sábado, abril 12, 2008

Lavandera plays our composers; Vieu conducts Colón Orchestra

Horacio Lavandera is undoubtedly the most famous Argentine pianist of his generation. He was a teenager prodigy, playing arduous programmes at 15 with fantastic technical prowess. Now he is 24 and has been living in Spain for several years, but comes back to our country regularly. Many composers have written scores especially for him, revelling in his enormous speed and uncanny accuracy. I have often felt that his interpretative gifts aren't commensurate to his mechanical ones, but I have almost always been stunned at his concerts by some astonishing feats. He has such facility that he often seems glib. And his self-control is impressive.

His recent concerts have certainly been out of the ordinary. The Teatro Maipo is centenary this year and its owner, Lino Patalano (long-time manager of Julio Bocca), to celebrate decided to do something outside that theatre's tradition: concerts of classical music. As is well-known, the Maipo's trajectory has been identified with that particular genre, the variety show ("revista"). Renovated in recent years, the theatre certainly looks good with its plush seats and tasteful decoration. Patalano's gamble was big and strange: he asked Lavandera to do four identical recitals on Mondays with purely Argentine programmes. The pianist has an important following, but it certainly isn't easy to attract our Europeanized concert audiences to a session of our music. Particularly at steep prices ($ 150 the best stalls ).

Lavandera dedicated the First Part to our great composers of the first 70 years of the twentieth century, and the Second to contemporaries. I felt he gave too much space to Alberto Ginastera; he was certainly our greatest composer, but he was well represented by his First Sonata; the other two works of his would have been profitably replaced by works from such composers as Guastavino, Gianneo and García Morillo. Also, there was a marked emphasis on motoric, rhythmic scores, which allowed Lavandera to show off his privileged fingers but made for monotony and a sense of overkill. And it didn't help that the piano was rather metallic and to boot it was amplified.

He didn't start well: Julián Aguirre's "Huella" and "Gato" lacked charm and singing quality. Alberto Williams's "Milonga del volatinero" fared better, and the Ginastera scores were mostly excellent, though I missed in the Sonata the required mystery in the second movement and an ecstatic quality in the slow one.

With the contemporaries the problem was rather in the quality of the music; they all seemed grandsons of Ginastera and technical hurdles seemed to be there just for the sake of them. This was clearly apparent in Fabián Panisello's "Double etude No.6" and in Esteban Benzecry's "Toccata Newen". Apart from the poor humor of the titles, Gabriel Senanes' "Triciclo" had some appealing moments. Osvaldo Golijov's "Levante" sounded very crossover. Three encores: I enjoyed a lot a tango by Eduardo Arolas, but a Piazzolla piece was also good; the ample melodic arch of Carlos Gardel's "Mi Buenos Aires querido" was less congenial for the player, always dazzling in the difficult bits of the Second Part.

I missed Carlos Vieu's first concert with the Colón Orchestra, for it was Holy Week and I wasn't here. I caught up with the conductor in his second programme, which had no soloist; the venue was the Auditorio de Belgrano, whose good acoustics are a balm. As announced the programme was absurdly short; belatedly they added another work to have a reasonable playing time. I was told that the popular slant was due to its original character as a free concert, but someone decided otherwise, and tickets weren't cheap.

There are other bad news, but I will stress first the good ones: Vieu, now 42, is our best conductor, and is getting very interesting results from the Colón Orchestra. The playing and conducting were throughout professional, in style and satisfying. However, there are observations to be made otherwise:

a) To those who read attentively it must have come as a shock that the orchestral roster adds to the permanent members no less than 19 players under contract. Horacio Sanguinetti, the Colón's Director, had said that there could be no operatic season because the Orchestra was incomplete; but it stands to reason that if he can contract players to do concerts, he can do the same with opera. So his rationale to cancel the season doesn't hold up. On the other hand, Mauricio Macri said in the February press conference that there would no longer be people under contract: wrong again.

b) The Colón has had for many decades staff writers on music. Concerts have had programme notes by either Pola Suárez Urtubey or Julio Palacio . But now apparently they are no longer there, for the notes were written (very well) by that talented Renaissance man, Alberto Bellucci. I certainly don't object his presence as such, but I do feel that staff writers are needed and the Colón had very good ones.

c) Finally, a programme with three well-known Overtures (from operas that haven't been staged since long ago, nor will they be in the next three years), a film-derived ballet suite and a tuneful Bizet suite, is of course fun to hear but lightweight. Overtures: Wagner's "The Mastersingers", Weber's "Der Freischuetz" and Verdi's "La Forza del Destino". Then, Nino Rota's Suite from "La Strada" and finally Bizet's Second Suite from "L'Arlésienne".

For Buenos Aires Herald

jueves, abril 10, 2008

Occident and Orient, an operatic counterpoint

A rare circumstance occurred recently. It has been decades since our city was able to appreciate Chinese traditional opera, utterly different from our occidental brand. The visit of the Beijing Opera (we used to call it Peking) at the ND Ateneo prompts some musings and conclusions.

It was simply billed as "Opera de Pekín" in the poor hand programme, which gave no detail of the pieces to be seen or the singers and players; not even the artistic leaders of the company were listed. As I remember, Buenos Aires has seen much bigger groups than this chamber outfit (seven singer-performers, 6 players) and I strongly suspect that currently Beijing has grander shows to offer. My recollections of the Legend of the Monkey King, e.g., seen here several decades ago, are of a vast array of singers, acrobats and dancers.

What we saw was four short pieces: the first was a comedy sketch between a lady and a gentleman marked by the subtlety of pantomimic gesture; on the second another lady cajoles an old boatman into ferrying her over the river to meet her lover (again pantomime holds a large place); the third, rather austere, was made up of "arias" (so said the supertitles) of a warrior General; the final offering was the actions leading to the suicide of a General's concubine; the strange reasoning being that her death, liberating the man from his amorous desires, left him free to wage war. The General wore such a grotesque mask and emitted such growling sounds that to Occidental sensibilities it smacked more of parody than of tragedy.

And there lies the rub: the codes are so different that I can only give an impression, certainly not an informed criticism. So, there are cultural differences that are hard to bridge. Vocal production sounds nasal and harsh to us, and the constant twang of a small gong seems numbing and monotonous. Other aspects communicate better: the beauty of the clothes, the skill and charm of the gestures, the weight of immutable tradition giving us the age-old spirit of a great people. And the curiosity of hearing the timbres of the Chinese varieties of fiddles, mandolins, flutes, oboes and drums. The music sounds inexorable and seems based on repetition of patterns with pentatonic melody.

A few days later I was on familiar ground with the new production of Rossini's "L'italiana in Algeri" opening the season of Buenos Aires Lírica (BAL) at the Avenida. Although I feel that a young company shouldn't repeat titles (this opera was seen on 2003) and there's plenty of little-known Rossini to choose from, the evening was quite pleasant and I went out with a smile. Pablo Maritano, a fresh new talent, produced. In one essential aspect I differ: even farce needs to be believable in a historic context, and the plain fact is that the updating to the 1920s doesn't work, for by then the Ottoman Empire didn't exist; it would have sufficed to give us a Belle Epoque ambience (the 1890s) to make matters much more logical. And Maritano at least once changes the libretto wholesale. Says the hand programme, referring to Isabella and Taddeo: "the ship in which they traveled wrecked in the Algerian coast"; not here, where a special stage design gives us a pleasure boat of the 1920s being boarded by pirates abducting the Italians. But...it works. Maritano has genuine comedy ideas and the situations he concocts are funny and don't go against the grain of the characters. E.g., the eunuchs' Turkish bath. I would only object that he makes the Bey's wife too ridiculous and the Bey not enough.

Maritano is abetted by a splendid stage designer, Andrea Mercado, who has a sure aesthetic sense and a feeling for colour. I'm not so sure about the costumes designed by Sofía Di Nunzio, although she of course follows Maritano's instructions about the time of the action; I prefer a Mustafa in Oriental clothes and a less strident Isabella.

There was a major blemish in the cast: Lindoro needs a beautiful voice with a very sure high extension, great agility and charm; Jaime Caicompai lacks such features and he is also very unprepossessing as a stage figure. An occasional felicity of phrasing didn't compensate. The other Chilean in the cast was another matter: Evelyn Ramírez has a round even mezzosoprano voice with a full register, and as she sings, "here nonchalance is needed"; she provides it. But there was a greater star on stage: Hernán Iturralde was simply brilliant as Mustafa, worth the price of a seat all by himself: ideal acting and skilful handling of Rossinian roulades, perfect diction and timing, and a powerful voice. Fernando Santiago as Taddeo plays the fool convincingly and his vocal means are quite adequate. Jimena Semiz made her local debut (she hails from Mendoza) as Elvira, and if you accept the sad figure Maritano wants her to be, she did quite well (her high notes are firm and ride over the orchestra in the big concerted Finale to Act I). Gustavo Feulien sang fluently Haly's aria, and Florencia Machado was satisfactory as Zulma.

Guillermo Brizzio conducted with care and style a rather good orchestra; there were blemishes but also some well-pointed phrasing. The Male Choir under Juan Casasbellas entered wholeheartedly in the spirit of fun . They and all concerned enjoyed themselves and so did the audience.

Para el Buenos Aires Herald

miércoles, abril 09, 2008

Attractive plans from concert organizations

As has been the case for many decades, the Mozarteum Argentino remains the most solid institution. Its two subscription series will take place at the Coliseo. Some of the items are of Olympian rank, and I will single out the truly exceptional programming of the Berliner Staatskapelle under Daniel Barenboim: the three last Bruckner symphonies coupled with three Schoenberg scores. Highly demanding and fascinating, these sessions show a comforting confidence in our audiences' maturity (apart from two subscription performances, the third one will be non-subscription). Dates: May 29 and 30, June 2.

The season starts with recitals by talented pianist Sergio Tiempo (May 5 and 6) , and then follow (after Barenboim) the Vilnius Festival Orchestra (June 9 and 10) conducted by Krzysztof Penderecki, who will premiere two of his works. The brilliant American violinist Joshua Bell will be back on June 23 and 24). The Alban Berg Quartet will pay us an eighth and last visit on June 30 and July 1. The Orchestre Philharmonique de Liege under Pascal Rophé will accompany the admirable mezzosoprano Susan Graham singing Berlioz in her first visit to our city; on their own the players will stress the scores of César Franck . Dates: August 25 and 26.

The Hallé Orchestra visited us in preceding decades under Sir John Barbirolli and Stanislav Skrowacezweski; now they will come conducted by the talented Mark Elder (debut) in two eclectic though traditional programmes , where one item is the exception and intrigues me: there's no such thing as the announced Debussy Orchestral Preludes. They will also accompany Polina Leschenko in two hoary piano concerti (Liszt and Grieg); the Russian artist will make her local debut. The concerts will take place on September 8 and 9.

A most welcome return will be that of Hesperion XXI, that marvelous group of ancient music under Jordi Savall, featuring soprano Montserrat Figueras. Two programmes will certainly yield major surprises: "The Lost Paradises: Arabo-Andalusian, Jewish and Christian music from Old Hesperia to the discovery of the New World" on September 23 will be preceded by "The Route of the New World: meeting of cultures of Old Iberia and the New World".

The Jerusalem Festival Chamber Ensemble (debut) under pianist Elena Bashkirova (Barenboim's wife) will offer chamber music with clarinet, violin, cello and piano by Bartók, Brahms, Mozart and Hindemith on October 27 and 28. The season will end with a strange visit: Kodo (debut), Japanese percussion ensemble based on the "taiko", a traditional drum (November 4 and 5).

Nuova Harmonia, also at the Coliseo, takes on this year a very welcome cosmopolitan slant, although it keeps having the support of the Italian Government. The Bamberg Symphony, led here by distinguished conductors in the past (Keilberth, Stein) will now have for this tour the local debut of Jonathan Nott (May 8). On May 13 we shall hear the Orchestra d'Archi Italiana (director and soloist, Mario Brunello). June will bring us (on the 5th) the Ensemble Punto It (debut, quintet with piano).

July will be very interesting, with the Accademia Bizantina under Ottavio Dantone, who leads from the harpsichord (on the 2nd), and the admirable Youth Orchestra of the Americas paying us a return visit under Carlos Miguel Prieto with the brilliant Brazilian pianist Nelson Freire (on the 23rd); on the prior visit the conductor was no less than Michael Tilson Thomas. August will renew the pleasure of the acquaintance with the Zukerman Chamber Players (a string quintet; on the 13th) and as Nuova Harmonia accustoms to do (I don't agree), there will be a ballet session, this time with Eleonora Cassano, Cecilia Figaredo, Hernán Piquín and the Ballet Argentino under Julio Bocca (on August 20th).

September will provide sure pleasure with the best Argentine pianist of his generation: Nelson Goerner (on the 4th). The first day of October will give us the Swiss Piano Trio, and there will be a splendid final offering: the Tchaikovsky Symphony Orchestra Moscow under Vladimir Fedoseyev (October 16).

Festivales Musicales this year offers "Bach and the Twentieth Century". With well-chosen programming of valuable music, there will be less foreign artists than in other seasons, but I believe most concerts will be satisfying. April 15 will allow us to hear our best chamber choir, the Estudio Coral de Buenos Aires under Carlos López Puccio (Auditorio de Belgrano). May 5: Quinteto Filarmónico de Buenos Aires (Avenida). June 11: the debut of the Verdehr Trio from USA (violin, clarinet and piano; also Avenida). In the first of several collaborations with the Colón, the B.A. Philharmonic will be conducted at the Coliseo by Franz-Paul Decker and his soloist in the Gershwin Concerto will be Horacio Lavandera (June 13). The young wonder of the piano will be back in a recital on July 4 (Auditorio). The Choir and the Orquesta Estable of the Colón under Carlos Vieu will offer a Villa-Lobos Bachianas and the always popular Orff "Carmina Burana" (Auditorio).

The Piano Duo Roggeri/Favre-Kahn will be heard at the Avenida on August 11. A major endeavour on September 23: Bach's St.John Passion under Mario Videla with local ensembles and distinguished vocal soloists. Videla and the Estudio Coral combine on October 7 at the Santo Domingo Convent. The season will end with a valuable combination of Poulenc's "Gloria" and Puccini's "Messa di Gloria" under the famous conductor Michel Corboz, with the Colón Choir and Orchestra (November 12).

For Buenos Aires Herald