jueves, julio 21, 2011

Gratifying concert life in BA

            Fortunately our city is still offering a varied and gratifying concert life, both with our best artists and with welcome and necessary visitors. A good place to start is the season of Festivales Musicales. The concert by the Orquesta de Cámara de Chile at the Colón was dedicated to Beethoven. Nothing new in the programme: Overture to "The Creatures of Prometheus", the Fifth Piano Concerto ("Emperor") and the Third Symphony ("Heroic"). The conductor was the veteran Chilean Maestro Juan Pablo Izquierdo, well-known here through the decades. The pianist, our Horacio Lavandera.
            One point of interest was that although this repertoire is habitually presented with a rather full symphony orchestra, in this case there were only 36 players, so that such a big piece as the "Heroic" was seen from a chamber perspective. Be it said that the artists played with concentration and adrenaline, so every member accounted for himself, and as they are technically proficient and respond well to the rather strange gestuality of Izquierdo, the results were good.  The conductor´s tempi were a bit fast but coherent and his phrasing was precise and clipped.
            As to Lavandera, of course his mechanism is admirable and his easy command is always a pleasure to watch and hear. However, his tone lacks weight and his articulation wasn´t always as expressive as the music dictates (especially in the piano accompaniment to the orchestral melody in the slow movement).
            Café Zimmermann is a Baroque ensemble currently based in Aix-en-Provence (it used to be in Lyon) and it is made up of Argentine and European players, as well as the French mezzosoprano Claire Brua. It takes its name from a famous Leipzig eighteenth-century establishment. Their roster is flexible according to the needs, and it goes from five to twenty-five members. The venue was the Avenida, perfect for this repertoire.
            They chose a very enlightening programme of French Baroque, with surely several local premieres. As textures varied, this was an additional valuable element. They started with the splendid "Troisième Concert Royal" by François Couperin, nicely played by the whole instrumental group: Pablo Valetti, violin and direction; Emmanuel Laporte, oboe; Diana Baroni, flute; Étienne Mangot, viola da gamba; Eduardo Egüez, theorbo; and Céline Frisch, harpsichord.  Then, a lovely cantata, "Pan et Syrinx", by Michel Pignolet de Montéclair, where the singer did her part with good style but a slightly harsh timbre.
            The Second Part started with a concise and pleasant "Suite III en Trio (Premier oeuvre)" by composer and chess player Pierre Danican Philidor. Then followed a very original piece by Marin Marais, "Sonnerie de Sainte-Geneviève du Mont", quite well done. The programme ended with another cantata, André Campra´s "Didon" (1708),  intense and dramatic as it recounts the sad story of the Queen of Carthage. Here Brua sang with involvement and knowledge of the right inflexions; the voice isn´t beautiful but she handles it with skill.  The players were well up to the requirements of all three scores, especially Mangot.
             One of the best concerts of the season was the one offered by La Barroca del Suquía and soprano Soledad de la Rosa for the Academia Bach at the Museo de Arte Decorativo, with its warm ambience. The group from our Córdoba is simply superb and can compete with the best in Europe, and you will have to look hard to find a European soprano with the beautiful timbre and consumate ability of De la Rosa.
            The programming idea was engrossing: pieces from Johann Sebastian Bach´s musical library, all in local premieres. Although an Overture in G minor was attributed to Johann Sebastian and bears the BWV 1070, it seems to be by his son Wilhelm Friedemann; it is certainly a worthy and original score, but it certainly doesn´t sound like Johann Sebastian. The virtuoso players were Manfredo Kraemer and Pablo López, violins; Alberto Lepage, viola; Nina Diehl, cello; Hernán Cuadrado, bass; and Manuel de Olaso, harpsichord, with Kraemer leading with Dionysiac verve.
            Handel´s "Armida abbandonata" is a magnificent cantata from his Italian period, and here De la Rosa was marvelous, one of the very best things I´ve heard from her. Then Kraemer showed his astounding expertise in the imaginative and special Sonata VI (1681) by Heinrich Biber, one of the great composers of the Early Baroque. And finally, a  motet wrongly attributed to Johann Sebastian (BWV deest 1.006),  "Languet anima mea", who turns out to be by the rarely heard Francesco Conti (1682-1732) and proved the high level of Baroque composers, even the second rank ones. Another top job by De la Rosa, finely accompanied. Their encore was welcome: a fragment of the J.S.Bach arrangement of Pergolesi´s Stabat Mater.
            I was stunned by the all-Liszt recital presented by Bruno Campanella at the Coliseo for Nuova Harmonia. The artist, who looks  nearing sixty, has come before, leaving a good image, but this time he showed himself a specialist in the diabolically intricate writing of Franz Liszt. With an astonishing mechanism  that only faltered in some almost impossible passages of the Dante Sonata, plus an intelligent and scrupulous phrasing,  he gave us authentic readings. In the First Part, the whole of "Years of Peregrination, Italy" (without the appendix). In the second, the magnificent Mephisto Waltz Nº 1, the paraphrase on the quartet from Verdi´s "Rigoletto" and two Hungarian Rhapsodies, Nos. 12 and 15. All with  robust, dramatic sound  alternating with delicate traceries. 
For Buenos Aires Herald

martes, julio 12, 2011

Two “Sleeping Beauties” worth awakening

            Tchaikovsky´s "The Sleeping Beauty" as choreographed by Marius Petipa is surely the finest large-scale ballet of the so-called Classical Era. This adaptation of Charles Perrault´s tale is the epitome of a "féérie", as were called the fairy tales combined with abundant divertimenti for the display of solo dancers. The marvelous symphonic music stands even above the admittedly much more dramatic "Swan Lake" or the  charm of "The Nutcracker". Written in 1890, late in his life, it is a resplendent example of the composer´s inexhaustible imagination and fine orchestration. And Petipa, the old master, gives us the acme of his blend of French and Russian school in this court ballet .
            This is an expensive ballet that can only make its full effect with a big company in a majestic building. And indeed both the Teatro Argentino of La Plata and the Colón demonstrated that they are able to cope with this major challenge. The former showed the well-known version of Mario Galizzi, currently the Ballet Director of the "platense" theatre. The Colón presented a new  interpretation of the original by Karl Burnett. In both cases, apart from some minor misadjustments and some arguable changes, they did this ballet proud: indeed this "sleeping beauty" deserved to be reawakened. And although I generally don´t like duplications, in this case it provided an interesting comparison of both major companies.
            This ballet is long ( 2 hours 20 minutes in its complete version) and the temptation to lighten it is understandable, although we lose some valuable music. In both cases, Teatro Argentino (TA) and Colón (TC), the pruning was discreet and acceptable. In "Sleeping Beauty" not only is there plenty of virtuosic dancing, but also a great deal of miming. I confess that I find it rather tiring and undramatic.
            Another matter to be considered is the spectacularity of stage and costume design. I was astounded by the refinement that met my eyes in these shows. At the TA the stage designs by Andrés Tatavitto were quite royal, very handsome and adequate in greating the right ambience; but Christian Prego´s at the TC though very different were  gorgeous and fully in accord with the plot, enhanced by the lovely projections provided by Roberto Oswald. The costumes were wonderful in both cases: Mariana Cappelli chose very well from the vast array at her disposal at the TA  and Aníbal Lápiz gave us one of his best jobs at the TA. Lighting was cunning and intelligent in either theatre: by Oswald at the TC and by Alberto Lemme at the TA.
            There were differences in certain matters: the fairies of the Prologue were named differently from the Petipa original by both Galizzi and Burnett; and the Jewels of the Third Act also change their names. Some fairy tale guests in the same act were suppressed by Galizzi (I was especially sorry that he omitted the "pas de caractère" of Puss-in-boots and the White Kitten, included by Burnett), but he included Tom Thumb in his humoristic "pas berrichon".
            A special paragraph on the Colón: for the first time in nine months we saw the complete ballet dancing in the new floor, finally bought by Director Pedro Pablo García Caffi after his absurd and defeatist tug-and-pull with the Ballet last year, which resulted in the cancellation of most of the season. Now they are apparently happy with the new floor and they all gave of their best, raring to go after such a frustrating delay.
            In the big ensembles in both theatres the ladies showed better discipline and physique than the men, but they had obviously worked hard in both instances and their work was generally up to standard.
            At the TA I was stunned by the debut of the Argentine dancer of the Paris Opera Ludmila Pagliero as Aurora; she has everything going for her: a consummate technique, beauty, charisma, star quality. At the TC the debut of Karina González, a Venezuelan from the Houston Ballet, was certainly accomplished, but with less charm and personality. Their Princes were in both cases pleasant and well-routined, without leaving that extra imprint of the great dancers: Yann Chailloux from Paris (TA) and Connor Walsh from Houston (TC), both debuts.
            I was quite happy with the dancers of that marvelous "pas de deux" of the Blue Prince and the Princess Florisse, certainly a high point of the Third Act. Both Paula Elizondo and Lisandro Casco (TA) and Karina Olmedo and Juan Pablo Ledo (TC) executed the airy steps with fine technique and physical charm. Carabosse, the "bad fairy", was played within traditional parameters by Virginia Licitra (TC) but Larisa Hominal (TA), a stunning blonde, gave another appearance to this character. The Lilac Fairy (the "good one"that counteracts Carabosse´s evilness) was nicely done by Cecilia Mattioli (TA) and Marta Desperés (TC). I especially liked for agility and sense of fun  Edgardo Trabalón and Silvia Grün as the cats. The Jewels were good in both cases, but the Prologue Fairies seemed better rehearsed at the TC than at the TA.   
            The music is difficult to play, and neither orchestra  (the TA´s and the Buenos Aires Philharmonic) was all that one could ask, but there were some fine solos, a promising debut by Diego Censabella (TA) and a proficient one (though with little regard to the finer points) by Javier Logioia Orbe (TC).
For Buenos Aires Herald

jueves, julio 07, 2011

Dazzling symphonism from Caracas and Rotterdam

         Within ten days our city heard two admirable orchestras from two different cultures, offering superb   performances of European music. As a symbol of the universality of music, the Orquesta Sinfónica Simón Bolívar de Venezuela, under Gustavo Dudamel, offered a fantastic performance of Mahler´s Seventh Symphony. And the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra, a Dutch orchestra under an American conductor, Leonard Slatkin, gave us a splendid Russian symphony, Rachmaninov´s Second. The former, at the Colón, for the Mozarteum Argentino; the latter, at the Coliseo, for Nuova Harmonia.
         The Simón Bolívar is the triumph of José Antonio Abreu, the originator about 40 years ago of the wonderful net of children´s and youth orchestras of all Venezuela, certainly the most important and successful social/musical experiment in the world. In fact, no longer an experiment but a blazing success that is here to stay. And this orchestra is the top of the pyramid, the sublimated ultra-selection of all the best teenagers and young adults that come from lower rungs of the same organisation. We met it at the Colón about eight years ago, with the very young Gustavo Dudamel showing a fresh young talent, and I was mightily impressed. Now Dudamel is the most feted young lion of conducting in the world, with a post at the Los Angeles Philharmonic, and the Simón Bolívar remains a prodigy. Both Simon Rattle and Claudio Abbado have pronounced Venezuela as the place where symphonic renovation is occurring, and they are right. For the combination is unbeatable: tremendous Latin adrenaline in perfect blend with German ultra-discipline.
         They offered two different programmes and I had to chose the first, for the second collided with an offering by Festivales Musicales, Café Zimmermann, which I didn´t want to miss. So, I resigned myself to lose the experience of Ravel´s "Daphnis et Chloë" (Suite Nº 2) and of Stravinsky´s Suite from "The Firebird", plus pieces by the Mexican Carlos Chávez and by a Venezuelan composer. I was told that it was a brilliant occasion, though at the end they did a similar show as eight years ago, playing and dancing a Bernstein Mambo (from "West Side Story") among other things, the same show they do all over the world and by now seems more a pose and an artifice than a sincere manifestation of exuberant "Venezuelanismo". The day before, though, everything was austere, boys and girls in black, and at the end no encores.
         The Mahler Seventh is certainly one of his most complex and uneven. It starts with an almost chaotic first movement that alternates wildly betwen a funeral march and wild outbursts. There follow three fascinating movements: two "Night Musics" of unending imagination and an eerie, scurrilous Scherzo; the feats of orchestration are a continuous source of wonder. But…the last movement is a grotesque Rondo where the main theme is repeated seven times, and it sounds like a Bierfest turned into a nightmare, a Bavarian hangover in a huge scale.  
         Dudamel showed his undoubted maturity in this risky score: a marvelous memory (he conducted without a score); precise, energetic movements that conveyed visually the music without exaggeration; a strong sense of pulse and continuity; the ability to make sense out of the weaker passages; a total command and concentration. But he had an almost miraculous orchestra, where one didn´t know what to admire the most: e.g., the perfect intonation and articulation of the massed violins, or the excellent solos in such instruments as the tenor horn. One could cavil at the extreme brightness of the trumpets  but not at their exactitude.  B.A. has heard one great performance of this symphony years ago: Chicago/Barenboim; now it can add another. Just one observation: the orchestra is unjustifiably enormous; no other organism in the world lists so many players; they don´t all  play in the same concert, of course.
         I first met the Rotterdam Philharmonic in some pioneering vinyl records of the fifties with Mahler symphonies conducted by Eduard Flipse, their principal conductor at the time; they were quite good. Later the orchestra had such chiefs as Jean Fournet (so well-known here), Edo De Waart, Valery Gergiev, and now the much promoted young Canadian, Yannick Nézet-Séguin. But on this first tour, they came with a distinguished guest conductor who made his BA debut after a long and great career: Leonard Slatkin. I heard him (and wrote about it) in October 2009 with the Vienna Symphony. He chose a programme of Viennese classics in the First Part (Mozart´s Overture to "Le Nozze di Figaro" and Schubert´s Symphony Nº 8, "Unfinished"), and the highly complex Rachmaninov Second to finish. The encore: Brahms´ Hungarian Dance Nº 1.
         The quality was uniformly high in these quite disparate styles. All sections of the orchestra are highly professional and hear each other with chamberlike intensity; intonation is admirable, the string sections play like one and with fine concentrated energy; when soloists have their chance, they take it with personality and subtlety (the clarinet in Rachmaninov!). Textures remain comprehensible even when they are very dense, thanks to Slatkin´s masterful technique, and the music always coheres for this conductor with a perfect sense of form. The whole concert was a pleasure and shows the Rotterdam to be close to the Concertgebouw, just a notch below; quite a praise considering that the Amsterdam orchestra was voted last year the best of the world.
For Buenos Aires Herald

domingo, julio 03, 2011


The Music of Valdo Sciammarella. Songs and chamber music from Argentina. Diane McNaron, soprano; Heather Coltman, piano. Karen Bentley Pollick, violin; Melanie Richardson Rogers, viola; Craig Hultgren, cello; Adam Bowles, piano. Hoot/Wisdom Recordings, Florida Atlantic University. 2008.


            This CD was sent to me by soprano Diana McNaron and it is a precious document of a very good cross-section of Valdo Sciammarella´s chamber production.  It is also an act of homage from USA musicians to a valuable Argentine composer.

            There are a few good records of Argentine vocal music that have had international distribution, such as those of tenor Raúl Giménez and baritone Víctor Torres. And local Argentine labels such as IRCO and Tradition, as well as Miami-based but Argentine-run Testigo, have given us an interesting discographical repertoire. But in this case it is the welcome and meritorious production of a Florida university and American interpreters that have obviously done a labor of love on behalf of a South American creator.

            Valdo Sciammarella was born in 1924, so he is now in his late eighties. Both as teacher, pianist, choir conductor and composer, he has done an immense job over the decades, especially at the Teatro Colón of Buenos Aires.

            The pieces selected in the CD come from the Fifties ("Dos canciones" –"Two songs"-  1952 revised 1975; "Piezas breves para piano" -"Small piano pieces"- 1956; and "Cantigas de amigo" –"Songs of my friend"- 1951), the Seventies ("Credo Quartet" for piano and strings, 1972 rev. 1979) and the Eighties ("Cuatro canciones" – "Four songs"- 1988 rev. 1997), so they provide an ample panorama of his sensibility and artisanship.  A very well-filled CD, it lasts 75 minutes.

            Although "Sciammarella" is an Italian family name, he has always shown much interest in Argentina´s Spanish roots. This is clearly visible in the deliberate archaism of the "Romancillo del niño perdido" ("Ballad of a lost child"). But  the second of the "Dos canciones" is based on a poem by the great Chilean Pablo Neruda, beautiful but harsh; in it is the phrase that gives title to this CD, "rosas de pulpa con rosas de cal" ("soft, fleshy roses mixed with roses of limestone dust", according to Kelly Jensen´s translation in the booklet that accompanies the CD).  

             The "Cantigas de amigo" are quite well-known in Argentina, certainly one of the scores that established the composer´s reputation. With charming texts by Francisco Javier, poet but also a distinguished man of the theatre, it evokes the Medieval "Cantigas" (remember the great compilation "Cantigas de Alfonso el Sabio"). This is again music of subtle charm and Spanish perfume, the only score previously recorded.

            The much later "Cuatro canciones" reveals a deeper, metaphysical strain in the composer´s art. An Argentine poet, Francisco Luis Bernárdez, "offers a metaphysical speculation on the permanency of Art", according to Jensen and McNaron, and I quite agree. And then, three of the famous "Rhymes" by Gustavo Adolfo Bécquer, a true Spanish Romantic."Si al mecer las azules campanillas de tu balcón" ("If when the blue bellflowers on your balcony sway") is traversed by the musical evocation of the wind. Then, his most often quoted rhyme, "Volverán las oscuras golondrinas" ("Once again, the dark swallows will appear"), where the swallows and then the honeysuckle are metaphors of good times past, as the poet laments the end of a love affair. Finally, "Hoy como ayer" ("Today like yesterday"), a disenchanted, bitter poem, set by the composer with tango inflexions, another deep influence on a man that has lived most of his long life in Buenos Aires.

            The ten "Piezas breves" are graceful vignettes in the good tradition of the better salon music. Finally, the "Credo quartet" comes curiously enough from a ballet, written in 1972/9 but only premiered in 1990. There´s a tango flavor in the middle movement, "Allegro spiritoso"; the slow movements that begin and end the quartet are meditative, beautiful chamber music.

            Sciammarella was never a revolutionary, even in his most dramatic works. In Argentina he is particularly appreciated for his enchanting opera "Marianita limeña", a comedy in colonial Lima  on Palma´s "Tradiciones peruanas", with music of vernal freshness and tinged with  a natural comprehension of nostalgic times.

            The whole record is the work of conscientious, valuable artists. Ms McNaron comes across as a vivid soprano of splendid intonation and beautiful timbre, surely interesting to watch on stage for she has a strong dramatic sense. Only her diction could be improved, though it is clear.  She is quite well accompanied by Heather Coltman. There´s also good ensemble work in the quartet.

            The CD is nicely recorded, with just enough immediacy, and the booklet is well presented, with good notes on scores and poets and bilingual versions of the poems.