lunes, septiembre 29, 2008

The variegated paths of Renaissance and Baroque music

In two successive days the Mozarteum Argentino gave us the return of Hespérion XXI in Ibero-American Renaissance music (at the Coliseo) . Both events were richly rewarding and demonstrative of the immense variety of those periods.

We had earlier visits from the specialist ensemble founded by Jordi Savall; it started as Hespérion XX and as the new century began, was renamed Hespérion XXI. As it came this year, it included four "viole da gamba", led by Savall in the smallest one, the others being Sergi Casademunt, Fahmi Alqhai and the Argentine Juan Manuel Quintana; Xavier Díaz-Latorre and Enrique Solinis in guitar and the "vihuela" (its cousin, so to speak); David Mayoral and Mehmet Yesilcay in assorted percussion; and Adela González-Campa in period castanets. The instrumentalists were complemented by another Savall-led ensemble, La Capella Reial de Catalunya, a flexible vocal ensemble that has often done choral work in its augmented form. Soprano Montserrat Figueras, Savall´s wife, was taken ill and splendidly replaced by the Argentine Adriana Fernández, who is having a fine career in Europe. The others were all men: countertenor David Sagastume (Basque), tenor Lluís Vilamajó (Catalan), Italian baritone Furio Zanasi, the stunning Venezuelan bass Iván García (with a curious hairdo) and bass Daniele Carnovich (Italian). As you see by the surnames Alkhai (probably Maghrebian) and Yesilcay (Turkish), and by the Italians and Latin-Americans, this is certainly a cosmopolitan ensemble based at Barcelona. By the way, Hespérion comes from Hesperia, an ancient name of the Iberian Peninsula.

Savall has been responsible with his different groups for a staggering 170 CDs, all of them highly professional in execution and musicologically up-to-date. The particular programme I heard is called "Encounters of musics of fire and air, from Old Iberia to the New World", and is designed in a total of twenty pieces, each part containing successively groups of four, two and four works. They purport to be good samples of musical hybridization ("mestizaje") between Spain and Latin America from the 16th to the 18th century. And viceversa, the influence of Latin American musical idioms on Spanish composers residing in Spain. Mostly this traversal was both instructive and enjoyable.

There was a cunning alternation of vocal/instrumental and purely instrumental pieces, almost all rather short. The first group began with a "Moresca" (Moorish-style) by Pedro Guerrero, followed by a hybridization: "Negrilla a 4", that is, a piece in Negro style for four singers, called "San Sabeya gugurumbé", by that great writer of "ensaladas" (quodlibets of melodies), Mateo Flecha, also author of the so-called "Dindirindin a 4", so-called because of the repetition of that onomatopoeic phrase, "Ande pues nuestro apellido". A Pavane and Galliard by Luis de Milán (here Catalanized as Lluís de Milá) completed the group. Milán started the second group of two with an imaginative "Fantasía VII". Bartomeu Cárceres curiously combines Gascon and Catalan in a dance of French origin, the "branle", called "Tau garçó la durundena". The final group of the First Part combined two Spanish resident composers , Diego Ortiz in two dances, "Romanesca y passamezzo moderno", and Antonio Martín y Coll in "El villano", with two transplanted Spaniards: Juan Pérez Bocanegra wrote down in 1631 an indigenous Quechua piece, the expressive "Hanacpachap cussicuinin", and from Juan García de Zéspedes (Mexico) came an astonishing villancico (Christmas carol) on the guaracha rhythm (!), "Ay que me abraso", written before 1678.

The second Part started with the "Obertura/Corrente italiana" by the great Catalan Joan Cabanilles, followed by "Todo el mundo en general", an anonymous piece praising the Virgin, "concevida sin pecado original" (period orthography). Then, "Glosas" (variations) on that same work written by Francisco Correa de Arrauxo, and a typical Spanish "Romance", "Desde las torres del alma", by Juan Blas de Castro. Then, from Martín y Coll, the exciting "Danza del hacha", and an anonymous piece, "Seguidillas en eco: De tu vista celoso". The final group began with an improvisation on the dance called "Canarios", with a funny false start by the guitarist, and virtuoso playing by Savall; there followed a piece characterized as "Mestizo e Indio": "Tleycantimo choquiliya", in a mixture of Spanish and Nahuatl (the Aztec language), by the Portuguese Gaspar Fernandes; a fine "Gallarda Napolitana" by Antonio Valente; and an overlong "Negro a 5" by the Portuguese Frei Filipe da Madre de Deus: "Antonya Flaciquia Gasipà", which means "Antonia, Francisca, Gaspar". The encore was an improvisation on the only four notes we have of the musicalization of the "Romance del Conde Claros".

Turning to the interpretation, Savall decides everything and does it admirably, for he is an expert musicologist as well as a first-rate virtuoso. All players are very good, but I would single out the percussion group (what an assortment of castanets and drums!), the principal guitarist and Casademunt. Of the singers I preferred Fernández, García and Zanasi; the others had flaws, such as breaking the vocal line or crooning too much.

The following day they gave a totally different programme with a very long title: "Lights and shadows in the century of Colón: History and poetry in dialogue with the Arab-Andalusian, Jewish and Christian musics of old Hesperia until the discovery of the New World". It would have been fascinating to attend, but I had an important date elsewhere: Festivales Musicales offered J.S.Bach´s "St. John Passion", and that is unmissable.

Once again, Hespérion XXI gave us much to enjoy.
For Buenos Aires Herald

Opera: admirable Gluck, flawed Rossini

Buenos Aires Lírica (BAL) and Juventud Lyrica proceeded with their seasons, the former with much better results. I don´t think that the inclusion by BAL of Gluck´s "Iphigénie en Tauride" was warranted, because last year we had a very worthy revival from the Compañía de las Luces led by Mauricio Birman. Much more necessary was the other "Iphigénie", "en Aulide", last seen at the Colón in 1949. But this said, I do admit that the BAL revival was valuable . I might add that the absence of the Colón has left the field wide open for BAL to be our most important BA opera organisation. It doesn´t mean that they are the equal of the Colón when this theatre is fully operative; of course, the resources available to a municipal theatre with a big budget aren´t comparable. And they, as the other companies that use the Avenida as venue, have the disadvantage of a small pit (45 players) that the Avenida´s owners stubbornly refuse to enlarge. But they have a consistently better level than other groups, for by careful planning and marketing they have managed to have full houses in all five performances of the operas they offer.

I have great sympathy for the aims of Juventus Lyrica (JL) founded before BAL by Ana D´Anna: to promote young singers is certainly laudable. Also, there´s great warmth and sincerity in what they do, which creates a specially nice ambience. Alas, they have two problems: they are underfinanced and that shows in the insufficient means for such items as scenery and clothing, and D´Anna has sometimes chosen badly her producers (other than herself). In the particular case I´m mentioning, producer Horacio Pigozzi ruined a "Barber of Seville" very well conceived musically by maestro Antonio Russo and with several worthwhile singers.

Now back to "Iphigénie en Tauride". The opera is the best of the "tragédies lyriques" composed by Gluck for Paris and made him the legitimate successor of Rameau. It was written in 1778 on a libretto by Nicolas Francois Guillard based on Euripides. The libretto is good and the music, noble, inspiring and dramatic.

The musical side of this revival was quite satisfying. I was really surprised by the sense of style of the young Argentine conductor Alejo Pérez, who is having a fine career in Europe, though associated rather with contemporary music. The result here, with an augmented Camerata Bariloche, was splendid: intensity, precision, beautiful playing and a dramatic approach that never went off bounds.

There was a fine cast. Virginia Correa Dupuy showed yet again that she is a special singer; the role is apt either for a dramatic mezzosoprano or soprano, and her voice has the timbre of a mezzo in the middle and low ranges but clears up in the high range and sounds like a soprano. Her musicality is refined (lovely pianissimo) and she acts with involvement. Tenor Carlos Ullán had one of his best nights in his well-sung and –acted Pylades, the bosom friend of Orestes, played and sung with excessive emphasis by baritone Luciano Garay but undoubted commitment. A new voice, Ernesto Bauer, sang an impressive Thoas, the Scythian tyrant. Crystalline singing from Eugenia Fuente (the goddess Diana), nice work from the Priestesses (Vanesa Tomás and Vanina Guilledo), a correct Greek woman (Andrea Nazarre) and forceful appearances of Mariano Fernández Bustinza (Scythian) and Claudio Rotella (temple minister). The young and well-chose finely prepared by Juan Casasbellas. The six dancers did agreeably in Cecilia Elías´ sober choreography.

Which brings me to the production and stage designs of Rita Cosentino. It was a mix of right and wrong. Right: the expressive interchange among the singers, always dramatic; the evolutions of the Chorus, functioning according to the Euripides play. Wrong: the use of a unit set (the ruins of a palace) to be both beach, prison, temple and room; the absurd stylistic solecisms, such as putting a twentieth-century armchair in a crucial scene. The costumes by Stella Maris Müller were pleasant for the women but unlikely for the men; the Greeks looked like informal boys of our age and Thoas was most un-kinglike. The lighting by Horacio Efron exaggerated the initial storm.

About the "Barber" I´ll be brief. Laura Penchi was a delightful Rosina, pert and fluid. Fabián Veloz was a convincing Figaro, no mean feat for a singer of little experience; he has a fine lyrical timbre. Duilio Smiriglia is overweight for Almaviva and hardly suggests a Count, but he has a nice voice, still undertrained. Alberto Jáuregui Lorda made an unconventional though credible Don Bartolo. Mario De Salvo is a good singer but lacks volume and presence for Don Basilio. Santiago Tiscornia was a sonorous Officer, Leonardo Menna a pleasant Fiorello, and poor Silvana Gómez had to deal with an outlandish marking of Bertha by the producer but sang acceptably. Very good playing from the orchestra and appropriate work from the Chorus under Miguel Pesce.

The production was unretrievable in every imaginable aspect. The completely incongruous Flamenco ballet (not bad in itself) in the Storm, the ridiculous restriction of space in the First Act, the tasteless, even obscene markings of the singers, the absurd clothes (the Count as a coya), the incredible transposition of the action to the twentieth century, etc.,etc. Mini Zuccheri is just as guilty in her clothing designs and the stage décor (Juan José Cambre) was very poor.

For Buenos Aires Herald

viernes, septiembre 19, 2008

Pianists galore this season

A salutary trend of recent seasons has been the comeback of piano recitals. Not in the big cycles (Mozarteum Argentino, Festivales Musicales, Nuova Harmonia) who keep to one pianist per season (I would say that two is the right proportion) but in smaller venues and organizations. A major factor has been the appearance of Chopiniana, the cycle led by Martha Noguera in which there is always something of Chopin, but no longer exclusively as at first. Now we have eclectic programmes, which I find much better. Also, there is the increased activity of the Museo Fernández Blanco and other places. Truth to tell, in full season there are about 35 concerts a week of varied types, and no critic can –or should- cover all of them (some are below par), but there remains a substantial quantity of good concerts.

First, a Big League one. I have stated before my belief that Nelson Goerner is the best Argentine pianist of his generation; he is now 39. This was triumphantly confirmed by his wonderful concert for Nuova Harmonia at the Coliseo. I now raise the odds and place him as among the very best of the globe. He unites in ideal proportions transcendental technique and a deep maturity in phrasing and style. He may look unprepossessing but don´t be influenced by this: just listen to him five minutes and only the music will matter.

His programme was solidly Central European and nineteenth-century, and as usual, he chooses well. The 31 minutes that Schubert´s extraordinary Three Pieces (D.946) lasted convinced me again that this very late piano music from this composer, considered extended Impromptus, is among his most innovative and personal. Marvellously apposite and thoughtful interpretation, note-perfect to boot.

I have heard Beethoven´s Sonata No.26, wrongly called "Les adieux" (it should be "L´adieu"), quite often in concert, but this one stunned me, especially the fantastically difficult final "Vivacissimo", played with uncanny precision. Very slightly controversial was his version of Brahms´ late "Fantasies" op.116, three fast and virtuosistic Capricci interspersed with four contemplative Intermezzi; I hold no reserves about the beautifully intimate version of the Intermezzi, but some of the phrasing in the Capricci seemed to me a bit awkward.

Liszt´s "Petrarch Sonnet No.2" was simply ideal; his frenetic and almost impossible to play "Spanish Rhapsody" had the most fantastic execution I´ve ever heard; yes, Goerner is the mature artist that can gives us a reference Beethoven sonata, but he is also the coruscating virtuoso in showpieces. One string broke during it but he proceeded unfazed; however, apart from comprehensible exhaustion, it was apparently the reason for not playing an encore.

I was very angry when a freak and uncomprehensible call "from Martha Noguera" left me a message telling me that the concert by Libor Novácek was cancelled; it wasn´t! Apparently a boycott? Noguera of course was sorry and flabbergasted. I had good references from his concert, however. But I could hear the following pianist, the Canadian Daniel Wnukowski (debut), of Polish descent, 27-years-old. After agreeable versions of two arranged (well) pieces based on J.S.Bach´s originals (Busoni´s version of the chorale "Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland", and the famous arrangement by Myra Hess of the chorus "Jesu, Joy of Men´s Desiring" from Cantata No. 147) we heard an appropriate but not impeccable Sonata Nº 10, K. 330, by Mozart, and a meritorious traversal of Beethoven´s last sonata, No. 32, where the initial movement seemed a bit too forceful and brusque but the second movement took its rightful time to develop from the initial slow theme to the intricate variations and innumerable trills of the last pages, finely done.

He came into his own in the enormously variegated 24 Preludes op.28 by Chopin, where he displayed not only his affinity with the style but also the big guns to deal with some of the atrociously difficult ones as if they were child´s play; this was great playing and show Wnukowski to be a distinguished Chopinian. And he manifested his virtuosism in the encore, the fun variations by Horowitz on Mendelssohn´s "Wedding March". The venue is unpleasant, the Teatro Santa María, dark and rather ugly, but the acoustics are good. After abundant vicissitudes, this third concert of the Chopiniana seemed to find a third and final piano for the cycle, a 1908 Steinway in good condition with its original ivory keys.

Another fine experience was offered by Ukrainian pianist Julia Bochovskaia at the Gran Rex/ Mozarteum Midday Concerts, a return visit since her 2006 local debut. Fresh, young and beautiful, she is solidly grounded and intelligent. Her traversal of Austro-German repertoire was both sensitive and solid, with finely honed technique and a keen sense of style. I could only hear the third movement from Haydn´s Sonata Hob. XVI:24 (due to BA´s infernal traffic), but it was clean and invigorating. She chose three beautiful Brahms pieces: the Intermezzi op.119 in C and op.117 in E flat and the strong Ballade op.118 in G minor; she handled them with expertise. Then she did a strange thing: she allowed no time for applause and went on directly to Schumann´s interesting "Humoresque" op.20, a mosaic of contrasting music: the Apollo/Eusebius introspective side and the fast, exhilarating Dionysos/Florestan side. Lovely playing all the way, complemented with two other Schumann pieces: the sanguine "Aufschwung" from "Fantasiestücke" op.12, and a slow one that my memory refused to identify.

For Buenos Aires Herald

High times for symphonic music: the Hallé visits us

The third visit over the decades of the Hallé Orchestra from Manchester has marked an especially high spot in the musical scene. As the "biography" in the hand programme of the Mozarteum Argentino says nothing about earlier visits to our country (a common trait in material from abroad, but also an undiplomatic one that should be corrected) it must be stressed that the Hallé was here under the great Sir John Barbirolli (1968) and much later under Stanislav Skrowaczewski. Those with Barbirolli were memorable, those with the Polish conductor very professional but less interesting. Both were Principal Conductors of the Hallé, as is the case with Sir Mark Elder (local debut) since 2000. They offered two subscription concerts and a Midday Concert (the latter for free) all at the Coliseo.

Elder has had a substantial career marked by his years as Music Director of the English National Orchestra(1979-93) and guest conducting with prestigious concert and opera orchestras. He has an eclectic taste and a big repertoire.

The Hallé is the oldest professional orchestra in England and this year celebrates its 150th anniversary. In its current shape it is fully equal to its 1968 incarnation under Barbirolli, which is saying a lot. The Orchestra isn´t one of the biggest, but its 82 players sound like a hundred, are 100 % professional, keep a nice balance of ladies and gentlemen and of youth and maturity. Under Elder´s fine conducting the orchestra solves with perfect intonation and true virtuosism the greatest difficulties. It has a beautiful collective sound and a triggerlike response to every gesture of the Maestro.

I unfortunately couldn´t hear the first concert, which included Richard Strauss´ "Don Juan", Grieg´s Piano Concerto, Wagner´s First Act Prelude to "Lohengrin" and Elgar´s "Enigma Variations". Happily I caught the latter when it was included in the Midday Concert. The second concert started with Verdi´s Overture to "The Sicilian Vespers", followed by Liszt´s First Piano Concerto, four Preludes by Debussy (originally for piano, orchestrated by the Hallé´s composer-in-residence Colin Matthews and an Argentine premiere; both facts were omitted in the programme page) and Shostakovich´s First Symphony. The Midday Concert had "Don Juan" (which I couldn´t hear), three of the four Debussy Preludes and the "Enigma Variations". Along for the tour we met for the first time 27-year-old Polina Leschenko, a beautiful blonde born in St Petersburg that has built a solid career since her debut at 8-years-old; only 27 and almost 20 years of experience.

Now to what I heard. A sanguine, forceful and precise account of Verdi´s Overture. An admirable version of Liszt´s Concerto, adroitly accompanied and played by Leschenko, who showed not only a masterful technique but an approach both subtle, elegant and full of strength, almost like a young Argerich (who has promoted her). The encore was quite unusual: music lovers know well Chopin´s "Andante spianato and Grand Polonaise", but as a piano piece; here we were offered the piano and orchestra version! The orchestra hasn´t much to do, however, so we marvelled again at Leschenko´s delicacy in the "Andante" and strong rhythm coupled with the effortless solving of the many intricate passages of one of Chopin´s great showpieces, this particularly scintillating Polonaise.

It was the Orchestra that asked Mathews to orchestrate the Debussy Piano Preludes, and he did all 24. Frankly I see no need for this exercise, for the shimmering Debussy pieces are truly pianistic and orchestration (even a good one, as Mathews´), far from enriching them changes their essence. For the record, they were: "Homage to S. Pickwick, Esq., PPMPC", "Canope", "La puerta del vino" (in Spanish in the original) and "The hills of Anacapri". But the evening ended with a very detailed view of Shostakovich´s so impressive First Symphony, written at 19-years-old, still a student but already a master. The strongly contrasted score was rendered in all its sad nostalgia and ferocity with feats of very fine playing.

The encores mitigated a complaint of mine: no British music in the programme. But then, as Elder himself acknowledged, the logical British quota came to the fore in Elgar´s lovely "Sospiri" for strings (which I can´t remember having heard here) and the entrancing "Knightsbridge March " from Eric Coates´ "London Suite", heard only once here (Bedford with the B.A. Phil). It was a charming end to a significant concert. But on the following midday I was completely bowled over by a much bigger Elgar score, the wonderful "Enigma Variations" premiered here by Sir Malcolm Sargent. This has long been a Hallé specialty, and the Barbirolli version, along with the Boult, retain their places as the great references. But Elder´s minute control and total understanding, and the coruscating brilliance of the orchestra in the terribly difficult fast bits coupled with their full and noble sound in such a variation as "Nimrod", made for a fantastic version that had me in tears. It was the final cap on a great visit.

A personal wish which I hope will come true: we know admirable London orchestras as the Royal Philharmonic, the Philharmonia and the BBC, but we have never been visited by the other two superb organisms, the London Symphony and the London Philharmonic; I´ve heard them in their home city, but I do believe the Argentine public will welcome them with open arms.

For Buenos Aires Herald

lunes, septiembre 08, 2008

Diversity in Opera: Purcell and Perusso

The fascinating diversity of opera was well illustrated in recent weeks by two very different shows. La Plata´s Teatro Argentino, as it has done in recent years, presented a premiere by an Argentine composer: Mario Perusso wrote the music and his son Marcelo the libretto of an opera based on Jean Cocteau´s "The two-headed eagle" ("L´aigle à deux têtes") called "El ángel de la muerte". At the refurbished Teatro 25 de Mayo in Villa Urquiza the Colón Institute of Art presented the semi-opera by Henry Purcell "The Fairy Queen", quite loosely based on Shakespeare´s "A Midsummer Night´s Dream". First, a personal caveat. As readers know, I´m not usually late for the events I cover, but this time I was…twice. In the case of La Plata, I really feel I´m not to blame: it was a long-weekend Friday, so I planned two hours to get there instead of one; it took me an unconscionable two hours 20 minutes. In the case of the Theater 25 de Mayo, I plead guilty of ignorance. I had never been there and I don´t know the area. I looked at the Filcar and Juramento seemed the right way to get there from Palermo; alas, Juramento is obstrued by the railway; I was deviated by diagonals and couldn´t find my way back for a full 40 minutes. So I got there 20 minutes late. I´m sorry, then, but this review misses from 20 to 25 minutes of each show, and my verdict is on what I could hear. Argentine opera is more abundant than generally known; there are over hundred operas written, though not all are available (many were lost). There have been too tendencies: Argentine or Pre-columbine subjects, or European ones. Mario Perusso has written in both. He has created four, widely spaced chronologically: "La voz del silencio" (1969), an experimental work that was recorded; "Escorial" (1989) on an Expressionist play by Ghelderode; "Guayaquil" (1993) on the crucial meeting between San Martín and Bolívar; and the one I´m reviewing on a famous historical play by Cocteau. His play was premiered in 1946 with Edwige Feuillère y Jean Marais and the film was made in 1948 with the same actors. The play is loosely inspired in the murder of the famous Sissi, wife of the Austrian Emperor Franz Joseph. An anarchist tries to kill the Queen in the opera, but she, a recent widower of her husband, assassinated on the very day of her wedding, finds in the anarchist an amazing physical resemblance to her husband; both fall in love at first sight, and the story goes on with many surprising twists. The principals are mezzosoprano and tenor, and other characters enrich the action: the Queen´s mother (Archduchess), the director of the secret police, Oskar de Grössenbach (important member of the Court) and Noemí (lady in waiting). The libretto innovates from time to time on the original play, but the general traits remain. The music is accessible, with a combination of tonality and atonality that is never aggressive and often lyrical; the vocal lines are quite melodic in such pieces as the love duet. The orchestration is attractive though not original. In all, this is a reasonably good opera that combines love and politics adroitly. For me Perusso´s best was "Escorial", but I have a bent for expressionism. The production was very good, with beautiful scenery by Marcelo Perusso and convincing moves for the singers. There were also lovely clothes by Stella Maris Müller and fine lighting by José Luis Fiorruccio. The orchestra was prepared and led with great understanding by Guillermo Scarabino. There was no chorus. The lead singers were interesting. The experienced mezzosoprano Alejandra Malvino dealt finely with her vocal lines and cut a beautiful figure. Young tenor Marcelo Puente certainly has talent, good looks and an attractive voice, but he lacked the big guns for some of the music. A pleasant Patricia González (Noemí), an expressive though uneven Enrique Folger, a very strong Leonardo Estévez (Richard of Streber, the chief of the Secret Police), a well-sung but undramatic Archduchess (Alicia Alduncin) and three bit singers, Oreste Chlopecki, Claudia Montagna and Roxana Deviggiano, made up the good cast.
"El ángel de la muerte" de Mario Perusso
Henry Purcell´s "The Fairy Queen" (1692) is a series of "masques", that typically English semiopera that combines music with dances and Baroque scenery and has the character of a divertimento. It used to be combined with the plays. It has little argumental relevance and no dramatic coherence, so its charm comes from the beauty of the different fragments, very high in this case. It was premiered years ago by a British group of great quality. I was unprepared for the very nice and serious results of this production of the Colón Institute, although I had seen a good condensed "Orlando" (Handel) two years ago, supervised (as in this occasion) by the notable countertenor Jeffrey Gall. A valid orchestra very well led by Bruno D´Astoli, with the assistance of a true specialist like Igor Herzog, a stylish production by Lizzie Waisse, agreeable choreography by Margarita Fernández, funny and expressive puppets by Adelaida Mangani (a curious but convincing addition) and a particularly beautiful stage design by Gerardo Pietrapertosa, plus a decent cast and the adequate restauration of the well-appointed small theatre, all summed up made for a fine evening. Among the singers I single out Andrea Maragno, Damián Ramírez, Soledad Espona and Lucas Somoza. For Buenos Aires Herald

martes, septiembre 02, 2008

Varied symphonic activity in BA

I will start with an interesting visit, that of the Liège Philharmonic under Pascal Rophé(debut) and featuring the first appearance in BA of the great USA mezzosoprano Susan Graham. Two different concerts for the Mozarteum at the Coliseo with French-Belgian programming. Naturally enough, being born in Belgian Liège, César Franck was featured in both nights: in the first, his impressive symphonic poem "Le chasseur maudit" ("The damned hunter"); in the second, his great Symphony. Many forgot that the Liège Philharmonic has already been here, and that it played the Franck Symphony; it was in 1998 and it was led by their then Principal Conductor, Pierre Bartholomée. In both concerts the audience heard "Nuits d´été", the introspective, refined song cycle written by Berlioz on lovely poems by Téophile Gautier, such as "Le spectre de la rose". Although written for voice and piano around 1840, it was orchestrated in 1856 and became thus the first song cycle with orchestra. The first concert also included Debussy´s "La Mer" and the second, the "Roman Carnival" by Berlioz. I could only hear the second .

Rophé is a sanguine but accurate conductor, capable of giving plenty of dynamism to that fantastic overture "Roman Carnival" and also to build a convincing whole in the Franck Symphony, quite tricky in some aspects due to its heavy texture. The Orchestra seemed to be vastly improved since 1998, with fine intonation, an attractive and intensive collective sound and a good deal of discipline. But the gem of the evening was "Nuits d´été", accompanied with taste, and sung with superb style and beautiful voice by the admirable Susan Graham, a major artist , the outstanding vocal visitor of the year (as was Hampson last season). I was told she had bronchitis, but it didn´t show, a token of her fine technique.

Arturo Diemecke is a strange conductor: he is a thorough professional with a gift for integration of vast aural canvases, he has a fantastic memory, he is undoubtedly concentrated and communicative, and the B.A. Phil likes him; but the moment he turns to the public he becomes a clown with glam gestures; it almost seems a double personality. I appreciated his art recently in a general rehearsal and a concert. The first started with a 20-minute discussion about working conditions, a sign that all is not well at the Phil. But once the music started, I heard a committed conductor and orchestra. In particular, the virtuosic and extended symphonic poem by R. Strauss, "A hero´s life"; I was really impressed by the power and accuracy of the playing, including fine solos by Pablo Saraví, the concertino. That programme also included "Three songs" by Osvaldo Golijov, an Argentine having a big success in USA; they were very well sung and interpreted by Virginia Correa Dupuy. And also one of the best works of Ginastera, the "Variaciones concertantes", cleanly played.

The following Diemecke concert was also very good. Russian pianist Evgeny Mikhailov, in his second visit, played with fine mechanism the Schumann Concerto; the lack of greater tone quality was, I think, the fault of a rather metallic piano. Tchaikovsky´s "Manfred Symphony" is a controversial long score which I personally admire a lot. It is based on the ultra-Romantic work by Byron and the antihero goes through many vicissitudes admirably reflected in the texture and organization of the music. Diemecke´s conducting was taut and dramatic , as well as colourful , and the orchestra responded quite well.

The National Symphony has also given us some valuable experiences. I could only hear part of the general rehearsal of a concert conducted by Pedro Calderón. I missed the Dvorák Overture "In Nature´s realm" and most of R. Strauss´"Death and transfiguration", though I heard its last minutes and I liked the interpretation. The Wagner Prelude to the Third Act of "Lohengrin" was forthright and brilliant. And the Khachaturian Violin Concerto had a very able interpretation by concertino Luis Roggero, well accompanied by the Orchestra.

The audacious program imagined by conductor Luis Gorelik was a stimulating experience. The First Part was given over to Luciano Berio, with the premiere of his "Rendering" and the revival of his "Folksongs". "Rendering" is a strange and not quite convincing score, for it tries to complete the Schubert Tenth Symphony with Berio´s clouds of indeterminate sound and it doesn´t jell; also, the rescued Schubert is pleasant enough but very far from the Eighth and Ninth Symphonies. On the other hand, the "Folksongs" are very expressive and resourceful reworkings of folksongs from many parts of the world. I though Vera Cirkovic´s performance too uneven vocally and full of theatrical gestures. Gorelik handled both scores very well. The second Part allowed us to hear Prokofiev´s cantata "Alexander Nevsky", a masterpiece of tremendous power and imagination. Alejandra Malvino sang her Lament with intensity and the National Polyphonic Choir was outstanding, producing massive and well-tuned sound. The Orchestra responded with great punch and professionalism to Gorelik´s fine conducting.

Carlos Vieu also got good results in an interesting programme. After a correct version of Wagner´s Prelude and Love-Death from "Tristan and Isolde", we heard a valuable revival, our Luis Gianneo´s Piano Concerto, a score of considerable elaboration and very pleasant to hear, very well played by Fernando Viani. Finally, the charming and rarely heard Symphony No. 5 by Dvorák in an idiomatic and well-wrought interpretation.

For Buenos Aires Herald

Great chamber music from Zukerman and friends

We´ve been lucky recently. Music lovers have heard lots of great chamber music played by sterling artists. Pride of place goes predictably to the Zukerman Chamber Players, in a very welcome return visit at AMIJAI. They are led of course by the great violinist Pinchas Zukerman, who in recent years does more chamber music than recitals or orchestra dates. And he has the right way with it. He has chosen admirable players to form a string quintet of very high rank formed by Jessica Linnebach (violin), Jethro Marks and Ashan Pillai (violas) and the extraordinary cellist Amanda Forsyth, who is Zukerman´s match.

The programme was very attractive, with fine works from Dvorák (the Terzetto por two violins and viola), Mozart (the wonderful Quintet op.516, one of his most advanced scores) and Brahms (his second Quintet, op.111, strong and purposeful music). The mutual understanding, the refined style and instrumental perfection of these players were sheer pleasure all the way. I have only one caveat: the advance programming gave us the Bruckner Quintet instead of Brahms, and I would have much preferred that they stuck to Bruckner as announced, for this is a 50-minute creation of much interest, his only chamber piece.

The Zukerman Chamber Players gave another extraordinary concert at the Coliseo for Nuova Harmonia. And again the programme gave us lovely nineteenth century scores rarely heard and from great composers: Dvorák´s Quintet op. 97, full of Slavic character; Schubert´s one-movement Trio No.1; and Mendelssohn´s energetic and imaginative Second Quintet op.87. The encore was Mozart´s Menuet from the op.516 Quintet. Again the players worked wonders, led by the very sober playing and stance of Zukerman, who needs no carnival gestures to impress.

AMIJAi was also the venue for a major discovery, the Bernini Quartet, who started with their concert the series called Latina 2008 sponsored by the Italian Ministry of Culture. Their programme was uncommon but it proved very interesting: quartets from Haydn (No. 78, op.76 No. 4) and Mozart (No.17, K.458, "La Caccia") representing the very best of the Classic period, and accessible contemporary Italian pieces: three Adagios by Ennio Morricone arranged from his film scores ("C´era una volta in America", "Vatel" and "I promessi sposi"), charming and melodious, and a curiously named score by Sergio Sollima: "Cretto-Federico II", apparently from another film, "Viaggio in Italia", made up of a short Adagio and a long Allegro very rhythmic and Oriental, with percussive effects. The playing was astonishingly good: violinists Marco Serino and Anna Chulkina (the latter stunningly beautiful, by the way), violist Gianluca Saggini and cellist Valeriano Taddeo are major young artists of great technical and stylistic prowess, immaculately clean and precise in the Classic composers, and involved and communicative in the Italians.

The piano duet made up of Laure Favre-Kahn (French) and Marcela Roggeri (Argentine) gave a fine recital for Festivales Musicales at the Avenida. There are reasons to believe that J.S.Bach´s Concerto for two pianos BWV 1061 was conceived without the orchestra. Indeed the orchestral parts are merely supportive and at times they disappear completely. So it was acceptable for the players to do it as a piano duet, and they played with good mechanism. I dislike changes, especially unannounced (I was told the organizers weren´t advised). As it was they mixed things up. After Messiaen´s short Prelude No.7, "Plainte calme",nicely played by Favre-Kahn, came Satie´s "Gnossiennes", a clean performance, but they weren´t played all together as announced, rather one at a time, alternating with a stunning performance of Debussy´s Prelude "Feux d´artifice" by the French pianist and of Rachmaninov´s Prelude op. 32 No.l2 by Favre-Kahn substituting for Debussy´s "La puerta del vino".

In the Second Part we heard two brilliant piano duet works, Rachmaninov´s Suite No.1, "Fantaisie-Tableaux", with its colourful , rich writing, and Milhaud´s witty and sparkling "Scaramouche". I liked the playing a lot, combining as it did accuracy, good integration and style. Good encores: the four-hand Menuet from Debussy´s "Petite suite" and Brahms´ Hungarian dance No.2, for piano duet.

Chopiniana is a series of piano recitals organized by Martha Noguera. This year the venue is the Teatro Santa María, of adequate acoustics although rather unattractive. The start was the debut of the 22-year-old Ingolf Wunder, Austrian, and he proved indeed a wonder. In the First Part he gave evidence of a big technique but there were some stylistic matters that seemed wrong to me: although the first movement of Beethoven´s "Moonlight Sonata" was beautifully quiet and controlled, the rhythm of the second seemed rather excentric and the third was brilliant but had exaggerated fortissimi. I disliked the phrasing and violence of his rendering of Chopin´s Mazurkas (op.7 Nº3, op.30 Nº4, op.33 Nº 4). He added (unannounced) Chopin´s "Raindrop" Prelude, and played nicely Chopin´s "Andante spianato"; the following virtuosic "Grande Polonaise" was stunningly played, and from then on all was, well, wonderful. He has the big guns but also the subtlety to play Rachmaninov´s Preludes op.32 Nº5, op.30 Nº 4 and I especially enjoyed a thundering performance of the march-like op. 33 Nº 4. But Liszt proved even better: lovely phrasing and attention to detail in "Sposalizio" and "Petrarch´s Sonnet No. 104", fantastic virtuosity (a young Horowitz) in "Funerals" and "Rhapsody No.2". Imaginative encores: a fascinating arrangement of Mozart´s "Turkish March", Rachmaninov´s "Polka of W.R." and Moszkowski´s "Étincelles", all played with great panache.

For Buenos Aires Herald