lunes, mayo 18, 2009

From the Suisse Romande to turbulent London

The Suisse Romande is francophone Switzerland and its capital, Geneva, is the resident city of the splendid Orchestra of the same appellation founded by the great conductor Ernest Ansermet in 1918, who remained at the helm almost fifty years; their prowess was firmly established by a great number of wonderful recordings, many of which still are necessary references. The SRO has just visited us led by their impressive Principal Conductor, Marek Janowski, and featuring the splendid French pianist Jean-Louis Thibaudet. Their two concerts with different programmes were offered by the Mozarteum Argentino at the Coliseo.

The succession of famous conductors at the helm of the SRO speaks clearly of the importance of the post: Paul Kletzki, Wolfgang Sawallisch, Horst Stein, Armin Jordan, Fabio Luisi and Pinchas Steinberg. The big orchestra (108) is very cosmopolitan in its integration. Janowski is much appreciated here as an opera conductor for admirable interpretations of R. Strauss ("Die Frau ohne Schatten", 1979) and Tchaikovsky ("Pique Dame", 1981). As to Thibaudet, he was Cecilia Bartoli´s pianist in her only BA visit and he came back several times as a recitalist or with orchestra. I´m sorry that the biographies of the artists almost always omit mentioning their previous visits.

The first programme had only two works: the quirky and virtuosic Liszt Concerto No.2 and Bruckner´s Sixth Symphony. Thibaudet has fantastically fleet and accurate fingers and his rendering was precisely articulated even in the wildest moments; his sound, as befits the French school, is clean but not meaty. I deeply admired the perfect rhythm and infinitesimal adjustment of orchestra and soloist. Thibaudet played as encore Chopin´s Waltz Nº 3, op.34/2, a quiet, reflexive piece.

The Bruckner Sixth is certainly less inspired than most of its companions, its rather dry mien far from the moving flights of the last three symphonies. But it remains a granitic monument with many fine instances of his style. The conductor showed complete mastery of the intricate textures and was abetted by a very disciplined orchestra with fine strings and brass; however, the Coliseo´s rather harsh acoustics conspired against the roundness Bruckner needs.

The second programme was curious, all Ravel except the initial score; the Swiss composer Michael Jarrell (1958) wrote a 17-minute piece with a long title: "Le ciel, tout à l´heure si limpide, soudain se trouble horriblement" ("The sky, a little while ago so limpid, suddenly is horribly troubled"). I found this premiere (not so indicated: premieres should be identified) rather interesting; it exhibits a wide and wise palette and it sounds coherent within its style, which seems to blend the Polish school with swaths of impressionism.

Thibaudet, as expected, was a marvelous interpreter of Ravel´s Concerto and the very difficult orchestral solos were beautifully executed in impeccable accord with the pianist. The soloist´s encore was Brahms´ Intermezzo op.118/2, very neat though not quite as deep as the German school´s better exponents.

Janowski did an effective combination in the Second Part: he conducted seamlessly Ravel´s "Valses nobles et sentimentales" and "La Valse"; it worked well and the orchestra played beautifully, even if the very last drop of virtuosity wasn´t quite there (I remembered Abbado with the Berlin Philharmonic). The encores were stunning: a surprisingly Italianate Intermezzo from Puccini´s "Manon Lecaut" and a brilliant "Farandole" from Bizet´s "L´Arlésienne".

From quiet Geneva to the turbulent London of Hogarth´s eighteenth-century "The Rake´s Progress", fashioned into an opera by librettists W.H.Auden and Chester Kallman and composer Igor Stravinsky. When premiered in 1951 in Venice, it marked the last stage of Stravinsky´s "Neo" period, in this case taking Mozart as his model. The result is controversial and not to everybody´s liking; personally I enjoy it a lot and was glad that Buenos Aires Lírica decided to present it at the Coliseo. The Colón offered it in 1959, 1977 and 2001, with an especially good cast in this latter date (Groves and Ramey).

I believe that "progress" should be translated as "carrera", not "progreso", as they decided at BAL. It´s an eighteenth-century use of the word, and both librettists and composer want a setting of that time, true to Hogarth´s inspired satirical engravings and oils. I feel producer Marcelo Lombardero was wrong in transporting the action to a vague mid twentieth-century, especially mixing up dates incongruously (there´s even a disconcerting 2025). There were, accepting the transpositions, grave distortions, such as the golf course at the beginning instead of Trulove´s house and especially the transformation of a cemetery with an opened grave into a container close to a subway station. Of course there were opportunistic quotes from the current economic crisis. The whorehouse was too garish and Luciana Gutman´s costumes tasteless. The Auction scene went better. The Bedlam seemed too simplified and conventional. Daniel Feijóo as stage designer went along with Lombardero´s ideas.

The musical side was much better. Alejo Pérez was the very effective conductor of a talented hand-picked 31-member orchestra and the choir solved well its part under Juan Casasbellas. Jeffrey Lentz made a valuable debut as Tom Rakewell; he has the right sort of voice, sings very musically and is a convincing actor. Gustavo Gibert was professional and firm as Nick Shadow. Evelyn Ramírez sang well her grotesque Baba the Turk and Ana Laura Menéndez was correct but rather pale as Anne. Christian Peregrino was stalwart as Trulove. Good jobs from Marta Cullerés, Santiago Bürgi and Walter Schwarz.

For Buenos Aires Herald

domingo, mayo 03, 2009

The Colón awakens, Muscovites and Italians impress

This umbrella title refers to various events: the first concert of the Buenos Aires Philharmonic, the presence in our season of pianist Boris Giltburg and of the Moscow Symphony, and the visit of I Virtuosi Italiani.

The main news about our Phil is that the initial subscription concert of their season at the Coliseo happened at all. The last activity of any Colón artistic body happened on November 20, 2008. Fully five months and a week later, the theatre as an institution finally contacted its audience. The yearly budget is supposed to be hundred million and 90% of it is salaries, so about 40 million were spent without its justification, the act of performing; deduct if you will 10 million for the 40-day vacation period, and there´s still 30 million that simply vanished, victims of the Colón´s troubles. Those are still there, witness a flyer distributed to the public that denounced the gross mistakes of the City Government. But good sense prevailed, and the Phil played.

The concert was interesting, as it contained two worthy and rarely played symphonies, Haydn´s No.22, "The Philosopher", with its fascinating orchestration of French and English horns, and Mendelssohn´s incredible First, certainly the most talented ever written by an adolescent (no, I´m not forgetting Mozart). They were homages respectively to the bicentenary of the former´s death and the latter´s birth. Nice, well-considered readings by Hungarian conductor Zsolt Nagy (debut) and an attentive and clean orchestra. But the high point was the fantastic performance of Chopin´s Piano Concerto No. 2, for Boris Giltburg is at 25 one of the very best of his generation; he has it all: a wonderful technique of meridian clarity, the refined sense of phrasing of a patrician artist, the unerring feeling for style. The pleasure was prolonged by a perfect Etude "La leggierezza" by Liszt. That composer closed the evening with his tone poem "Les Préludes", in a rather blemished execution.

Giltburg also offered a recital at Pilar Golf that included a stupendous interpretation of Liszt´s great Sonata, certainly his masterpiece and one of the touchstones of the repertoire. It was amazing to watch as pure piano playing of immense accomplishment, but even more as sensitive understanding of the myriad changes of mood that occur in this challenging score. He had started with the rarely heard Grieg Sonata that combines the composer´s German training with inklings of his future Norwegian footprints. Giltburg played with total command although his touch seemed a bit too heavy at times. I do take issue with him, however, with the final work of the programme: the same Chopin Concerto he did at the Phil but in a poor arrangement for string quartet. The Concerto may have a mediocre orchestration but it is certainly better than this unconvincing contraption, for it never sounds like chamber music. Of course Giltburg played beautifully and local string players were correct, but it didn´t work.

Moscow is a city that has always had many orchestras. As the decades went by, their denominations have varied. A few came our way, and I particularly remember their Philharmonic under Kondrashin, the Russian State under Svetlanov and the Tchaikovsky Symphony led last year by Fedoseyev. All first-rate. I wouldn´t put the Moscow Symphony in the same league, but it was worth hearing for the sake of an idiomatic Tchaikovsky Fifth Symphony (if you except the rather faulty horn solo) and curiously enough, for the encore, that came off best: the same composer´s big waltz from "Swan Lake" was truly balletic, warm, pointed and in tune. But the context also is important: this concert at the Coliseo was previous to the orchestra´s visit to the Ushuaia Festival, that amazing idea born some years ago in the brain of Argentine conductor Jorge Uliarte. He may not be a great maestro but he is certainly a doer; it´s no easy thing to plan and accomplish an international classical music festival at the southernmost city of the world.

The rest of the programme at the Coliseo included the very difficult Rachmaninov Third Piano Concerto, quite well played by the young Croat, Goran Filipec: he certainly can vanquish with apparent ease the appalling technical problems, although I missed some intensity at certain points; the orchestral accompaniment sounded glutinous, indistinct. The concert had started with a nondescript performance of "A Night in Bald Mountain", the astonishing tone poem imagined by Mussorgsky and Rimsky-Korsakov.

The debut of I Virtuosi Italiani was a good start for Nuova Harmonia´s season at the Coliseo. The group of sixteen string players is led by Alberto Martini and gave us an interesting conspectus of Italian music from Classicism to the moderate Twentieth Century, reserving the Baroque for the encores. Martini is certainly a forceful leader and his interpretations were always vital and interesting, but on the other hand in his role as concertino he sounded at times out of tune and his tone wasn´t particularly ingratiating. The ensemble, though, is first-rate, and in fact includes some violinists (Glauco Bertagnin and Luca Falasca) that are better than the leader. We heard Boccherini (Symphony op.35/1), Viotti (Sinfonia Concertante in F for two violins), Paganini (Cantabile), Bazzini (Reverie), Respighi (Antique dances and arias, Third Suite), Rota (Concerto for strings) and Vivaldi ("Summer",1st and 3rd movements). Argentine cellist Leonardo Sapere played beautifully in the encores José Bragato´s arrangement of Piazzolla´s "Adiós Nonino".

For Buenos Aires Herald