The Ensemble Intercontemporain was founded by Pierre Boulez in 1976 with the stated purpose of having a crack team capable of playing accurately the most difficult music of our time. When they came to BA in 1996, the presence of Boulez was feted as a major event. Indeed, Boulez (now in his eighties) remains a major figure both as conductor and composer (Barenboim managed to play his music at the Gran Rex for a packed audience with great success, a major occasion for such an arduous creator). An immensely gifted mind, Boulez was certainly an inspiration to his players and the two concerts for the Mozarteum at the Colón were then an important event.
Alas, I can´t write the same about their recent second visit for the same institution, also at the Colón. Not because of the players, who are as good as the ones in the previous tour. Of course conductor Jean Deroyer isn´t in the same plane as Boulez, but he is certainly very capable even if I dislike his gesturing. No, the problem was the programming, restricted to just two composers in a short evening, and repeated in both concerts, quite a contrast with the carefully chosen baker´s dozen of the Boulez visit. And also because neither composer is of great value. I would salvage Tristan Murail´s "La barque mystique" (1992) because its 13 minutes don´t overstay their welcome, and the man certainly has an ear for exploring interesting sounds; this piece is characterised by the IRCAM at the Centre Pompidou as being of "extreme fragmentation of articulation", and follows the "spectral school" of Gérard Grisey.
There was no interval , so we went on to Michael Jarrell´s "Cassandre", a monodrama for actress, instrumental ensemble and electronics lasting 53 minutes and written in 1994. The spoken text is an adaptation by Gerhard Wolf of a book by Christa Wolf, translated in French by Alain Lance and Renate Lance-Otterbein. Cassandra, daughter of King Priam of Troy and Hecuba, ceded to the amorous desires of the God Apollo, who gave her the art of prediction; but after their union Cassandra escapes and the God chastises her by eliminating the gift of persuasion: no one will believe her. And the war will be lost.
The subject and the character are powerful and Berlioz made it unforgettable in his opera "The fall of Troy" (First Part of "Les Troyens"). But here the spoken narration is excesive: too many words. And the music covers them much too often. Furthermore Jarrell´s language isn´t attractive although technically elaborate. And the supertitles gave us only a partial account of the text. Marthe Keller replaced the originally announced Fanny Ardant; but as Keller was the original interpreter at the premiere, she was certainly proficient. Even so, a disappointing evening.
Argentine soprano Virginia Tola gave a recital at the Colón for Festivales Musicales, admirably accompanied by pianist Fernando Pérez. The four initial pieces were pianistic reductions of Italian operatic arias. I believe Tola is a lyrical soprano, not a "spinto" (lyrical dramatic), so she was exquisite in the soft singing and the "cantabile" of Desdemona´s "Ave Maria" (Verdi´s "Otello") but the tragic aria "Morrò, ma prima in grazia" (Verdi´s "Un ballo ihn maschera") taxed her; she forced her tone and had too much vibrato. She was fine in "Ecco, respiro appena...Io son l´umile ancella" from Cilea´s "Adriana Lecouvreur" but in "Vissi d´arte" (Puccini´s "Tosca") she had a strange accident in one note. Catalani´s pleasant and little-known "Rêverie" was a piano interlude before two beautiful songs very well sung: Tosti´s "Malia" and Gastaldon´s "Musica proibita".
After the interval, three famous Guastavino songs in very fine versions: "La rosa y el sauce", "Se equivocó la paloma" and "Pueblito, mi pueblo". The "Ritual Fire Dance" from Falla´s "Love the magician" ("El amor brujo") was well played by Pérez but it was a bad programming idea for it is included in the forthcoming Lavandera concert for Festivales. The "Siete canciones populares españolas" by Manuel De Falla though correctly sung weren´t idiomatic enough. Encores: "De España vengo" from Luna´s zarzuela "El niño judío", "O mio babbino caro" from Puccini´s "Gianni Schicchi" and a lovely Mexican song, "Muñequita linda" by Maria Grever. Very nice all three.
The Academia Bach offered a beautiful Telemann-Bach concert at the Iglesia Metodista Central. From Telemann, an interesting Concerto in A minor, TWV 52a, featuring a duet of recorders (finely played by Andrés Spiller and José Luis Etcheverry), and a short but attractive "Psalm 117", "Laudate Jehovam omnes gentes". And from J.S.Bach, Cantata BWV 187, "Es wartet alles auf dich" ("All hope from You"), which includes a splendid initial chorus and three varied and ingenious arias. Good singing from Natalia Salardino (soprano), Damián Ramírez (countertenor) and Néstor Andrenacci (baritone), who also led his excellent Grupo de Canto Coral. They and five first-rate string players of long acquaintance with the Academy were all led by Mario Videla, the always knowlegeable leader of such enterprises.
Videla read a letter in which the audience was asked to contribute financially with a newborn Society of Friends of the Academy, and added that all the artists had sung and played "ad honorem". I do hope that sponsors will be found for the Academy is too valuable to disappear. And I also feel that their "mother", Festivales Musicales, is very much worthy of salvage.
For Buenos Aires Herald