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

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