viernes, abril 27, 2012

Orchestras and pianists, a variegated panorama

           The Ushuaia Festival, led from the beginning by Víctor Uliarte, has been in recent years a worthwhile accomplishment, for it has brought classical music to the  southernmost sizable city in the world. It has presented both the Moscow and the Berlin Symphony, along with some valuable soloists and chamber presentations.  BA always gets a “prequel” of one or two concerts before the Festival.  Some newspaper and private comments have indicated that this season´s Festival has been subpar in comparison to earlier ones. However, the concerts I saw in BA were apparently the pick of the crop of this Eighth Festival: a symphonic one and a piano recital. 
            Granted, the ad-hoc orchestra made up of players from several BA orchestras doesn´t compare with the Berlin and Moscow ones. The hand programme says: “it is made up of 66 of the best musicians from the three Colón Orchestras”, by which I assume that it also includes the youthful Academic Orchestra, and indeed I saw some quite young faces, along with  such capable veterans as cellist Carlos Nozzi (BA Phil) or oboist Rubén Albornoz (from the Colón “Estable”), but the concertino came from yet another orchestra (not mentioned in the programme): Roberto Rutkauskas from the National Symphony. 
          Apart from  the personal capacity of each player, it isn´t easy with a few rehearsals to meld artists from different organisms in  a unified whole, and I felt the strain of obtaining a similar style and level of execution. As Uliarte is a competent but hardly charismatic conductor, the results were middling. The same scores were played in two identical concerts: a free one at the Colón and a paid one at the Coliseo (which I heard). The music was all-Russian and it featured the debut of a splendid young Russian pianist, Vitaly Pisarenko, in his twenties. The mere fact that he managed to infuse freshness and authenticity in that most overworked of old warhorses, Tchaikovsky´s First Piano Concerto, is admirable. He has a powerful and precise technique; he never overpedals, keeps a firm line, manages the octaves with absolute accuracy, phrases beautifully the melodic bits, is never vulgar and avoids grandstanding. 
            The orchestral accompaniment was no more than acceptable, but at least there were no serious disagreements. Somo horn fluffs apart, the playing was better in Rimsky-Korsakov´s brilliant “Russian Easter Overture”. But the plum was the unahackneyed choice of Scriabin´s Second Symphony as the main symphonic work. The overwrought style of the five movements isn´t to everyone´s taste, but the music is certainly personal and difficult; Uliarte led it with a firm hand and the orchestra went along decently enough, though some passages were garbled. It was certainly hard to forget the magnificent version of Svetlanov with the URSS National Symphony, a true model heard almost two decades ago here. 
            The third concert of the Buenos Aires Philharmonic ran into major trouble: Chinese pianist Haochen Zhang, who was to be the soloist in Prokofiev´s immensely virtuosic Second Concerto, cancelled because “personal engagements have impeded him from obtaining the immigration papers required to access our country”, as a leaflet said; in plainer language, he didn´t get a proper visa on his passport. Negligence or a bad case of bureaucratic hindrance? Anyway, a partial refund was offered to the public.
            So we got an all-symphonic concert under Enrique Arturo Diemecke. The first score, as planned, was the 13-minute Piazzolla “Tangazo” (1969), completely typical of this composer, in a very good version. Then,  the conductor replaced the Prokofiev with Mahler´s “Totenfeier” (“Funeral Rites”), the antecedent of the first movement of the Second Symphony (“Resurrection”). In fact, as I detected with the score, they are almost identical from the rehearsal number 1 to 16; the symphony adds the passages contained from 17 to 19; and again numbers 20 to 27 are practically identical. Anyway, both versions are tremendous music and were well rendered by conductor and orchestra. A very proficient but to my mind slightly acid execution of Brahms´ marvelous Fourth Symphony ended the evening.           
            I have long known Turkish pianist Idil Biret through records and I greatly appreciate her integral Chopin. It was a pleasant surprise to find her playing at the Museo de Arte Decorativo. A mature lady of imposing poise and strength, I felt her a little too forceful in some passages of Brahms´ left-hand arrangement (very good of its kind) of Bach´s Chaconne from the Second Violin Partita, and also in some bits of Beethoven´s magnificent “Waldstein” Sonata (Nº 21), but there was no gainsaying her stunning professionalism. However, what really bowled me over was the rest of the evening: fantastic performances of two wildly difficult Etudes by Ligeti (Nos. 2 and 6 of the First Book), a welcome sample of Turkish composer Saygun´s Preludes op.45 (1967), quite attractive , and the best traversal of Chopin´s Etudes op.25 I´ve heard in recent years, with no excentricities such as Tiempo and Lisitsa provided. Plus a scintillating encore: Liszt´s etude “Gnomenreigen” (“Round dance of the Gnomes”). 
            Finally, Irish pianist Michael McHale gave a lovely recital at the Museo Fernández Blanco; he played (as last year) at the Ushuaia Festival. After sensitive versions of Schubert´s op.90 Impromptus, a first-rate account of Liszt´s “Funérailles”. A beautiful Barber “Nocturne”. Finally, charming Irish pieces: arrangements of folk songs by McHale himself, Philip Hammond´s “The bearded boy” and William Vincent Wallace´s “Roslyn Castle” in accomplished interpretations.

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