domingo, noviembre 14, 2010

Ups and downs of the symphonic season

            This is a Mahler year (150 years of his birth) and the Buenos Aires Philharmonic under Arturo Diemecke has programmed several of his symphonies. I unfortunately couldn´t hear the Second, earlier in the season, but caught the mighty Third. Nº3 is enormous, six movements and about 100 minutes, and purports to deal with evolution; in Mahler´s words: "It starts with Nature without life and rises all the way to God´s love". The first movement´s 35 minutes deal with Nature and Pan in a powerful and disconcerting mosaic that includes both an initial eight-horn theme quite similar to the final allegro of Brahms´ First Symphony, a long trombone solo and contrasts between the inertia of Winter and the Dionisiacal impulse of Summer. "What the prairie flowers tell me" is the charming second movement; the quirky third, about the birds of the woods, contrasts the cuckoo, the nightingale and a long Posthorn solo on the "Carnival of Venice", played very well this time on a Flügelhorn in B flat. "What man tells me" is a slow contralto song with a poem from Nietzsche´s "Thus spake Zarathustra"; the fifth , "What the angels tell me", has a text from the compilation "Des Knaben Wunderhorn" and combines the contralto with a feminine choir and a children´s choir emulating bells. The ample final Adagio "represents the highest point from which one can look at the world", said Mahler, and it is a marvelous piece in three successive sections leading to climaxes of everíncreasing intensity.
            Diemecke again showed his amazing memory (he conducted without a score) and command of the big forms, and apart from some snafus from the solo trombone and a weak Colón Children´s Choir (César Bustamante) –maybe disadvantageously posted- all was well. The veteran Graciela Alperyn kept up her end in the solo vocal music, the Coral Femenino de San Justo under its long-time conductor (more than fifty years), Roberto Saccente, and the Phil, all responded to Diemecke´s clear ideas, and I was frankly moved by the sixth  movement.
            Bulgarian conductor Rossen Milanov gave us an adventurous programme made up of three premieres: the agreeable "Improvisation and Toccata" (Nos. 4 and 5 from op.36) by his compatriot Pancho Vladigerov (1899-1978), the important last score by Olivier Messiaen, "Concerto à quatre", and the Second Symphony by the Romanian George Enescu (1881-1955). Three first desks of the Phil (Carlos Nozzi, cello; Claudio Barile, flute; Néstor Garrote, oboe) and pianist Liza Chung (a Chinese living in Chile; debut) played very proficiently in the difficult but interesting and characteristic Messiaen creation. Enescu´s 50-minute symphony was written between 1912 and 1914; it is too diffuse, but a lot of it is strong and beautiful in a very late Post-Romantic idiom.  Milanov showed himself a thorough professional and got good performances from the Phil in what was certainly a challenging evening.
            Due to a trip I made in France I  missed the two concerts conducted by Eiji Oue, who had visited us earlier in the season with a German orchestra. Back in town, I heard the long-awaited rentrée of veteran Brazilian conductor Isaac Karabtchevsky. There was a 6-minute premiere by the Argentine Osvaldo Golijov, "ZZ´s dream", the title concerning a Zen master called Zhuang Zhou (fourth century b.C.) who dreamt he was a butterfly and waking up doubted what he really was. Charming and well-orchestrated but light. The big Symphony Nº 2 ("The Age of Anxiety") by Leonard Bernstein on a long poem by W.H.Auden  has an obbligato piano part, long and difficult, exuberantly played by the colored pianist Wilhelm Latchoumia, born in Lyon but very jazzy and American in his stimulating and virtuosic playing. This is elaborated music, maybe Bernstein´s most complex, and it was clearly exposed by the talented Karabtchevsky. He certainly has the measure of that splendid masterpiece, Bartók´s Concerto for orchestra, but the Phil wasn´t quite up to all the executional challenges and there were too much acidity in the violins and small blemishes elsewhere.
            I was angry that the announced programme of the Colón´s Orquesta Estable under György G. Rath was utterly changed: we were promised Dvorák´s "Stabat Mater", a marvelous work; with no explanation the symphonic choral piece (in which the Colón Choir was supposed to appear) was replaced by a curious programme with its share of novelty: two overtures and four concert arias by Mozart in the First Part; I liked Fernando Radó in "Per questa bella mano" (but the bass obbligato by Elián Ortiz Cárdenas was terrible) and Florencia Machado in "Alma grande e nobil core"; but Carla Filipcic Holm was rather uncomfortable in "Bella mia fiamma…Resta oh cara", and Marcelo Puente sounded very tense in "Misero!...Aura che intorno spiri". The Second Part gave us a selection of Brahms Hungarian Dances: three often heard, orchestrated by himself (1, 2, 10), but also Nº 2 (orchestration, Johan Andreas Hallén), and Nos. 17 to 21, very welcome in their orchestrations by Dvorák. Rath conducted with contagious enthusiasm and knowledge of style, and the Orchestra went along with reasonable results.
            The National Symphony did at the Auditorio de Belgrano an all-Mexican programme conducted by Pedro Calderón and it was predictably good: the exhilarating "Huapango" by Moncayo, the very pleasant "Concierto del Sur" (very well played by guitarist Eduardo Isaac) by Manuel Ponce; the seminal "Indian Symphony" by Carlos Chávez; and the  brilliant "Sensemayá" by Revueltas.
For Buenos Aires Herald

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