Harmonia had a long and meritorious trajectory prior to the great crisis of 2002. The impact was such that it almost foundered, but it was rescued by the Italian Government, for the institution has always been rooted in our big Italian community and its venue, the Teatro Coliseo, is owned by that country’s Government. Nuova Harmonia, as Harmonia before it, is the brainchild of the Fundación Cultural Coliseum, “created with the aim of tightening the bonds between Argentina and Italy”. But also, “since its beginning, its purpose was to make available to our country the main manifestations of universal art”. Well, it wasn’t quite so in the initial years after the start of the crisis, when the offerings were overwhelmingly Italian, but in recent years Dino Rawa-Jasinski, the Coliseo’s Director General and the unnamed but true Artistic Director of both Harmonia and its successor organization, has managed to offer a more balanced and cosmopolitan diet, although maintaining a heavy influx of Italian talent (logical enough under the financing circumstances and justified in artistic terms). The three initial 2008 offerings are convincing proof of the rightness of the policy.
The Bamberg Symphony is one of the best German orchestras, only a notch below the very best. In Buenos Aires we have had the privilege of three previous visits of this admirable organism: in 1962 under Joseph Keilberth, and in successive decades, conducted by Horst Stein and Witold Rowicki. Now since 2000 its Principal Conductor is the Britisher Jonathan Nott (local debut), also Principal Invited Conductor of the Ensemble Intercontemporain (he’s had prior posts in Frankfurt and Lucerne). The chosen programme was at a time difficult and hackneyed. The two scores are in themselves “pieces de résistance”; it’s a challenge to play both in the same evening, but the fact remains that Brahms’ Second Symphony and Mahler’s First are very much habitual repertoire. This stated, I have to report that I enjoyed myself mightily in both cases.
I heard comments in the interval praising the orchestra’s quality but attacking the low electricity of Nott’s account of the Brahms symphony. I can’t agree: this is the most serene and pastoral of his four works in the genre and I feel that the conductor is in the right track by not being stressful, respecting nevertheless the marked velocities and intensities and showing a clear sense of form. And the sound was beautifully mellow and German.
I can understand, however, the general preference people showed for this Mahler First, for it was one of the best ever heard here. Extremely careful and faithful to the composer’s myriad indications, Nott managed to instil both impetus and control to the variegated music , with a sense of drama and climax that gave its full due to the narrative aspects. The orchestra responded with virtuoso playing and the whole thing was beautiful and exciting.
The encores were wonderful: Dvorak’s fast Slavonic Dance op.72 No. 7 (exhilarating) and a major find: a movement from Ligeti’s “Romanian Concerto” (1951) which sounded like a wild cross between an Enesco Romanian Rhapsody and late Bartók and was incredibly well played and conducted.
The debut of the Orchestra d’Archi Italiana conducted by Mario Brunello left me with mixed feelings. The 19-piece group is competent but far from virtuosic, and the programme was very strange. The Bach Brandenburg Concerto No. 3 was played quite fast in the outer movements, and the unexistent second movement (just two chords) was “provided”, with a curious short concoction for three celli that didn’t sound like Bach to me. Followed the 32-minute premiere of Giovanni Sollima’s “Spasimo”, written in 1995 “for amplified cello and ensemble”, though the cello didn’t seem amplified. The composer, born in 1962, adds an important percussion to the strings (Pietro Pompei was the first-rate player) and recorded spoken voice evoking a tragic episode in the history of Palermo’s Spasimo church (hence the title) when it was used as a leprosarium. The attractive tonal music is overlong and sometimes repetitive, but it has its points and was well played by Brunello, an efficacious cellist as well as conductor.
I disagree with the choices of the Second Part. Decidedly, Mahler’s one-movement Quartet Piece (for piano and strings) doesn’t work well solely in strings, and Mendelssohn’s marvelous String Octet loses point and precision with every part doubled. Encores: or should I call them “of course”?: the 3rd movement of Mozart’s Divertimento K. 136 and Piazzolla’s “Adiós Nonino” in an elaborate arrangement with long cello introductory cadenza.
The curiously named Ensemble Punto It (debut) can have diverse personnel; it came to us as a piano quintet and with one change, Franco Mezzena instead of Nicola Lolli as second violin; but as Mezzena is a regular member, it didn’t amount to much (the integration problem didn’t present itself). I was disappointed by the programme, for they simply did the two most overplayed piano quintets of the repertoire: Schumann’s and Brahms’. Masterworks both, but was it necessary to play them together? I was also nonplussed by the totally unnecessary spoken explanations by the pianist Filippo Faes; fortunately, once he sat down before the piano he executed with fortitude and accuracy. The string players were uneven: in decreasing order, cellist Piero Bosna, violinists Mezzena and Paolo Ghidoni and violist Anna Serova. A nice encore, where Serova somehow played much better: the Dumka from Dvorák’s Quintet.
Para el Buenos Aires Herald