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

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