Rex's last row for the concert conducted by Jorge Rotter; the acoustics were especially irritating. But a long-awaited premiere took place: that of Nielsen's Symphony No.2, "The four temperaments". The Argentine conductor lives in Salzburg . Nielsen's very personal idiom comes in the Second Symphony to an important stage of maturity and the score impresses in many senses; it was reasonably well played. Gandini's tenuous "Eusebius", written for four chamber orchestras, was too subtle for this problematic hall. Horacio Lavandera played with his usual firm mechanism Rachmaninov's Third Concerto but his interpretation seemed to me rather wan and uninteresting.

Para el Buenos Aires Herald

domingo, octubre 28, 2007

Masterpieces of German opera: "Fidelio" and "Elektra"

Tough nuts to crack, two German operatic masterpieces were presented in recent weeks; a private company, Casa de la Opera, tackled at the Avenida the tall order of Beethoven's sole opera, "Fidelio"; and the Colón at the Coliseo offered Richard Strauss' "Elektra", his most uncompromising work.

The troubled road of "Fidelio" is well known; there was a first version called "Leonora" premiered in 1805 with little success, and then renamed and heavily revised with its definitive appellation, "Fidelio", in 1814. Add to this that he wrote no less than four Overtures , the three "Leonores" and "Fidelio", and you have a panorama of stress and effort. Based on a French libretto by Bouilly inspired by a real life situation, the librettos by Sonnleithner (1805) and Treitschke (1814) keep to the original .The plot has two ideas that were bound to appeal the composer: fidelity and freedom, with undertones of human rights. The subject certainly has relevance nowadays. The composer writes in the Singspiel tradition (sung sections alternate with spoken ones) music of enormous emotional power.

Unfortunately the results of Casa de la Opera's revival weren't good enough. The Orchestra under Giorgio Paganini sounded very insecure, with particularly bad work from the horns, and the conductor doesn't seem comfortable in this repertoire. He followed Mahler's tradition of interpolating the "Leonore No.3" between the First and the Second Tableau of the Second Act. On the other hand, the combined choirs were intense and generally accurate. Martín Palmeri led the "Coro Estable de la Facultad de Derecho de la U.B.A." and the "Coro de la Municipalidad de Vicente López". Although they aren't operatic choirs, they sounded convincing, and it helped that the best of Eduardo Casullo's production was the way he moved the choirs going from the anguish of the First Act to the jubilant and cantata-like Choir of the final tableau.

But the main singers weren't up to par. The worst offender by far was the septuagenarian tenor Ricardo Cassinelli, who substituted vocal line with uncouth shouting and acted hysterically. (It certainly didn't help that the spoken dialogues were in melodramatic Spanish instead of German). It was ill-advised for Adelaida Negri to choose this opera; neither the vocal side nor the dramatic were right in her Leonore. And Alejandro Schijman certainly doesn't have the means to sing Pizarro. The others were better; I rather liked the Rocco of Víctor Castells and that dignified veteran, Gui Gallardo, sang with poise as Don Fernando. Marzelline, the jailer's daughter, was unevenly sung by Andrea Maragno, but she had some good moments. Jaquino, who is in love with her, was correctly sing by Eduardo Ayas.

Producer Casullo opted for an almost bare stage and relied on projections (prepared by Edgardo Beck) of Goya and Piranesi, sometimes apposite to the action but not always. He was wrong in peopling Florestan's jail with other prisoners; Pizarro surely has isolated him. The costumes by Mariela Daga seemed based on the Franco period and were mostly acceptable, aside from Florestan's absurd jacket; he should be in rags.

"Elektra" is Sophocles' tragedy through a Freudian filter in Von Hoffmannsthal admirable (and terrifying) libretto. The 1909 one-act opera by Richard Strauss is probably his most important and surely the most advanced in its musical materials, with tense and dissonant language that meets the moral enormities of the action with music of granitic strength and character.

Elektra may be the most taxing German role; Luana DeVol (debut) , American, has had a long career in German theatres and she has the essentials for this character, the prototype of manic desire for vengeance: a strong voice of wide range and complete command of each musical detail; she lacks the final impact, vocal and theatrical, of a great Elektra, but she is thoroughly professional. The other Elektra, Susan Marie Pierson (debut), also American, is much younger and thinner; her problem: some top notes aren't there; several climactic phrases peaked in ugly squeals, though a lot of what she did was right.

Klytaemnestra's confrontation with Elektra is a unique tragical scene ; the moral and physical decay of the mother needs a great interpreter; the voice can be aged and harsh but it must have heft to hold her own. Graciela Alperyn and Elisabeth Canis were dramatically powerful but there were moments where they were underpowered. Chrysothemis needs an ample and luminous lyric soprano; Eiko Senda was closer to the mark than Virginia Correa Dupuy, very musical but relatively small-voiced. Orest, the executioner of his mother and of Aegisth, was sung firmly by Hernán Iturralde; however, he wasn't expressive enough and looked too elderly. Aegisth is a short part but must be well done; Fernando Chalabe was pretty good, Carlos Bengolea less so .

All the other parts are quite short and I have no space to list them, they were generally well taken. Stefan Lano conducted with symphonic thrust and adequate speeds but the Colón Orchestra was sorely tried by the virtuoso requirements; he tended to cover the singers but the orchestration is indeed very heavy . The Coliseo pit was fully used to hold the big orchestra.

The production by Mario Pontiggia told the story reasonably well, but I disliked Daniela Taiana's costumes, especially Elektra's pants; her stage design was interesting with its two levels (imaginative lighting by Horacio Efron), though it didn't look Mycenaean.

Para el Buenos Aires Herald

Foto: Facundo Basavilbaso

domingo, octubre 21, 2007

Chamber music: from Classicism to the avantgarde

In recent weeks there were treasurable moments of great chamber music with sensitive and important artists and a range that covered the extremes, Classicism and avantgarde. I will start with quartets, which to my mind represent the purest type of chamber music, a conversation between equals with the exact quantity of players (two violins, viola and cello) to give the discourse an ideal poise and richness.

About 25 years ago the Mozarteum Argentino brought to us a very young and special Quartet, the Hagen, made up of four Austrian brothers (two boys, Lukas and Clemens, and two girls, Angelika and Veronika) of astonishing maturity. Rainer Schmidt took the place of Angelika in 1987, and they have played together ever since. They never deviated from their original aim: to play the great quartets with technical perfection and a deep sense of style. They offered at the Coliseo and for the Mozarteum two concerts with different programmes. The one I heard combined two masterpieces: Schubert's last Quartet (No. 15), much less played than No. 14, "Death and the Maiden", but very close in quality, particularly the fantastic imagination of the spectral middle section of the slow movement, and Shostakovich's Quartet No. 8, his best known due to its autobiographical content and deep drama. Both versions showed the Hagen at the very top of their profession: total concentration, character and instrumental achievement. Beauty and intensity from all four and absolute singlemindedness.

The Spanish Cuarteto Quiroga (named in homage of the violinist Manuel Quiroga) was a pleasant surprise. It is young (born in 2003) , strongly motivated and very professional. The players: violinists Aitor Hevia and Cibrán Sierra, violist Lander Etxebarria and cellist Helena Poggio. Their programme at the Museo Fernández Blanco was very classical: Mozart's Quartet No.16 , K.428 (not quite among the best of the 23 ), the fascinating Quartet No. 3 by Juan Crisóstomo de Arriaga, the shortest-lived genius of musical history (1806-26) and Mendelssohn's Quartet No. 1, op.12, already mature at 20 years old. Encore: the exciting last movement of Haydn's Quartet op.74 No. 3, "The Rider". The players showed admirable qualities : lovely sound, perfect intonation and committed phrasing. Spain is producing real talents in a field that was rarely trod in that country.

The Arditti Quartet has long been distinguished by its championing of the avantgarde; in an earlier visit they showed enormous technical aptitude and conviction . Their return was at the Coliseo in the incongruous setting of the International Theatre Festival (they are strictly musical). The audience was rather sparse. The current players are: Irvine Arditti and Ashot Sarkissjan, violins; Ralf Ehlers, viola; and Lucas Fels, cello. The programme was exclusively for those who enjoy the latest avantgarde (not my case): the Quartet by the Britisher James Clarke (born 1957), Quartet No. 5 by Pascal Dusapin (born 1955), "Tetras" by Iannis Xenakis (1922-2001), Quartet No. 3 by Brian Ferneyhough (born 1943, father of the so-called "new complexity") and Quartet No. 3, "Grido", by Helmut Lachenmann (born 1935). The scores were written between 2001 and 2006, except for "Tetras" (1983). With no exception the music seemed to me deliberately aggressive and unpleasant, with no sense of a new and viable dialectic; rather , an apology of ugliness. I felt discomfiture at the feeling I had of a dead end. The commitment of the players was evident but not even their technical prowess convinced me.

Two quintets made me very happy in their local debut. Nuova Harmonia at the Coliseo presented the Quintetto dell'Academia Chigiana and the Mozarteum in their Midday Concerts brought us the Ensemble instrumental de Granada at the Gran Rex.. A point to remember: the Italian group comes from the same famous Siennese institution that gave name to the Quintetto Chigiano fifty years ago, but that ensemble was for piano and strings (with Sergio Lorenzi) whilst the current group is made up of two violins, two violas and cello. (Also, there was a Sestetto Chigiano for strings). The current Quintetto has a very special characteristic: it combines professors and pupils. The lady violinists are students of Salvatore Accardo, beautiful and splendidly accomplished: Laura Marzadori and Francesca Dego. Veteran violist Bruno Giuranna, a founder of I Musici, sits next to his student, Daniel Palmizio. And the very talented cellist Antonio Meneses, who has visited us as a soloist, completes this first-rate ensemble where different generations see eye to eye on all technical and stylistic matters. The programme was short but challenging: Mozart's Quintet No. 2 (he wrote 6), K.515, in radiant C major; and Brahms' dense Quintet No.2, op.111. More Mozart as encore: the Minuet from Quintet No. 1, K.174. Their playing was cohesive, clean and expressive, and again the country of opera shows that it can also produce first-rate chamber ensembles.

The Granada Ensemble is really a sextet but this time it played Schubert's marvelous Quintet D. 956, written for two violins (Peter Thomas and Atsuko Nerishii), viola (Germán Clavijo) and two cellos (Orlando Theuler and Juan Pérez de Albéniz). Thomas used to play with Argentine violist Tomás Tichauer and he was also here as soloist with orchestra. This cosmopolitan Granada group showed that it had the measure of Schubert's masterpiece and it played with much care and musicality . It is gratifying to observe that Latin groups can understand so well Germanic styles.

Para el Buenos Aires Herald