lunes, julio 28, 2008

From early Verdi to verismo

Recently there were two valid proposals for the opera lover that relishes the Italian repertoire: Buenos Aires Lírica presented a revival of Verdi's "Attila" and the Teatro Argentino (La Plata) gave us that famous verismo pair: Mascagni's "Cavalleria rusticana" and Leoncavallo's "I Pagliacci" ("Cav-Pag" as it is often known).

Verdi's operas prior to the famous "popular trilogy" ( "Rigoletto", "La Traviata" and "Il Trovatore") are as a whole uneven, but some have great value. Foremost is "Macbeth", but let's not forget that we normally hear its later revision; but others certainly are a pleasure to hear: "Nabucco", "I due Foscari", "Ernani", "Luisa Miller"and "Attila". The latter was written in 1846 after a bout of bad health and domestic calamities (his wife and his two children died within a few months). The two preceding operas are probably his worst ("Giovanna d'Arco" and "Alzira") but he certainly rallied with "Attila". Based on Zacharias Werner's "Attila, Koenig der Hunnen" (1808), the libretto was concocted by Temistocle Solera based on sketches by Francesco Maria Piave and Andrea Maffei (though due to Solera's slowness, bits of the Third Act were written by Piave on Verdi's ideas; Solari felt his libretto had been denatured and broke with Verdi).

The gist of the story is the foundation of Venice due to Attila's attacks on Aquileia, his relationship with Odabella (an updating of the Apocrypha heroine Judith, who beheaded Holofernes) and with the Roman general Ezio (who proposes that Attila and him unite: "you will have the Universe, leave Italy to me", dethroning Valentinian III) and a dream that comes true when he meets Pope Leo I, who ordains the Hun in 452 to retreat and not invade the country. Attila is finally laid low by Odabella's sword (a gift from Attila). Historically it isn't true, but no matter. Characters have some psychological density and a lot of the music is inspired; e.g., Attila's monologue, Odabella's very poetic aria, or the cunningly orchestrated music when the refugees from Aquileia arrive to the lagoon where Venice will be born.

BAL did one of its best jobs with "Attila". It is certainly the best production I've seen from Marcelo Perusso, in his triple role of producer, stage and costume designer. As producer, he provided meaningful movements for the characters and chorus and a convincing barbaric ambience. The architectural elements were convincing and beautiful and the clothes attractive, although I demur at the monks' garments which looked Franciscan 750 years before his time. I also think that the suggestion of the lagoon wasn't strong enough in the tableau of the arrival of the Aquileians. Good lighting from Rubén Conde.

The musical side was notably accomplished. The orchestra was carefully chosen and played professionally under Javier Logioia Orbe, who showed an authentic Verdian style in his phrasing. The involved Chorus under Juan Casasbellas sang with dynamism and accuracy. One member of the cast was outstanding: Mónica Ferracani as Odabella.This artist of long career has been going from strength to strength in recent years. Tall and beautiful, her voice isn't naturally ferocious (she sings a lovely Alice in "Falstaff") but she is so intelligent in the management of her means that she convinced fully as Odabella, although her highest point was in the uncharacteristic sweetness of her aria "Oh! nel fuggente nuvolo", where she was simply marvelous.

Cuban bass baritone Homero Pérez Miranda did his best work here as Attila; he was lifelike and credible as the Barbarian, with true dramatic presence, and sang well (of course I can't forget Samuel Ramey, who was Attila nine years ago at the Colón). Omar Carrión, though not in his best voice, was a very adequate Ezio. A notch below was tenor Arnaldo Quiroga, too raw though effective as Foresto, Odabella's knight. I wasn't impressed by Christian Peregrino as the Pope nor by tenor Emanuel Esteban as Uldino, Attila's aide-de-camp.

It may be worth stating that "Cavalleria Rusticana" means "Peasant chivalry". Although it has dramatic faults (a full 20 minutes go on before anything significant happens), the libretto by Giovanni Targioni-Tozzetti and Guido Menasci based on the nouvelle by Giovanni Verga inspired the young Pietro Mascagni to write sincere, melodic music in 1890 that gave birth to "verismo", the new style that wanted to reflect the passions of everyday, contemporary people. Two years later Leoncavallo wrote both libretto and music for "I Pagliacci", a much more sophisticated work in which the "theater-within-theater" concept is fully explored since the famous Prologue. If well done it is a very powerful work.

There were two casts, I heard the first. "Cav" needs sanguine singers and it got them. María Luján Mirabelli (Santuzza), Gustavo López Manzitti (Turiddu) and Federico Sanguinetti (Alfio) have the healthy voices and intense temperaments the work requires. Mónica Sardi as Lola was rather cool and Alicia Alduncin sang well as Mamma Lucia. Willy Landin did a good traditional production, with a nice Sicilian village designed by Juan Carlos Greco and pleasant costumes by Nidia Ponce.

I disagree with Landin's conception of "I Pagliacci"; the characters aren't circus people but ambulant practitioners of the "commedia dell'arte", and the stage picture should be an open-air rustic setting, not a TV set. To my mind he denaturalizes the drama. The stage designs are by Greco and Landín, the clothes by Ponce.

For Buenos Aires Herald

lunes, julio 21, 2008

The variegated panorama of our concerts

Fortunately concert activity is strong and goes beyond the Big Three plus AMIJAI. Although I will start with a "big" concert, others mentioned represent other institutions.

Horacio Lavandera did for Festivales Musicales at the Auditorio de Belgrano a very difficult programme following their motto for the year, "Bach and the Twentieth Century". He started with Nos. 1 to 3 from Bach's Book 1 of "The Well-Tempered Clavier", cleanly played with fine digital independence but over-pedaled. Then a very interesting trio of French pieces commissioned by the magazine Revue Musicale and written from 1932 to 1934: Honegger's "Prelude, arioso and fughetta on B.A.C.H." (rather uneven but valid), Roussel's "Prelude and fugue, Homage to Bach, op.46" (particularly taut and well argued) and Poulenc's "Waltz-Improvisation on B.A.C.H.", charming and light. May I remind readers that in German nomenclature BACH means B flat- A- C- B . All this was brilliantly played by Lavandera.

Maybe Ginastera's Sonata No. 1 wasn't the best choice, for many piano lovers had heard it in Lavandera's all-Argentine recitals at the Maipo this year, but he is certainly impressive in the fast extreme movements, less in the others. It was most valuable , on the other hand, to hear a selection of Shostakovich's inventive and fresh Preludes and fugues (1951) . I liked Lavandera's deftly executed interpretations, even if I prefer Keith Jarrett's. The pianist was stunning in the very difficult "Incises" (1993-2001) by Boulez, tough and virtuosic avantgarde music, a field that our artist finds very attractive. Finally he tackled the fascinating "Three numbers from 'Petrushka' " written in 1921 by Stravinsky at the behest of Rubinstein and almost insanely virtuosic at times . Lavandera was certainly admirable but even he wasn't note-perfect in some extremely hard jumps; on the other hand his rhythm was strong and dynamic. The very short encore was a curious Stockhausen composition, an evanescent "Leo" from "The Signs of the Zodiac".

The Bach Academy, Festivales' "daughter", is having a fine season at (mostly) the Methodist Central Church. We had valuable visitors when the Tuebingen Chamber Choir (debut) under Rolf Maier-Karius offered a variegated menu comprising J.S.Bach (his motets "Komm, Jesu, komm" and "Singet dem Herrn ein neues Lied"), Hugo Distler (1908-42), Brahms (five Lieder, three of them from 0p.62) and Reger ("Night Song"). The full name of this choir is the Chamber Choir of the Southwest of Germany , Tuebingen. It is a good, honest institution with voices that aren't quite homogeneous but sing with fine discipline under the knowledgeable direction of Maier-Karius. Not the exalted quality of the Gaechinger Kantorei, but very pleasant and stylish.

Distler was a rare thing in the German twentieth-century context, a severe, Regerish composer with a special bent for sacred music. The centenary of his birth was the pretext for the uncommon inclusion of his music, which is certainly worth knowing, both a motet and five Lieder, especially "Feuerreiter", an imaginative Moerike text on which Wolf wrote a wonderful setting. The encore was beautiful and novel: "Benediction" by Urmas Sisask..

La Barroca del Suquía came from Córdoba, this time as a chamber group. Their programme accorded with the Academy's motto for this season: Fasch and Bach. Johann Friedrich Fasch (1688-1758) was a pretty good composer and was appreciated by Bach. The two scores included showed his limpid inspiration and fine technique: Trio in G por two violins and thorough bass and Sonata "a 4" in D minor for strings and thorough bass ("a 4" means for four parts). The excellent players were Manfredo Kraemer and Graciela Chamale (violins), Alberto Lepage (viola), Nina Diehl (cello) and Federico Ciancio (harpsichord). The Bach work was Cantata No.202, "Weichet nur, betruebte Schatten" ("Withdraw, sad shadows"), one of two wedding cantatas and the first time that the Academy tackles a profane cantata (I would certainly welcome "Phoebus und Pan" in the future). It's a charming work that has been heard from time to time here (in this season there was also a performance by the Fundación Música de Cámara). Here Horacio Laria (oboe) joined the ensemble and wasn't at his best (I was told he was ill). Soledad de la Rosa sang with crystalline tone and fine style. A caveat: in two hours there were 35 minutes of music, 55 of commentary by Mario Videla and 30 minutes of interval; it isn't the right proportion.

Pilar Golf has given in recent seasons the best concerts of the BA suburbs. Due to illness I couldn't hear the first (April 26), when The Virtuosi of the National Symphony under Pedro Calderón played Tchaikovsky, Grieg and Shostakovich's First Piano Concero with Fernanda Morello. But I did attend the second, a good recital by Ophélie Gaillard (cello, debut) and Marcela Roggeri (piano) dedicated to French and Belgian music. Gaillard is an accomplished French player of pleasant timbre, fine mechanism and very musical phrasing; it helps visually that she's very elegant . Roggeri is Argentine but lives in Europe; she played here with regularity and I especially remember a refined Satie recital. She has an affinity with Impressionism, evident in this recital, especially in Debussy's fine Sonata for these instruments. I also enjoyed several Fauré pieces. Franck's Violin Sonata transcribed for cello didn't fare so well; the cellist was generally accurate though her sound wasn't big enough, but Roggeri stumbled considerably in the dense writing of the second and fourth movements.

For Buenos Aires Herald

The forbidden sounds

More than a decade ago music lovers had access to a fascinating and very necessary recording project. It was called "Entartete Musik" ("Degenerate Music") , the epithet Hitler and Goebbels gave to music written by Jews or by non-Jews that didn't correspond to the dictates of National Socialism, which corresponded (oh paradox) to those of Communism, theoretically opposed: simple, melodic music at the service of the masses. In fact, Stalinist and Hitlerist music differed little, in their directness and simplicity being quite behind the evolution of music history. Great composers forced to conform did a decent job in political works written under duress in Stalin's regime (Shostakovich, Prokofiev in some of their scores), but little or nothing has surfaced of the work of "Hitlerist" composers, unless you think (I don't) that Carl Orff in "Carmina Burana" was an example. I believe in documentation, and I think that a selection of forgotten "Hitlerist" music would be interesting to know, so that with 60 or 70 years of "telescoped" vision we could have a right to judge them, as we can with films of that period (there have been cycles at the MALBA of films of the Hitler period). I think that good history provides honest documentation on every side. And I say it as an absolute anti-Hitler and –Stalin person.

The recorded series I mentioned was a revelation, for we got to know, e..g., such interesting composers as Schulhoff, Ullmann, Neuenfels and Eisler. But none of that was heard in our concerts. The gap has been finally filled with a series of AMIJAI concerts called "The forbidden sounds" , brilliantly planned and conceived by Haydée Francia and Barbara Civita. I consider them among the outsanding experiences of the year and I'm sorry I could attend only two of the four. They were excellent, as I suppose with a lot of confidence were the others.

In the first night carefully chosen first-rate players gave us what I believe was a total programme of premieres, although this wasn't specified. It was called Prague/Terezin and a terrible fact affected all six composers: they all died in concentration camps. But their music doesn't show it; the pieces included are all non-narrative and generally not anguished. Gideon Klein was a Moravian who lived only 26 years (1919-45); His very interesting String Trio was written at Terezin, a concentration camp 60 km from Prague; only two weeks after completion in 1944 he was sent to Auschwitz; the music is beautifully made, with valid ideas well developed in a Neoclassical style. Luis Roggero (violin), Elizabeth Ridolfi (viola) and María Eugenia Castro (cello) gave a limpid performance. Viktor Ullmann is known here through his opera "The Emperor of Atlantis", a fascinating work offered many times by the Colón Chamber Opera; in fact its coruscating contents sent both musician and librettist to Auschwitz. His Piano Sonata No.5 is different, a rather diffuse Neoclassical work of little dramatic significance written at Terezin; it was cleanly played by Susana Kasakoff. Erwin Schulhoff (1894-1942) produced a very considerable body of work, generally combining a Neoclassic style with jazz influences. This concert included two of his scores: Divertimento for oboe, clarinet and bassoon (1927), an imaginative and charming piece in seven movements , beautifully played by Rubén Albornoz, Pablo Timenthal and Andrea Merenzon; and his "Hot Sonata" for alto sax and piano (1930), full of character, played with real swing by María Noel Luzardo and Fernando Pérez.

The Suite op.17 for oboe and piano (1939) by Pavel Haas (1899-1944) is pleasant and well written; it was played rather reticently by Natalia Silipo and brilliantly by Pérez. Finally, an attractive "Theme and variations" for string quartet (1936) by Hans Krása (1899-1944) in a rather Postromantic mood was very well played by Roggero, Roberto Calomarde, Ridolfi and Castro.

I couldn't hear the second concert, called Berlin, were the main score was Schreker's Chamber Symphony and the programme included works by Mendelssohn, Krenek and Hindemith. The third was dedicated mainly to the Vienna School. It started with Mahler only chamber work, his Quartet movement for piano and strings, moody , rather Schumannian music written at 18-years-old, nicely played by Haydée Seibert (violin), Verónica D'Amore (viola), Castro (cello) and Alicia Belleville (piano). Then we had magisterial interpretations by Antonio Formaro of two seminal pieces by Schoenberg (6 small pieces op.19) and Berg (Sonata op.1), clearly epigrammatic atonal 1911 music the first and extreme Postromantic the second, written in 1908-9. In the same concentrated style as Schoenberg's op. 19, we heard Webern's 1910 Four pieces for violin and piano, played very professionally by Seibert and Belleville. Finally, Alexander von Zemlinsky's Trio op.3 (1896), attractively Postromantic, was played with distinction by Matías Tchicourel (clarinet), Castro (cello) and Agustina Herrera (piano).

I was particularly sorry to miss the fascinating fourth concert, "The cabaret", where, produced by Daniel Suárez Marzal, Víctor Torres sang Schoenberg's "Brettl-Lieder", Susanna Moncayo did pieces by Svenk, A. Strauss, Kálmán, Roman and Raymond, and Alejandro Meerapfel sang Berlin cabaret songs by Eisler, Dessau, Hollander and Weill.

There was an important complement to this series, a valuable concert by the National Symphony under Pedro Calderón, where, apart from Torres's fine singing of Mahler's "Kindertotenlieder" (a bit weak in the low tones), we heard premieres from Schreker, Eisler and Schulhoff at the Facultad de Derecho (UBA). Franz Schreker' "Fantastic Overture" (1903-4) is Postromantic and diffuse; Hanns Eisler (1898-1962) extracted the iconoclastic Suite op. 23 from his music for the film "Opus III" by Walter Rutmannn; it's fun to hear. Schulhoff's First Symphony (1925) is a serious, well-wrought score. All was played and conducted with commitment.

For Buenos Aires Herald

jueves, julio 17, 2008

The rich paths of the Baroque

Fortunately in recent decades the musical Baroque has always been an important part of the B.A. musical season; this year is no exception. In recent weeks two events have told of the richness of that period. I will start with the double programme offered by Juventus Lyrica at the Avenida: Pergolesi's "La serva padrona" and Handel's "Acis and Galatea" in the premiere of Mozart's orchestration. The idea was good and the show in general terms was satisfactory. Pergolesi's piece nowadays is valuable more for its historical significance than for its current weight. It has the merit of being the "intermezzo" that gave birth to "opera buffa"; the author wanted to lighten an evening otherwise devoted to his own "opera seria" "Il prigioniero superbo" at Naples' theatre San Bartolomeo in 1733. The "intermezzo" became the symbol of the new "opera buffa" based on everyday contemporary characters instead of gods or heros and kings of yore. In 1752 it would be protagonist in the "Querelle des bouffons" that opposed partisans of French serious opera (Lully and so on) and the new "buffo" opera. "La serva padrona" is short and easy to stage , with two singers and a mime and its subject smacks of new ideas born of the bourgeoisie: a canny maidservant manages to induce her employer to marry her. The music is simple, melodic and pleasant, but both text and music are apt to have redundant patches. George Frideric Handel (spelled the British way) had immediate success with his "opera seria" "Rinaldo" in 1711 and would remain the great master of the form for thirty years. "Acis and Galatea" is a digression, a "masque" (a typically English form that combined dialogues, arias, ensembles and dances) in which none less than John Gay, Alexander Pope and John Hughes refashioned an episode from Ovid's "Metamorphoses". The new piece was created in 1718 for Cannons, the Duke of Chandos' magnificent residence. The work is really a pastoral, only interrupted by the cyclops Polyphemus, who rages but is beaten by the shepherd Acis, who thus saves his fiancee Galatea. Nothing much as a story or as theatre, but what charming, lovely music. Juventus opted for Mozart's orchestration, which adds clarinets and flutes and revises the trumpet parts; he also adds an interlude based on two concerti grossi by Handel. The results are obviously refined and beautiful. Producer Oscar Barney Finn had an interesting idea: to stage both pieces integrating an evening at an English aristocrat's mansion and opposing the tastes for Italian "opera buffa" and English "masque" through (invented) conversations between the aristocrat and the promoter of "La serva padrona". The dialogues were funny and very well played by Daniel Miglioranza in the Italian's part and Fernando Margenet as the very British aristocrat. The use of the same ambience was logical in this case and it had a very tasteful stage design by Raúl Bongiorno from La Plata. Mini Zuccheri's costumes, on the other hand, were very uneven: pleasant in "La serva padrona", mixed in "Acis and Galatea", where the shepherdesses were agreeably dressed but not the shepherds, and Polyphemus was disastrous: he looked like a rundown circus performer. Singers also were uneven. Marisa Pavón was accurate, clean and coquettish as Serpina, but Alejandro Meerapfel as Uberto shouted a lot and -not his fault- was marked as too weak and subservient. The mute role of the servant Vespone was well done by Miglioranza. In "Acis and Galatea", Acis was rather dully taken by Carlos Ullán, and Leonardo Pohl, from Chile (debut), was gray in sound and acting. Soledad de la Rosa was her usual impeccable self as a singer but gave little expression to her part. Quite the contrary of the very animated and talented Sergio Carlevaris as Polyphemus, even hindered by a ridiculous costume. This was a joint production with the University of Buenos Aires, who contributed its Choir (32-strong) and Orchestra (34 players) under Andrés Gerszenzon. They also played prior to the operas the Overture to Handel's "Ode to Saint Cecilia" in Mozart's orchestration, which fared poorly, but elsewhere the Orchestra played decently enough and in good style; the Choir was disproportioned, the girls much better than the boys . We were promised "ambience music" before the start, Mozart's Serenade K.388, but this didn't happen. The Accademia Bizantina led from the harpsichord by Ottavio Dantone paid us a return visit for Nuova Harmonia at the Coliseo and proved again that it is one of the best Italian historicist ensembles. They are only twelve but everyone plays with style, technique and intensity. The two violin soloists are outstanding, particularly Stefano Montanari, whose presence is strong and dramatic and his mechanism really impressive; the lighter tone of Stefano Rossi complements Montanari well. There's also an excellent cellist, Marco Frezzato. The programme held no surprises but was a good cross-section of outstanding Baroque scores: Corelli's Concerto grosso op. 6 No. 1, the same description for the included Handel piece, Geminiani's Concerto grosso "La follia" , op.5 No. 12, three Vivaldi works (the Sinfonia –Overture- from the opera "L'Olimpiade", Concerto in A for strings F.XI No. 4 and Concerto in G minor for strings F.XI No. 12) and J.S.Bach's famous Concerto for two violins. The encore was Vivaldi's Allegro from op.3 No. 5. I preferred them in the Italians than in the German, but the standard was mostly high. For Buenos Aires Herald

domingo, julio 13, 2008

The National Symphony's valuable season

On May 10 I referred to the National Symphony's current season in hopeful terms. Since then, their plans have taken place with some internal problems. The worst was on June 27, when the malfunction of a lift at the annex of the Cervantes Theatre made it impossible to transport the heavy instruments to the Facultad de Derecho and forced the adjournment of the concert to July 11 (their habitual rehearsal room is at the 11th. level of the mentioned Annex). But the concerts at the Facultad have taken place according to the year's programming and some sessions have been very satisfactory, confirming that the NS is our best orchestra currently, even if it has to perform in bad acoustics. On May 16 the Orchestra was led by Guillermo Scarabino and the occasion had three reasons to make it worthwhile: the inclusion of the rarely heard and interesting Kodály Concerto for orchestra, the presence of one of our best pianists, Alejandro Panizza, as soloist in Brahms' massive Second Concerto, and the premiere of Eva Lopszyc's "Ave Maria". I will start with the latter; the score of the Argentine composer proved to be much more than the habitual short piece with that style. Instead, its 15-minute course is an intense, dramatic prayer to Our Lady of Czestochowa . With the convincing presence of soprano Susana Caligaris and the Coro Polifónico Nacional, the work made a strong statement. Kodály's 23-minute Concerto makes one think of Bartók's masterpiece of the same title, but the music, though very pleasant and well wrought, inhabits a lower level of invention; it was quite well expressed by conductor and orchestra.; it's worth stating that Kodály's score is earlier (1939-40) than Bartók's ( 1942-3, revised 1945). Panizza has the sort of big sound and security of attack needed by Brahms' two Concerti; he has also the mental control to solve the intricate irregular rhythms. On this occasion I found him not quite as expressive as he can be; perhaps he was influenced by a too thick orchestral accompaniment and a phrasing that was too square. But make no mistake, he is a major pianist. Italian conductor Nino Lepore made his debut on June 6. He was born near Bari and has long been the leader of the Symphony of Bari Province. His career as a guest conductor isn't distinguished, those mentioned in his biography are of the second and third rank.. One can surmise that current conditions at our NS don't allow to pay adequate fees for "name conductors"; this is something to change in 2009 and it depends both on the amelioration of the low budget voted by Congress and of the distribution that José Nun sees fit to make of the Culture Secretariat's monies. Lepore's programme wasn't interesting; one of the less important Rossini overtures, that of "Tancredi"; Beethoven's Concerto No. 3 with Paula Peluso as the pianist; and Mendelssohn's Symphony No. 4, "Italian". In fact Peluso was the best thing; very clean, more dramatic and with a bigger sound than what I heard from her in previous occasions, she gave us authentic Beethoven. After a rather pale Rossini, Lepore accompanied well the Beethoven and gave an orthodox reading of Mendelssohn; he was correct and so was the orchestra, but inspiration was elsewhere. The following concert on June 20 was brilliant. Not only did Pedro Calderón give a splendid premiere performance of Shostakovich's Symphony No. 12 but Israeli pianist Boris Giltburg gave a stunning performance of Prokofiev's Concerto No. 3. Up to the last minute the concert was in jeopardy; a prolonged blackout didn't allow a general rehearsal . But the lights went on just in time, and the concert was a great success. Symphony No. 12, op.112 (1961) isn't one of Shostakovich's best for it depends too much on the redundant exploitation of an initial motto, but of course there's plenty of imagination in the 41-minute score, a single movement in four sections reflecting "The Year 1911", the advance signs of the 1917 revolution. I enjoyed it a lot in a very committed interpretation; now there's only No. 3 left to be premiered, thanks to Calderón's efforts, often stumped by the Culture Secretariat. Giltburg had offered last year a notable recital, so I wasn't surprised at the evidence of transcendental virtuoso means in Prokofiev's splendid music, but I admired deeply the musicality of his phrasing, the beauty of his touch, his charisma and positive personnality. He was very well abetted by Calderón and an orchestra on its toes. His encore was Rachmaninov's famous Prelude op. 3 No.2. The following isn't a proper review, for I could only attend the general rehearsal, but I have reliable accounts that the concert (on July 4) was met with wild applause. David Handel, a young American conductor who is doing fine work in Bolivia and Cuyo, led an electrifying rehearsal of splendid USA music with the gestures, energy and acumen of an early Bernstein. I missed Barber' Overture to "The School for Scandal", but I had splendid impressions of Bernstein's Dances from "West Side Story" and an ample 45-minute suite from Gershwin's "Porgy and Bess", with Soledad de la Rosa (soprano), Alejandro Meerapfel (baritone) and the Coro Polifónico Nacional. I enjoyed it hugely, for both orchestra and chorus entered spiritedly into the heart of the music, and Handel obviously relishes it

For Buenos Aires Herald

domingo, julio 06, 2008

Interesting programming from our orchestras

Yes, I know, there’s no Colón opera season. But its orchestras are active, and some concerts have proved worthwhile. I will give pride of place to the all-Richard Strauss Colón Orchestra night conducted by the 85-year-old Franz-Paul Decker. It was offered twice in successive days at the Auditorio de Belgrano and I heard the second one. One negative point: sparse audiences, which reflects badly on a public that should have realized that this was a session not to be missed. In fact it proved to be the only occasion so far that I would call worthy of the Colón’s international fame, even if it was outside its walls. The programme was mouth-watering: the gigantic “Domestic Symphony”, the Four Last Songs with Virginia Correa Dupuy and the Suite from “Der Rosenkavalier”. It was a homage to the beloved veteran maestro (who received plaques from the Orchestra and the theatre’s authorities) and showed him astonishingly fit in mind and body at an age where most have retired. And Strauss is his specialty: he revels in the gorgeous, enormous orchestration and knows how to clarify it and how to unify the vast expanses of rich music. Apart from a notorious trumpet glitch, the Symphony proceeded with coherence and vast impact, with the Orchestra responding well to the virtuosic demands. The singer was her sensitive, stylish self in those autumnal songs that seem a swan song of Postromanticism. And the “Rosenkavalier” music was simply bewitching, the maestro coddling lovely, “Gemuetlich” sounds out of an involved orchestra. The “Estable” gave other concerts conducted by their very able Principal Conductor Carlos Vieu. An all-Bruckner night was a tough assignment, especially for the brass. And it showed in the horn fluffs occurred during the very demanding Fourth Symphony (Romantic). Also, the Auditorio’s acoustics are very live and tend to exaggerate massive sounds. And Bruckner is often granitic. So, both in the Symphony and in the Te Deum, even if Vieu chose sane tempi and phrased well, one felt rather crushed; he should have toned down the fortissimi of both the Colón Choir (Salvatore Caputo) and the orchestra. The lady soloists were marginally better than the gentlemen but all except the mezzo were shouty : soprano Irene Burt, mezzo Mónica Sardi, tenor Arnaldo Quiroga and bass Ariel Cazes, especially poor. I found quite unnecessary the inclusion of Verdi’s Requiem Mass in the season for it was heard closing 2007’s activity. The work is admirable, of course, but there was no need for such immediate repetition. There were no less than five performances with two casts; although the first, all Argentine, was good (Patricia Gutiérrez, Cecilia Díaz, Carlos Duarte, Christian Peregrino) I preferred to avoid the ultra-resonant acoustics of the Cathedral and hear the second cast at the Auditorio: the tutti may have been too overpowering but otherwise I heard the music clearly. Vieu’s baton was both firm and sensitive, controlling the Orchestra and the Choir (Caputo) with undoubted talent; one rarely hears the Sanctus so well sung and played. The special pleasure of this performance was the admirable Italian soprano Maria Pia Piscitelli, fortunately a frequent visitor; although her lows are a bit weak, the middle voice and the high register are lovely and she sings with real line. Mezzo Alejandra Malvino also did good work; I admired her true intonation particularly singing at the unison octave with the soprano. Fernando Chalabe replaced the announced tenor Gustavo López Manzitti; I found him in poor voice and style. And the bass Homero Pérez Miranda sounded excentric and un-Verdian. The Buenos Aires Philharmonic is having a so-so season. Even Decker (at the Coliseo) couldn’t get as good a result as was hoped from Bruckner’s Symphony No. 9, though the final Adagio came close; but the orchestra seems dispirited. There was a pleasant surprise, however: the 18-year-old Chinese pianist Chun Wang proved a major find in Liszt’s Concerto No. 1, played with true virtuosity but also with sensitive tone in the cantabiles. His encore, “El puerto” from “Iberia” by Albéniz, was delightfully pointed. Even Arturo Diemecke, the Phil’s Principal Conductor, who generally has such rapport with this organism, didn’t get the results we heard in earlier seasons. After a perfectly absurd opening with Gomes’ Overture from “Il guarany”, we heard Mahler’s uneven and enormous Seventh Symphony. Diemecke couldn’t make light of the bad patches of first and last movements, though there was some enjoyment in the three middle movements (the two “Night Musics” and the shadowy Scherzo). The following concert had one strong point, a very able rendition of Ginastera’s late and very interesting “Popol Vuh”, a skillful blend of the avantgarde and the telluric. Pablo Saraví played nicely the rather light and short “Concert Fantasy on Russian themes” by Rimsky-Korsakov. But the concert closed with a harsh and uncontrolled Beethoven Seventh. Jean also conducted a concert with De Rogatis, Rimsky-Korsakov and Brahms. I could only attend the general rehearsal of Brahms’ Second Piano Concerto, where Peter Donohoe was his redoubtable self, a truly massive technique up to all difficulties. The Orchestra of the Teatro Argentino under Luis Gorelik offered an important concert. Antonio Formaro played magnificently and in true Gallic style Saint-Saens’ Concerto No.2, and Mahler’s wonderful “Das Lied von der Erde” was very correctly done by conductor and orchestra, with fine contributions from mezzo Alejandra Malvino and poor ones from tenor Carlos Bengolea. For Buenos Aires Herald


Desde mi anterior artículo , "¿Quo vadis, Colón?", sólo hubo un avance: se decidió la licitación de gerenciamiento del ahora llamado Plan de Obras. Fue adjudicado a la empresa SYASA. Fuera de ello los síntomas de desconcierto han cundido y resulta evidente que la incertidumbre continúa, probablemente intensificada. Casi nada de lo hecho institucionalmente por Sanguinetti y Boschet ha encontrado aprobación y mucho resultó fuertemente atacado.

Las celebraciones por los cien años del Colón fueron abundantes en número y magras en calidad. Curiosamente comenzaron con un acto en ese Colegio Nacional Buenos Aires que lideró durante un largo período Horacio Sanguinetti; allí se presentó un libro sobre el constructor Francisco Saverio Pellizzari (escrito por su nieta Amalia Pellizzari) que participó de modo decisivo durante el largo veintenio en el que se sucedieron tres sucesivos arquitectos hasta la inauguración en 2008, y como prolegómeno de los frecuentes conflictos del ahora centenario Teatro, tuvo serios problemas para cobrar sus trabajos.

La intención de utilizar al menos parcialmente sectores del Colón el 25 de mayo (día de la inauguración en 2008) resulta plausible. Las familias con niños que fueron a las 11 al foyer asistieron a una versión condensada, con relatora y en castellano de "El Barbero de Sevilla"; su aceptable intención difusionista se deslució con los continuos murmullos de un público ajeno a los comportamientos operísticos habituales. También pudieron ver la excelente exposición de fotografías de Arnaldo Colombaroli "El Colón dentro del Colón", que agudizó en muchos la angustia por el cierre del Teatro. El último acto en el edificio se prestó a reparos y preguntas: a) si el Salón Dorado está en condiciones operativas, por qué no tiene actividades programadas durante la temporada; b) ¿puede el amiguismo silenciar para Sanguinetti el estado vocal inaceptable de una artista (Ana María González) que décadas atrás fue estrella en el Colón?

El mismo día pero a las 17 tuvo lugar una maratón lírica en el Opera realizada con mediocre criterio: meramente una sucesión de arias en total mezcolanza con la intención de quedar bien con cantantes argentinos residentes, sin discriminar quiénes están en buenas condiciones y quiénes no, sin armar un programa coherente y variado que tuviera conjuntos, y además claramente improvisado, puesto que los fragmentos orquestales fueron eliminados a último momento para aligerar una tarde muy larga. Antes de empezar, Pastor Mora (contrabajista de la Estable) consideró que lejos de ser una celebración se trataba de un acto con un elemento de tristeza, ya que no se podía realizar en el Colón. Afuera, antes de entrar, el público se encontró con un grupo que repartía volantes en contra de la Ley de Autarquía. Un acto de entrecasa, sin selección, sin la presencia de los grandes cantantes internacionales argentinos ni de al menos un par de artistas internacionales de fuste.

De allí en más hubo varias galas líricas, donde la de jóvenes voces acompañadas por el talentoso Enrique Ricci se destacó porque tuvo una coherencia de programación. "Il mondo della luna" de Haydn fue ofrecida por la Opera de Cámara en la Sociedad Hebraica porque el originalmente anunciado Teatro 25 de Mayo es coto exclusivo de Pablo Batalla y éste se coloca en las paralelas con respecto al Colón. No está de más recalcar aquí la extraña situación organizacional del Teatro, ya que si según organigrama sus directores dependen del Ministerio de Cultura (Lombardi Ministro y Batalla Secretario de Gestión Cultural) en la práctica dependen directamente de Macri por un acuerdo especial. Volviendo a la ópera de Haydn, es vívido ejemplo de la ética actual del Colón que en vez de usar la partitura original se encargue a un arreglador de plaza una orquestación a partir de la reducción de piano, presumiblemente para no pagar derechos.

Las presentación del Ballet Estable en el Opera con un programa integrado por actos sueltos de tres balllets distintos fue atacado por varios medios (fue lapidario el ataque de Pablo Sirvén en La Nación) que más allá de buenas labores individuales notaron indisciplina, problemas debido al piso poceado, una prenda desgarrada, etc. Recientemente el Director del Ballet Guido de Benedetti acusó (también en La Nación) a la Directora de Estudios Irene Amerio (que ya renunció) de impericia en el manejo de los ensayos y a la Dirección por mantener un estado de insuficiente financiación desde el principio del año. Por supuesto que no son los Directores los responsables sino la política restrictiva de Macri, bien poco interesado en que el Colón funcione aceptablemente. La falta de medios adecuados también hizo que el notable maestro Mario Galizzi renunciara a su cargo en el Instituto Superior de Arte (que por su parte ofreció una selección de "Don Pasquale" durante la celebración).

Hubo también un concierto de cámara vocal a cargo de Virginia Correa Dupuy. Por último, la Orquesta Académica ofreció un concierto (no hubo actividad del CETC en la celebración) . Lamentablemente pocas semanas después circuló un mail de los integrantes de la Académica gravemente preocupados por la intención de fundar una orquesta similar dentro de las estructuras de la Ciudad que rivalizaría de modo inconducente e innecesario con la Académica, y con mejor financiación.

Como se ve, hubo mucho que objetar en esas semanas de celebración. Revelaron criterios artísticos dudosos, estrechez financiera y dificultades logísticas al borde del caos.

Escribo esta nota el 20 de junio. A la fecha las dos situaciones fundamentales – la consecución de las obras y la Ley de Autarquía- están en período de espera.

Días atrás una delegación de legisladores, entre los que se contaban miembros de la Comisión de Cultura, visitaron el Colón para interiorizarse del estado de los trabajos. Estaban por ejemplo Inés Urdapilleta, Presidenta de la Comisión de Cultura y del Frente para la Victoria; Teresa de Anchorena, que sostuvo el año pasado una polémica con la gente del Master Plan por el manejo de los textiles; y Patricia Walsh, cuyo asesor es Héctor Bidonde. Fueron recibidos por miembros del ex Master Plan, ya que algunos (incluso Sonia Terreno) siguen estando allí, puesto que cierta actividad todavía hay (en especial el acondicionamiento del plato giratorio del escenario), la parálisis es amplia pero no completa. Hubo coincidencia en que la sala está en razonable buen estado y que varios trabajos artesanales fueron bien realizados. También se supo que las butacas estarían terminándose en Fontenla y que tienen resultados acústicos aceptables. Se tuvo la impresión de que sala y escenario podrían en efecto estar listos para Diciembre 2009, según prevé la licitación de gerenciamiento. Pero la gente de SYASA, por alguna razón de protocolo habilitante aun pendiente, hasta el momento no se apersonó en el teatro.

La sensación fue distinta cuando bajaron al tercer subsuelo. Allí fue flagrante la preocupación de los legisladores, pese a que en días recientes se habían barrido escombros. Pero los boquetes, la acumulación de tierra y el pozo inundado siguen estando. Y, como destacó La Nación, no hubo respuesta satisfactoria con respecto al tema más crucial: la construcción de un montacargas grande que permita la entrada y salida rápida desde la calle de amplios contenedores y así importar producciones extranjeras, clara señal del relegamiento o quizá la extinción gradual de los talleres del Colón. De paso, en la actualidad sólo escenografía está haciendo pequeños trabajos en el Teatro, los otros servicios estarían trabajando en un ámbito lejano al Colón llamado La Nube, donde según datos fidedignos estarían haciendo tercerización al revés, con operarios del Colón haciendo tareas para espectáculos ajenos; ¿será ésta una señal del futuro? Pero ahora los técnicos tienen tiempo amplio ya que no hay temporada; ¿y cuando la haya?

Ley de Autarquía. Al parecer el redactor de la versión original es un legislador del PRO, Avelino Tamargo. Desde su llegada a la Legislatura hubo varias reuniones de análisis, a veces con presencias de trabajadores del Colón o del Ing. Daniel Chaín, Ministro de Desarrollo Urbano, que revelaron fuertes discrepancias con su contenido. Es grave que Sanguinetti lo haya avalado en su forma original. En mi anterior artículo expliqué cuáles son las principales discrepancias, remito al lector a "¿Quo vadis, Colón?". Allí se daba como fecha de tratamiento del proyecto el 8 de mayo; en realidad sufrió varias postergaciones, y a la fecha aun no se sabe cuándo será la próxima reunión, ya que no sólo la Comisión de Cultura debe opinar, también la de Asuntos Constitucionales. Ya ha habido varias revisiones del texto, incorporando correcciones de las otras fuerzas políticas (y hasta

de algún disidente del PRO, según ciertas versiones). Pero persisten graves objeciones al nuevo articulado, según trabajadores serios del Colón que conocen el tema a fondo. Por otra parte, Macri tiene dificultades políticas serias en la Legislatura, donde muchos de sus proyectos están varados por disensos con otras fuerzas; y hay que reconocer que Macri busca consensos; por ejemplo, hubiera tenido los votos para sancionar la Ley de Autarquía, pero tan ajustadamente que hubiera sido políticamente negativo. Es difícil saber qué ocurrirá con esta ley, que en su actual articulado sigue sin definir claramente la estructura del Colón y sin explicitar la situación de los técnicos, pero hasta podría ocurrir que no se sancione, como pretende Urdapilleta. En ese caso, ¿qué pasaría, ya que fue condición de Sanguinetti para aceptar el cargo que la Ley se sancione?

No deja de extrañar que tema tan grave no se haya tratado internamente en Asamblea General en el propio Teatro, con manifiesta reticencia de los delegados que representan a SUTECBA (el gran gremio de la ciudad) en el Colón a convocarla. ¿Porqué? Nuevamente son los de ATE los que defienden claramente los intereses de los trabajadores.

Dos cuestiones mediáticas seguramente son conocidas por los lectores de CANTABILE: las valientes palabras de Daniel Barenboim al finalizar su concierto en el Luna Park emplazando a "responsables e irresponsables" a terminar el Colón a tiempo para que se pueda realizar allí la temporada 2010 y la ocurrencia del notero de CQC de introducirse en el Colón dentro de un contrabajo y reflejar así el estado del teatro ante la opinión pública. Ambas iniciativas concientizaron a la opinión pública más amplia y seguramente influyeron en Macri, que se defendió bien en una entrevista que le hizo el notero, a quien le prometió que era compromiso suyo abrir el Colón para 2010. En suma, el papelón de 2008 de no abrirlo es de Telerman pero el de 2010 sería de Macri.

A todo esto, el 30 de junio vencen muchos contratos de jefes en el Colón, incluso el de Boschet (no el de Sanguinetti). ¿Se renovarán ? Las quejas de De Benedetti publicadas en La Nación y de Carlos Vieu hablando al público deplorando las malas condiciones de trabajo de la Orquesta Estable son tiros por elevación a la figura de Martín Boschet, por otra parte calificado "apático" por Diego Fischerman y denunciado en Página 12 por cobrar mucho más que lo permitido según las pautas de Macri.

Para Cantabile, Julio 2008

Wonders of chamber music at the Mozarteum

The Mozarteum Argentino is an oasis of pleasure in our grim reality: its 2008 season is so far one of their best, and that's saying a lot. I have already written about the four magnificent Barenboim/ Berliner Staatskapelle concers. Now is the turn of music for piano in the gifted hands of Sergio Tiempo, the Vilnius Festival Orchestra (really a string ensemble), the fantastic recital of violinist Joshua Bell and pianist Frederic Chiu, and the unforgettable farewell concert of the Berg Quartet; all at the Coliseo, whose acoustics may not be warm but certainly are clear.

Sergio Tiempo is a member of a gifted pianistic family: his grandparents are Antonio De Raco and Elizabeth Westerkamp, his mother is Lyl de Raco and his half-sister is Karin Lechner. Since early youth he has shown an uncanny facility and now that he has turned 36 (and looks ten less) he is having a distinguished world career.

He started with a clean, crisp execution of Haydn's Sonata Hob. XVI/37. Then, Chopin's Sonata No.3 played in the grand manner in the first three movements almost came to grief in the fourth, unwisely taken at such a ferocious clip that even Tiempo's privileged fingers stumbled several times. No reservations about a fantastic performance of Ravel's "Gaspard de la Nuit", where full due was given both to the watery impressionism of "Ondine" and to the wild and sinister expressionism of "Scarbo". A calm interlude with a beautiful performance of Liszt's "Consolation No.3" before an imaginative and virtuoso "Mephisto Waltz No.1". Encores: Chopin's slow Prelude No. 4 and vertiginous Prelude No. 16 and a modern score that sounded like a dainty jukebox with wrong notes.

Polish composer Krzysztof Penderecki is now 75; he has come often through the decades to conduct his controversial music, both of his avantgarde first period and his milder later production. His latest visit let us know the Vilnius Festival Orchestra, a vigorous string ensemble from Lithuania where the ladies dominate; there are some men in a proportion of 1 to 4 in a total of 19, a number that gives them some density. Their repertoire –at least the one they offered here- is of the 19th and 20th century. They started with Shostakovich's Chamber symphony op.110 bis, an adaptation by Rudolf Barshai of that composer's strongly autobiographical and dramatic Quartet No. 8. It was a strong, astringent performance. Then, the premiere (wrongly not announced as such) of Penderecki's "Sinfonietta per archi", a transcription of his 1991 Trio. Influenced by Bartok but in a rougher vein with at times a grotesque bias, this concise three-movement work is thought out like a "concerto grosso" with solos for violin, viola and cello; curiously the composer , after starting things with an opening gesture, retreated to the back of the stage and let the orchestra play on its own, which they did with remarkable assertiveness.

To finish, a basic repertoire work done with charm and professionalism: Dvorák's Serenade . Interesting encores: Tchaikovsky's beautiful third movement from his sextet "Souvenir de Florence" in an augmented string version; and Penderecki's Chaconne (in memoriam of the Pope John Paul II), an expressive piece in local premiere, at times redolent of Piazzolla!

American violinist Joshua Bell made a fine impression in his first visit five years ago; his second was even more successful. Youthful-looking and flexible, he has undoubted charisma. He shows a transcendent technique and a beautiful sound, never spiky; of course it helps that he plays on a 4-million dollar Stradivari. An added pleasure was the Argentine debut of pianist Frederic Chiu, who proved to be a full partner in the essential sonatas that formed the gist of the programme: Beethoven's No. 9, "Kreutzer", and Prokofiev's No.1 (Chiu has recorded the integral piano music of this composer). In both these marvelous works their interplay was ideal, for both are not only virtuosi but also masters of phrasing; their Beethoven had moments of uncanny beauty coupled with the strength and exhilaration that the "Kreutzer" calls forth; those trained in the European tradition may have felt it was a bit too "New World" but I enjoyed it deeply, and the Prokofiev was simply ideal.

I didn't care much for the interpretation of Tartini's "Devil's Trill Sonata", quite far from the late Baroque style. But Tchaikovsky's "Melody" (No.3 from "Souvenir d'un lieu cher") was delightful, and Sarasate's "Introduction and Tarantella" truly dazzling. The encores were perfect: two transcriptions by Heifetz of Ponce's "Estrellita" and Prokofiev's March from "The love for three oranges".

The Berg Quartet has long been recognized one of the very best. This visit was melancholy in a way, for it is their farewell tour and they will be sorely missed. They were in top form, to my mind better than in their previous stay here. The great violist Thomas Kakuska died in 2005 but he was replaced by the young and admirable Isabel Charisius, who blends uncannily well with the glorious veterans Guenter Pichler and Gerhard Schulz (violins) and Valentin Erben (cello).

I will make no distinctions between the interpretations of such divergent scores as Haydn's Quartet No.8l, op.77 No.1, Berg's Quartet op.3 and Beethoven's Quartet No.15, op.132: they were practically note-perfect, stylistically ideal and of intense nobility of spirit. We were sent home wih a sublime encore: the Cavatina from Beethoven's Quartet No. 13, op.132.

For Buenos Aires Herald