martes, junio 17, 2008

Festivales Musicales and Academia Bach: Innovative programming

Festivales Musicales de Buenos Aires and its daughter, the Academia Bach, have symbolized good programming for 30 (Festivales) and 25 years (the Academy). In a way they have been the continuators of that wonderful Asociación Amigos de la Música of the Fifties and Sixties. Mario Videla has been throughout the Artistic Director of both and has always done a conscientious and positive job, with the invaluable collaboration of Presidents Leonor Luro and now David Martin, who have given their talent to solve the financial and practical problems of ambitious seasons. In recent years sponsors have been harder to get and some plans have had to be curtailed, but by and large the high quality has been maintained. In 2008 there are fewer foreign artists but most of the sessions are still quite attractive.

Due to illness and other factors I unfortunately missed the initial installments of the respective seasons of both institutions. Thus in Festivales I couldn't hear that marvelous chamber choir, the Estudio Coral de Buenos Aires under Carlos López Puccio, in a very commendable and difficult programme that accorded fully with the year's Festival theme, "Bach and the Twentieth Century": Debussy, Ginastera, Schoenberg, Penderecki, Poulenc, Ligeti and a Bach motet. Nor could I attend a less interesting concert by the Quinteto Filarmónico de Buenos Aires (the players are excellent but I found their programme rather light). As to the Bach Academy, I was deeply sorry to be unable to hear their initial concert; this year, apart from Bach of course, they are featuring a distinguished contemporary of Bach's, Johann Friedrich Fasch (1688-1758). But what attracted me the most was Bach's Cantata No.21, "Ich hatte viel Bekuemmernis", one of the truly great, rarely done here, and a first for the Academy (not a premiere, as wrongly announced).

Now to what I could hear. The third Festivales concert let us meet the Verdehr Trio (debut) at the Avenida, and I was deeply impressed. The players are: Walter Verdehr (violin, Yugoslav), his wife Elsa Ludewig-Verdehr (clarinet, apparently USA-born) and the much younger Argentinian pianist Elsa Roederer , the only one that isn't a founder of this chamber group with more than thirty years of activity. They have commissioned an astonishing 200 scores from composers all over the world , singularly expanding a not overlarge repertoire for this very attractive combination.

Both the smooth and musical violinist and the precise and sensitive pianist are very likable but for me the real star is the lady clarinettist, of stunning technical quality and great power of expression, as well as absolute concentration. The hand programme should have stated that all works except Bartók's "Contrasts" were premieres here. At least two are commissions by the Verdehr: the charming and imaginative Trio written by Gian Carlo Menotti at the ripe age of 85 and the Suite (1992) composed by the Armenian Alexander Arutiunian in 1992 with great fluency and ethnic character. I liked Jennifer Higdon's "Dash" (1992), which is just that, an exhilarating six-minute dash with witty ideas. However, William D. Brohn's "I got variations" (1999) seems to me a too thin exploration on Gershwin's variations on his song "I got rhythm". "Contrasts" is of course a masterpiece and was given its full due.

The fourth concert had two attractions: the "rentrée" of the beloved conductor Franz Paul Decker, now 85!, at the helm of the Buenos Aires Philharmonic; and the predictably brilliant presence of pianist Horacio Lavandera playing Gershwin's Concerto in F major. There was a downside: the same concert had been offered in the Phil's subscription series the day before; thus a friend who had both series (Festivales and the Phil) attended twice this programme.

Forty years have gone by since Decker made his very special debut here premiering Bruckner's Symphony No. 8 . He has been responsible for dozens of memorable nights since then, both in concert and opera, combining technical acumen with stylistic knowledge and that difficult-to-define quality called charisma. We owe him wonderful programmes, such as one that combined three visions of Pelleas and Melisande (Schoenberg, Fauré and Sibelius), and the Phil has always respected him. How did he fare in this latest visit after several years of absence? He looks admirably spry and fit , his gestures are clear and decisive, he is still a connoisseur of many different musical ways. But...did the Phil lack enough rehearsal or is it going through a period of internal turmoil? For the fact is that I heard quite too many slips of intonation and attack throughout the evening.

I wasn't happy with his choice of the Edward Elgar arrangement of Johann Sebastian Bach's Fantasy and Fugue in C minor; it sounds inflated and quite un-Bachian and it was poorly played. Hindemith's "Mathis der Maler" Symphony is his masterpiece taken from the homonymous opera on Matthias Gruenewald, the great Renaissance expressionist painter; this is powerful and tightly constructed music. Decker understands it well but the failings of the orchestra precluded the achievement of a fully rounded interpretation.

Ginastera's "Overture for the Creole Faust" had been played recently under Diemecke and fared better. Gerswin's lovely Concerto was beautifully swinged by Lavandera, with dazzling technique; he does lack however a deeper, stronger sound and I remembered Votapek's model performances. The Phil was collaborative but the trumpet had an off night.

I leave the Bach Academy for another review.

Para el Buenos Aires Herald

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