jueves, mayo 31, 2007

An unfortunate "Traviata"

Certainly no production in recent years has had such an appalling series of mishaps and substitutions as the Colón's 2007 "La Traviata" at the Coliseo. Mismanagement? Bad luck? A combination of both? The habitual close-mouthed attitude of the Colón prods gossip in an industrial scale; lacking clear explanations, anything goes: I won't add to it.

The facts concerning substitutions are as follows. The press conference announcing the season told us that the protagonists in the two casts would be: Violetta: Nathalie Manfrino / Maya Dashuk; Alfredo: Darío Schmunck / Enrique Folger. But after the subscription series were sold, both Violettas disappeared; they were replaced by Natalia Ushakova and Karen Vourch; the latter was in turn replaced by María José Siri. Eventually a third Violetta was presented: Victoria Loukianetz. The first Alfredo also vanished; a new name appeared: Raúl Giménez; at the last moment he was allegedly ill, and a young Mexican made his local debut: José Luis Duval. The Germonts were unchanged: Víctor Torres and Omar Carrión; but in the smaller parts there were also many different artists than those originally publicized. All this with no explanation.

But there was another factor: producer Eric Vigié aroused irate reactions in a degree that other objectionable productions haven't provoked in recent years. Was it because "La Traviata" is so famous that people feel stronger about transpositions of time in this case? But they accepted the Suárez Marzal production at the Luna Park, to my mind as extreme as Vigié's . Or was it a part of the presumed campaign? My readers know that I am a traditionalist in the sense of defending the original work, both music and libretto, and I have certainly attacked strongly many productions that have been meekly accepted elsewhere. Why this "Traviata", transposed to the 1920s in an Art Nouveau atmosphere well evoked by the rather attractive scenery by Enrique Bordolini, was so roundly attacked in some quarters?

I didn't like it either but I've seen worse. The problem, apart from accepting or not the transposition, was in the gross lapses of taste: in the First Act the provocative dress of Violetta ; in the Second she receives Germont in underwear and leaves for Paris in a dressing gown, and in her love nest she somehow lets a painter work with two models (a total incongruity); in the Third Act (I hold to the four-act division, not respected in this production) comes the worst: four scantily clad girls "dance" an absurd choreography by Diana Teocharidis and then play the part of bulls to a dwarf toreador! Etc. Imme Moeller is generally a good clothing designer, so I presume she followed Vigié's orders in the silly situations above.

A further point: the choice of "La Traviata" had as rationale that this year we commemorate the 150 years of the original Colón Theatre, and that this was the opera heard in the opening night in 1857. We've had a surfeit of "Traviatas" in recent years and this revival was certainly unnecessary, especially considering that the Argentino put it on simultaneously (they aren't to blame, they announced the opera much earlier). (By the way, I won't be writing about the Argentino's production, for it repeats in all particulars their revival of 2005 commented in the Herald).

The singers. I went to the third performance scheduled with Ushakova; but after the first and heavily criticized appearance she departed; I got the second cast Violetta, María José Siri. The Uruguayan artist has done the role here before; she is a convincing actress and a thorough professional, but the voice is too incisive and has too much vibrato. I also saw Loukianetz in the part; this petite Ukrainian has had a good career featuring varied roles including Gilda, suggesting some flexibility in the voice; well, she too has problems of incisiveness and the First Act had some harsh moments though she managed well the highest register and the fast runs; but as the opera went on, she found her best voice and produced some moments of strong emotional projection , giving us an expressive Violetta still vocally fresh at the end.

José Luis Duval gave a rather neutral impression; the voice is good and the high notes are there, but the phrasing was boring and the acting, wooden. Enrique Folger was the opposite: an engaging, emotional Alfredo with a faulty technique leading to a fatal break in the "cabaletta". Víctor Torres sang Germont as if in a song recital, his soft-grained voice and phrasing very beautiful but un-Verdian in timbre. Omar Carrión did his aria well but was a cypher as an actor and his voice sounded weak in the low register.

The smaller parts were generally well taken. Mónica Sardi and especially Mariana Carnovali were fine Floras; Leonardo Estévez and Alejandro Meerapfel gave us dramatic accounts of Baron Douphol; both Ariel Cazes and Juan Barrile offered sensitive portraits of Dr. Grenvil. Federico Sanguinetti and Esteban Hildebrand were rather neuter as D'Obigny, Vanesa Mautner was a muted Annina, and there was some strain in Gabriel Renaud as Gaston, less so in Gabriel Centeno.

It seems that in the first performance the string intonation was shaky; by the third and the last the orchestral results were reasonably good, and Guillermo Brizzio, an old pro, knows the style . The Chorus under Salvatore Caputo sang firmly and seemed involved in the hectic action.

Para el Buenos Aires Herald


lunes, mayo 28, 2007

Byways of the Baroque bring surprising experiences

Both Festivales Musicales and Nuova Harmonia have recently provided surprising experiences in the Baroque field. They are indeed byways, well apart from the Bach-Handel-Vivaldi trilogy. They show how rich and varied that era was, and why it is rewarding to explore .

Festivales started its season with a lovely concert of the Ensemble Louis Berger at the Avenida. Notwithstanding their French-sounding appellation, this is an Argentinian group that has taken for its own the name and surname of an outstanding French jesuit musician who did marvelous work in such areas as Chiquitos (Bolivia). During these last thirty years the steady work of musicologists has unveiled unsuspected treasures in remote areas and has shown there is an important Baroque repertoire, still mostly unknown though hundreds of manuscripts have been found, untouched since the eighteenth century. What we heard was a selection of the Chiquitos trove, and it was a moving event.

Their concert was entitled "Music at the Jesuitic Missions" and it included mostly anonymous works in Spanish, chiquitano, latin and guaraní. All pieces are to be found at the Chiquitos Musical Archive. The group boasts a special set of instruments; although it existed in Europe, it's very rare to hear a "tromba marina", a tall instrument with only one string played with a bow and giving out the sound of a harsh trumpet. And what's decidedly new: the "bajunes", immense Panpipes that give a beautiful effect. The ensemble also has a vocal quartet of normal constitution.

The anonymous pieces were a procession, "Jesus Christ Our Lord" (repeated at the end, it brought the artists to the foyer), a litany for two voices in chiquitano (""Ane Nupaqsiuma suchetania", or "We have a sorrowful Mother"), a "Cánite, pláudite" ("Sing, applaud") – a very brilliant piece to end the First Part-, and four pieces in guaraní ("Mother of God", "Litany", "In the great fire of Hell" and "Listen, men"). These last four had a special emotional effect. Otherwise, we had plenty of Domenico Zipoli, the Italian that died in America as a priest after an important European career: "Thanks, Our God" (authenticated) in chiquitano, with "tromba marina" and "bajunes" ; a Trio Sonata (attributed) and "In hoc mundo", a motet (attributed). And finally, an interesting "Fugued Mass" attributed to Giovanni Battista Bassani, a European author whose music was found at the Chiquitos Archive. The Ensemble Louis Berger is a committed group of high standard; I will only single out the intense expressivity of soprano Ana María Santorelli.

Some people felt that the concert by La Barroca del Suquía led by Manfredo Kraemer (also at the Avenida) had been a waste of fine talent; I didn't. The ensemble hails from our Córdoba (Suquía is the river that traverses the city) and is equal to the good European Baroque ensembles. The programme was called "Sonorous tableaux from Biber to Boccherini" and it certainly shows an excentric type of Baroque, based on the picturesque , the descriptive and the humorous. You won't find in these pieces prodigies of counterpoint but you will encounter harmonic surprises, influences of popular and folk music, special effects, etc. Nothing profound nor memorable, but often fun; some are admittedly a trifle too trivial. Kraemer presented unacademically but precisely each piece.

The concert started with the only non-Baroque score, Boccherini's "The night music of the Madrid streets" (1780), which ends with the Retreat of the soldiers . Three authors are little-known today, and they hail from Central Europe: Pavel Vejvanovsky , "Sonata a 6 Campanarum"; Johann Valentin Meder, "The Polish beggar"; and Philipp Jakob Rittler, "Harmonia Romana". More substantial were the scores by Heinrich Ignaz Franz von Biber (1644-1704), an important musician at Salzburg's court: his "Battalia" is vivid and imaginative, and "The Procession of the peasants to the church" was acted out by the players. Encores: a sonata imitating the nightingale and the cuckoo by a Theodor Schwarzkopf, and an astonishing Telemann piece, "The Muscovites", from the suite "Peoples" ("Voelker") with almost jazzy syncopations.

The "Cappella della Pietá dei Turchini" payed us a second visit starting the Nuova Harmonia season at the Coliseo. It is a group specialized in the Neapolitan Baroque, very rich and little-known. They opted for a programme that put the accent on heavy comedy of "Commedia dell'arte" derivation. Certainly all pieces were new for our city, as was the rest of the music they played. Those that gave musical quality to the evening were written by composers of the Classicist era: two splendid fragments from Niccoló Piccinni's "Didone" ("opera seria"), and Giovanni Paisiello's Duet of Pulcinella and Carmosina from "Pulcinella vendicato". I was sorry that the two greatest Neapolitans were not included: Alessandro Scarlatti and G.B.Pergolesi. There were two good instrumental scores: "Sonata a 3 " in G minor (a concerto grosso) by Pietro Marchitelli (1643-1729) and the Second Sonata for strings by Domenico Gallo, whose first movement was adapted by Stravinsky for his "Pulcinella" (he thought it was by Pergolesi).

Apart from Paisiello, comedy was represented by Francesco Provenzale (1624-1704): the parody-lament "Squarciato appena havea"; Michelangelo Fagioli (1666-1733): cantata "Sto.Paglietta presuntuoso"; and Giuseppe Petrini's intermezzo "Graziello e Nella". There was a charming encore: José de Nebra's :Fandango". I liked soprano Maria Ercolano, intense and with a fine technique; I disliked the mincing, affected interpretations of tenor Giuseppe De Vittorio. The players under Antonio Florio were quite good.

Para el Buenos Aires Herald

domingo, mayo 27, 2007

The art of pianism: Anderszewski and Lavandera

Although the piano recital has lost space in recent decades -people tend to prefer bigger shows, especially symphony orchestras- the world has no shortage of outstanding young pianists keeping high the banner of virtuoso command of the instrument. We have the grand veterans still with us, such as Argerich, Brendel or Pollini, but the following two generations have magnificent practitioners of exalted pianism. From 40 to 60-years-old, I wish we could hear in BA such artists as Maria J. Pires or Andras Schiff. Between 20 and 40, two of the best have played for us recently. The Mozarteum Argentino brought us the debut of Pjotr Anderszewski at the Coliseo with two recitals (I heard the first) and Festivales Musicales gave us the opportunity to appreciate Horacio Lavandera in a session dedicated to the initial 19 Nocturnes by Chopin at the Auditorio de Belgrano. Both events were important and valuable.

Advance information on Anderszewski billed him as a specialist on Beethoven's magnificent and redoubtable "Diabelli Variations", comparing him with Glenn Gould and his obsession with Bach's "Goldberg Variations". Both sets are arguably the greatest we have, and vanquising their hurdles is only available to the best pianists. And in both cases the player must have not just an enormous technical equipment but, even more important, the acutest intellectual acumen. I won't say that Anderszewski was absolutely note-perfect, but his mechanism is surely first-rate. His stance in front of the piano is of intense concentration with no histrionism whatsoever. He holds the secret of late Beethoven: a grasp of the grand design of a 45-minute score, very contrasted dynamics (fortissimo followed by pianissimo), meditative ruminations of immense quietness followed by violent fast outbursts of savage imagination, coherence of pulse within each variation. Andersewski is of Polish-Hungarian origin and in his thirties. I certainly liked his "Diabelli" a lot and would hope to hear him in the late Beethoven sonatas.

His first concert started with J.S.Bach's English Suite No. 6. The vexed question of Bach in piano against Bach in harpsichord can't be solved here; my own personal taste is the harpsichord, for the early pianos were much too imperfect and it was written for the older instrument, even if at home he preferred the weak-sounding clavichord. However, some rules must be maintained if you play the English Suites on the piano: steady and sustainable rhythm, a feeling for the adequate ornaments and the dance forms, a perfect articulation and separation between hands, and no wilfulness and rubato (particularly in the Preludes). Gould fails in the last requirement but Anderszewski built the Prelude with a clear sense of style . He believes –and this can be argued- that Bach needs some coloring with the pedal (anathema to the school of Tureck) and shouldn't be played mimicking the harpsichord; I liked the sound and the musicality of what he did, others disliked it. I couldn't hear Anderszewski's second concert, where the "Diabelli" were preceded by Schumann's "Humoresque", frankly Romantic music. What I heard left me in no doubt that Anderszewski, at least in Bach and Beethoven, is in the front line of current players.

Of course, any habitual concertgoer has had plenty of opportunities to hear Horacio Lavandera since he burst on the scene in his early teens and showed a talent of world magnitude. Now in his twenties - though he still looks very young with his slight figure, long hair and baby face- Lavandera now lives in Spain but visits us with assiduity. His versatility is astounding, and he plays Bach, Beethoven and Chopin along with Prokofiev but also Stockhausen and living composers. And he does it all with wonderful command, a virtuoso of undoubted first rank who plays with astonishing ease and perfection. So it was with his traversal of Chopin's first 19 Nocturnes. A point: it was billed as the integral but it wasn't: we didn't hear No. 20, Op.posth, nor No.21, an early work only published in 1938; the concert was anyway very long (almost two hours of music), but exactness has its rights.

The music has influences from the creator of the piano nocturne, the Irishman John Field, and from Bellinian melody, but Chopin imagines poems of infinite delicacy and taste, the traceries of sound of the right hand flowing over the regular left hand accompaniment. The amount of rubato (flexibility avoiding all squareness) is of the essence to give a true account of this lovely music. If you want to hear an ideal version of this repertoire go to Artur Rubinstein: both his rubato and timbre are the authentic thing. As sheer playing you could bask in Lavandera's unerring accuracy and natural phrasing, but the hearer needs a good deal of empathy to fully enjoy such an extended amount of slow, nostalgic, melancholy music, only rarely contrasted with powerful and dramatic episodes. You need variety and this I felt wasn't in sufficient evidence in Lavandera's approach, always musical and sensitive but sometimes too monotonous to hold one's interest. Maybe the microadjustments needed for an even better interpretation will come with time. Also, the piano wasn't as good as the music needs.

I commend Lavandera for tackling such different repertoires and being able to give us extended soft lyricism or harsh percussive twentieth-century music with equal dexterity. Even if his interpretative ideas don't quite jell all the time , he's always a pleasure to hear.

Para el Buenos Aires Herald

Italian opera reigns as ever

The decades keep rolling on but traditional Italian opera is still going strong. The allegiance to Verdi, Puccini and some bel canto operas remains unchallenged, even if Mozart's main operas have gained space in the last thirty years. The reason is simple and you can appreciate it also in pop music: people are more impressed by ample melody than by another parameter in music. And the main Italian operas are gloriously melodic. Two indisputable masterpieces of very different character have recently shared the same conductor: Antonio Russo. After an unjustified absence since 1992, the Teatro Argentino (La Plata) has finally called him back to put the artist in charge of the initial opera of the season, Vincenzo Bellini's "Norma". And Juventus Lyrica, whose main conductor Russo has been since the inception of that institution, offered him Verdi's "Rigoletto".

"Norma" has always been a touchstone for a soprano and it was probably Maria Callas' greatest role, for it combines ideally strong drama with the most affecting and beautiful writing for the voice. Its libretto by Felice Romani (probably the best practitioner of that art at the time) tells with fine verses a plot that intertwines a love triangle with the politics of Gallic fury against Roman domination. It is based on a play written by a minor French author, Louis-Alexandre Soumet; pared of some of the original's exaggerations, it still has strong melodramtic aspects. The music is a never-ending flow of the most inspired melody, in arias, duos and trios. Yes, the harmonic and rhythmic aspects are relegated, but the melos is certainly of trascendent quality.

The Argentino did the work proud. Generally a theatre with local casts, they had the good idea of bringing to us the admirable Italian soprano Maria Pia Piscitelli, who had sung the part at the Colón a few years ago. She was fully up to the requirements. The role needs full command of all registers, the maintenance of vocal line vanquishing fearsome difficulties, a flexible timbre that can express contrasting emotions, and a persuasive dramatic presence. She did her own Norma, not trying to imitate Callas, and she's right: her predecessor was unique. The Argentine singers weren't in the same level, but held their own. Carlos Duarte has been in better voice as Pollione, but he's an intense singer, and Pollione needs that quality. After all, he's the Roman Proconsul and Governor. María Luján Mirabelli was an uneven Adalgisa, sometimes undervoiced and rather weak in the low register; however, she had her good moments, especially in the duets wuth Norma. Carlos Esquivel was a competent Oroveso (the High Priest) rather lacking in emotional involvement. Pablo Skrt as Flavio and María Inés Franco as Clotilde were good.

The Argentino Chorus has always been very good; it now has a new Director, Sergio Giai, who did a professional job in his first presentation. The Orchestra was generally careful and clean, saving some details, and Russo showed a fine feeling for the long melodic lines, always supporting the singers.

There was a luxury producing team: our grand old man of the specialty, Roberto Oswald, fresh from his success in "Turandot", did one of his typical jobs: a sense of spectacle, a rather excessive symmetry, the search for beauty in the fine evocation of the wood, the intercrossing stairs, the symbol of Irminsul's shield (the Celtic god), the expressive lighting, the respect for the singers' needs; he was abetted by his usual collaborator, Aníbal Lápiz, who designed fine tunics for the ladies and Roman military clothing for Pollione and Flavio, for this production, hallelujah, respected time and place.

Much less needs to be said about "Rigoletto". Juventus has the unfortunate current trait of "choosing" the titles through the vote of its associates, and they vote overwhelmingly in favor of the most hackneyed pieces. There was no need for still another "Rigoletto", we've seen half a dozen these last years. They were unlucky at Juventus: their first-cast Rigoletto, Ricardo Ortale, under normal conditions can give a good account of the part, but he was under the weather, and after two difficultous acts he was replaced by Enrique Gibert Mella, whose lean gaunt body and pronounced baldness aren't Rigoletto's habitual appearance (Ortale is true to form, a burly man), but he is an honest, dramatic performer, putting much anguish into his interpretation, though the voice is rather harsh.

The tenor, Norberto Fernández, perhaps nervous due to Ortale's problems, had a bad day and came to grief ostensibly at least twice, though elsewhere he did some nice things with his rather beautiful timbre and adequate presence. Good news now. Soprano Vanesa Aguado Benítez, very young, represents what Juventus stands for: finding new singers of quality. The voice is beautiful and the technique , sufficient to surmount the hurdles of "Caro nome". Two even younger singers were quite satisfactory as the brothers Sparafucile and Maddalena: Fernando Radó and Guadalupe Barrientos; and there was a good Monterone from Mario De Salvo. The others filled in correctly.

The strong point of the production was Ponchi Morpurgo's fine period clothes. Ana D'Anna contributed rather poor stage designs and conventional moves. The male choir under Miguel Pesce was quite acceptable, and the orchestra played below expectations under Russo, who didn't seem himself to be quite on top of things. Maybe he tackled too much work at a time.

Para el Buenos Aires Herald

jueves, mayo 24, 2007

Mozarteum starts season: brilliancy and controversy

The Mozarteum Argentino has a long tradition of quality. Their season this year has the Coliseo as its venue due to the Colón's closure. More limited acoustics, to be sure, but acceptable. The parting shots of its new season were certainly in the Mozarteum's tradition of high level artistry but are also open to controversy in the case of the Britten Sinfonia.

Some years ago the Budapest Festival Orchestra under Ivan Fischer made a very good impression in its first visit here. Their return was certainly impressive: after twenty years together the conductor and the organism he founded form an indissoluble unity of very convincing technical and interpretative standard. In two quite different programmes they never put a foot wrong. There are two special characteristics worth stressing: their brio and concentration, the homogeneity and beautiful intonation of strings and winds. Concerning Fischer, he's a no-nonsense conductor of great drive and a clear view of the overall picture, but also a polisher of details and phrasing .

Their first programme offered two fine works. First Part: the Concertante Symphony K. 297b for winds and orchestra by Mozart; some consider the work doubtful but I don't: only Wolfgang could have written this wonderful music.Conducted with impeccable taste and played with superlative accuracy and tone by oboist Dudu Carmel and hornist Zoltan Szoke and very well by clarinettist Akos Acs and bassoonist Tamás Benkócs, the score was sheer delight to hear. Second Part: the mighty Bruckner Seventh Symphony, maybe his best and the one least revised by the composer. The music unfolds with majestuous amplitude, rich in melodic and harmonic beauty. Certainly the Fischer approach was rather swift; it lasted about an hour, whilst most versions clock about 65 to 70 minutes. There was plenty to impress and attract in the careful moulding of phrases and in the contrasted intimacy of chamberlike passages with others of granitic strength, but I did miss some mysticism, a mysterious aura that the best interpretations have. Encore: an exhilarating performance of Bartók's fast final Romanian Dances.

The second concert was as satisfactory as the first in its two dissimilar parts: the first brought us rarely heard works by Weiner and Schumann, the second to famous and dense creations by Beethoven. Leo Weiner (1885-1960) was a Hungarian contemporary of Bartók and Kodály but his music is lighter and conservative in style, though written with excellent workmanship and some fine ideas. His four-movement Serenade op.3 goes like a breeze, and it felt that way in the hands of Fischer. The Schumann "Concertstueck" (Concert Piece) is scored for the unlikely combination of four solo horns and orchestra; it is fiendish to play and very Romantic, in three connected movements. The Hungarians were able to field four very able players who justified the election of the score: Zoltán Szoke, András Szabó, David Bereczky and Zsombor Nagy. Only a very good orchestra and a forceful conductor can make it worthwhile for me to hear yet again Beethoven's "Coriolan" Overture and his massive Fifth Symphony: both conditions were met and I found myself enjoying the music. Encores: a very inflected interpretation of the Gavotte from Prokofiev's "Classical Symphony", and a marvelous one of that dynamic fast polka by Johann Strauss Junior with the complicated name: "Vergnuegungszug", translatable as "Train of Pleasure".

I said that the Britishers were controversial: I'm writing about the Britten Sinfonia, conducted by Joanna MacGregor, who also leaves a generous part of the programming to her piano playing. The lady's appearance is exotic for the classical music scene, with her Rasta dreadlocks veiling half her face , but this is anecdote: what matters is the variability of her musical taste. The Britten Sinfonia was formed in 1992 and is a 24-player string ensemble of undoubted professionalism, boasting fine soloists in Jacqueline Shave (concertino) and Martin Outram (viola).

Johann Sebastian Bach was in both concerts, in the first with Concerti 1 and 5 for harpsichord, in the second with No. 1 (only repeated work). I was bothered in each session by the high level of amplification, redolent of popular music. This made the piano sound metallic, perhaps in agreement with very mechanical though accurate playing by MacGregor. I found pretty terrible the arrangements by MacGregor of three John Dowland pieces which sounded twentieth century instead of the world of the greatest lutenist of Elizabeth I's time. "Lachrymae" is a set of variations by Britten for viola and strings on a Dowland piece, and this is real composing, though a trifle arid (good work from Outram). On the basis of what I heard in this concert, Osvaldo Golijov is overpraised: "Levante" is based on a chorus from his own "St Mark Passion", "where a drunken priest is stimulated by Latinamerican dance rhythms"; it sounds like a banal tango. And so is also "Last round", marked "macho" (!) . For me they are crossover pieces. In the Second Part I heard the saving grace of this evening, Stravinsky's lovely Concerto for strings, impeccably done. Back to crossover with two Gismonti pieces: "Forrobodo" and "Frevo".

I preferred the second concert due to the presence of Arvo Part's "Cantus in memory of Britten" and Britten's own Prelude and fugue op.29 (premiere), strong and imaginative. James MacMillan's Piano Concerto No.2 was also premiered: combining Scottish reels with waltzes, clusters and "Lucia di Lammermoor" quotes, it's fun but very minor.

Para el Buenos Aires Herald

miércoles, mayo 02, 2007

Our varied musical life

BA and its area of influence are rich in classical musical life. There are many more concerts than those who get to be reviewed, for reasons of space and ubiquity. Hereby a personal selection from recent weeks.

Pilar Golf has entered its third year of subscription concerts and it will probably be quite successful both in artistic and in social terms. The spectacular clubhouse has a good hall of reasonable capacity and pleasant acoustics and it was quite full on opening night celebrating the Camerata Bariloche's fortieth anniversary. Being so, I disagree with the unilateral approach to programming: I'm quite ready to accept the merits of Astor Piazzolla and Néstor Marconi in the field of stylized tango but I do think that the Camerata means much more than that, and the repertoire should have reflected their versatility; a First Part with Bach, Vivaldi and Mozart and a Second with fewer Piazzolla pieces, leaving of course Marconi's world premiere for the grand finale, would have been right. But in fact we heard no less than seven Piazzolla pieces, where I enjoyed particularly "Oblivion" with its fine oboe solo by Andrés Spiller, the sole remaining member of the original Camerata team. Fernando Hasaj played correctly many solos, and there was fine work from cellist Viktor Aepli.

Marconi is perhaps the best bandoneon player we have; his true virtuosity blends with a very sensitive approach to phrasing; he can be moving in slow, melancholy phrases, or dazzling in fast passages. As a composer he has a good technique and an uneven inspiration. His "Cameratangos", of course dedicated to the Camerata, is in fact a bandoneon concerto in the three habitual parts; I especially liked the poetic touches of the slow movement. His encore was an impressive variation on Piazzolla's "Adiós Nonino".

This initial session was followed by an ample buffet under a giant tent followed by short but brilliant fireworks and dancing; when I left at about 0,30 a.m. the party was in full swing. So it was as much a social as a musical occasion. The Camerata got a colossal anniversary cake.

The AMIJAI hall is both a Jewish temple and a splendid new concert venue in Belgrano, with the possibility of two sizes by opening an enclosure . This year it will have plenty of activity, some of it international, and no less than three subscription series have opened; they are being complemented by other musical events. I was sorry to miss (I was on vacation) the Kremerata Baltica under Gidon Kremer, not only for their undoubted quality but also for the adventurous programming including an arrangement of the Violin Sonata by Shostakovich. But I caught the Omnibus Wind Ensemble, a splendid group from Sweden; they played with stunning precision a lightish but innovative programme featuring arrangements of Mozart and Rossini operas but also true Mozart (Serenade No. 11), an agreeable piece by the Swedish composer Eje Thelin ("Circo della vita"), a fine score by the Alsatian Florent Schmitt ("Lied and Scherzo"), and four crossover works: an "Omnibus tango" by Víctor Scavuzzo , "Spain" by Chick Corea (with reminiscences of Rodrigo's "Concierto de Aranjuez") and two pieces by that unclassifiable artist, Frank Zappa.

At AMIJAI I also heard the Israel Piano Trio, presented by the Tel Aviv University. The group played two standard Trios (Mendelssohn's No. 1, op.49, and Beethoven's mighty "Archduke", No. 6, op.97) preceded by an arrangement of Bruch's "Kol Nidrei", originally for cello and strings. Apart from some organizational glitches, the concert was enjoyable. The artists: veteran violinist Menahem Breuer, Austrian, ex concertino of the Israel Philharmonic; cellist Hillel Zori, in his forties; and pianist Tomer Lev, 37. Apart from some sliding from the violinist, the technical level was throughout quite high, with very sure playing by the pianist and beautiful tone from the cellist; as interpretations they were eminently sane and orthodox.

The Museo Fernández Blanco year after year keeps a very solid and extensive musical activity. Rare circumstances provoked that on a Monday they offered two concerts by foreign artists. As a result of that rather astonishing musical meeting, the Ushuaia Festival, we got to know the Porin Quartet (from Croatia). Although with a substitute viola (Trvtko Pavlin; the change should have been announced), the Quartet sounded well integrated, with an especially expressive lady cellist (Neva Begovic); correct work from the violinists Ivan Novinc and Tamara Petir; Pavlin seemed a bit abashed but was quite acceptable. After a rather dully played Mozart (Quartet No. 21, K.575) we had the premiere of an interesting score by Croat Stjepan Sulek (1914-86), his Fifth Quartet, vivid and apposite writing; this was very well played. But the greatest pleasure came from the splendid Dvorák Quintet op.77, where the Quartet was joined by a very able bass player, Niksa Bobetko. This is inspired and intense music and was played to the hilt by the Croat visitors.

The Swiss ensemble Musica Fiorita led by Daniela Dolci offered that same evening a fine Italian Baroque panorama, with rarely heard pieces by Tarquinio Merula and probable premieres from two women composers, Barbara Strozzi and Camilla de Rossi (her oratorio "Santa Beatrice d'Este"), quite attractive, and surefire Vivaldi after the interval (two Concerti from "The Four Seasons" and the Cello Concerto Rv 401). Fine chamber playing from all concerned following historicist trends, and a valuable contribution from soprano Graciela Oddone.

For Buenos Aires Herald

martes, mayo 01, 2007

Recent symphonic concerts: a mixed panorama

Symphonic life has yielded some pleasure in recent weeks, along with minor and major misadventures. Let's start updating the Buenos Aires Philharmonic season at the Gran Rex. Unfortunately, some of the announced works have fallen by the wayside and programmes have been far too short. The third session of the subscription series was conducted by the talented Chilean Francisco Rettig and the main score was splendid: Witold Lutoslawski's 1954 Concerto for orchestra takes its cue from Bartók's but the great Polish composer has a lot to say that is personal and attractive in this beautifully wrought composition. The Phil responded well to Rettig's intelligent and sensitive reading. Unfortunately the First Part of the concert was utterly changed; Eduardo Vassallo, the Argentine cellist who is first desk at the Birmingham Symphony, was announced in Lalo's Concerto but for some reason didn't play; Rettig replaced this with a fine version of Mozart's Symphony No. 36, "Linz". But unfortunately he decided to eliminate the Dvorák "Scherzo capriccioso", an endlessly inventive piece far too rarely done. So he gave us a bare hour of music.

I was sorry to miss Rettig's second concert (I was on vacation) for he did the attractive Late-Romantic "Lyric Symphony" by Alexander Von Zemlinsky, heard here only once (by the National Symphony); the soloists were Adriana Mastrángelo and Víctor Torres. Here again a score was eliminated: Antonio Tauriello's "Arlecchino"; written for 16 players, I was told reliably that it had been a problem of disagreement with the players, who thought they were entitled to extra payment in that piece; it would be good to have clear rules about such matters and abide by them. Fauré's charming "Masques et Bergamasques", not played here since the Twenties, made up in consequence the too short First Part.

Alejo Pérez is a 32 year-old Argentine conductor who is having a valuable career in Europe, where he is assistant conductor to Christoph Von Dohnányi at the Hamburg NDR Orchestra. Although he has done mostly contemporary music here, his tastes are ample, with a special liking for the period 1880-1920. This time we appreciated his work in three different styles: an agreeable Argentine work, "Viñetas porteñas", written by Pompeyo Camps in 1962; an important premiere, Luciano Berio's Concerto No. 2 for piano, called "Echoing curves"; and a standard Late Romantic symphony, Tchaikovsky's No. 6, "Pathetic". There was a change of interpreter in Berio, but both pianists are great artists: our Horacio Lavandera, and Dimitri Vassilakis, who took Lavandera's place and played magisterially, with utter command of the difficult music. It was written in 1989 for Daniel Barenboim; the orchestra surrounds the soloist in two concentric semicircles and the qualities of the music are well described by Julio Palacio: "for auditors sensitive to the timbric world, the composition is an authentic feast of sonorities oscillating between steely shining sounds and diverse deliquescent touches". Pérez, as far as I can tell without a score, got good results from the Phil and was well-attuned to the soloist. In Tchaikovsky, which he conducted from memory, his gestures were sure and expressive , and his interpretation was orthodox and well-conceived. It was a pity that some of the soloists made mistakes and that the Phil seemed to lack enough concentration for this wonderful work to make its full effect. Two general remarks: a) the bad policy of eliminating biographies of the interpreters in the hand programmes; b) the need for a true acoustic chamber: that bare ugly black wall behind the orchestra just won't do.

Another short programme, but this time from its inception, was the one conducted by Arthur Fagen, the American who led Britten's "A Midsummer Night's Dream" last year at the Colón. The works were well chosen but we had barely 62 minutes of music. Fagen is a profficient conductor and gave a strong and purposeful version (arguably a bit fast) of Mendelssohn's strong Symphony No. 5, "Reform". The concert had started with Luis Gianneo's tasteful "Overture for a children's comedy" (1937), written for wind players and celesta (I counted 14 people), and then, in homage to Edvard Grieg in the centenary of his death, one of his biggest scores, the "Symphonic Dances", far too little known considering its quality. Its mixture of lyricism and brusque utterance needs an orchestra sure of itself, and the Phil sounded half-baked in this music.

The National Symphony is currently paralyzed by a Kafkian conflict involving the technicians who assist them in a concert; they are in the midst of labor conversations affecting the Cervantes as well, and there's no sign of agreement. Before disaster struck, the NS played three concerts, I believe, and I attended half of one and almost the whole final rehearsal of another. I found the Orchestra in reasonable shape, especially in a sonorous traversal of Mussorgsky-Ravel's "Pictures at an Exhibition". They did two premieres of typical avantgarde scores by Argentine composers: Marcelo Delgado's "La luz del cenit" and Eduardo Kusnir's "Golpecitos para notificar". And the valuable premiere of John Corigliano's Oboe Concerto, well played by Andrés Spiller; an uneven work, it has a specially attractive slow movement. They also offered Nino Rota's Trombone Concerto, where Henry Bay was acceptable. The conductors were Pedro Calderón and Spiller, respectively Principal Conductor and Assistant Conductor of the NS. I can only wish the NS well.

Para el Buenos Aires Herald.