The long Summer drought of classical music finally ended on March 7, when the Orquesta Filarmónica de Buenos Aires (for us, the Phil) offered the first of its 19 subscription concerts. The illness of Mijail Jurowski´s father forced a replacement, and we were lucky in getting a septuagenarian Lithuanian that proved to be worth knowing: Juozas Domarkas. Just four days later, there was a completely unforeseen event: a hastily coordinated Tchaikovsky programme with the Colón´s Orquesta Estable under the famous Vladimir Gergiev, who brought with him two young singers of Saint Petersburg´s Mariinsky Theatre.
Curiously I knew Domarkas through a Naxos recording in which he presents two symphonies by his compatriot Balakauskas, and with his orchestra, the Lithuanian National Symphony, in which he has had a very long tenure since 1964. (Another curiosity: this organism will make its Argentine debut shortly under Vladimir Lande for Nuova Harmonia). He respected Jurowski´s programming in its two main scores: Tchaikovsky´s "Romeo and Juliet" and Shostakovich´s Symphony Nº 10. The only change was that Jurowski planned premiering a piece by his grandfather, whilst Domarkas chose to begin with three light fragments of Georgi Vasilievich Sviridov (1915-98), "Snowstorm", taken from the concert suite he concocted in 1975 based on his music (1964) for the homonymous film made by Vladimir Basov on a Pushkin original, "Tales of the extinct Ivan Petrovich Belkin".
The music (of course a premiere, Sviridov is quite unknown here) proved very tonal and basic, though pleasant (he was a typical "cultural ´apparatchik´ ") and was played in a different order than that of the hand programme: "Winter road", "Waltz" and a "Romanza" with several soloists. What a pity that Domarkas didn´t bring us some Lithuanian music, say by Ciurlionis: it would have been instructive for the Baltic countries´ music is quite neglected in BA.
Domarkas soon showed his mettle in a brilliant but controlled version of Tchaikovsky´s marvelously evocative music, capturing its opposed moods and getting a precise but expressive performance from the Phil, whose players seemed in fine shape. The tough and long Shostakovich symphony was his defiance of Stalin, who had died on March 5, 1953, months before the premiere of the Tenth. Resolutely autobiographic, its motto is a four-note motif based on the composer´s surname, and it permeates the whole symphony. A great work, on a par with the Fifth, it had an admirable performance with the firm, clear-minded leadership of Domarkas, who certainly deserves to be much more recognised in the musical world. The house was full (an encouraging fact) and enthusiastic.
I counted the listed members of the Phil in the hand programme and I find their current number quite excessive: 115 (strangely no piano/celesta player is found, though he was in the stage); no orchestra needs six oboes, six clarinets and six bassoons, nor five trombones. Only 12 are under contract, the rest are permanent members ("estables"). Very few scores demand such an inflated staff; in those cases you contract the extra players.
As intimated in the title of this article, both Domarkas and Gergiev studied with the same professor in Saint Petersburg, but they can´t be less alike: Domarkas lacks charisma but has precision, sweep and well-assimilated experience; Gergiev has the strangest gestures, molding the music with expressive but rather dishevelled arms; but he has charisma and communicates readily with his players. May I remind the readers that Gergiev was memorably here in 1998 with the whole Mariinsky troupe (soloists, chorus and orchestra) in 1998, conducting two performances only, one of Mussorgsky´s original version of "Boris Godunov" and one of his "Khowanshchina". This new visit is part of a cultural-political interchange between Saint Petersburg and Buenos Aires, and the important result was that there is a chance that the Mariinsky will come back in 2014; I fervently hope so. A political delegation from the Russian city was here, and Chief of Government Mauricio Macri made a rare Colón appearance.
It seems that Gergiev had a lone rehearsal and that the orchestra was prepared by Javier Logioia Orbe (not an official information but I believe it to be reliable); I shiver to think of the results if this previous work hadn´t been done, for even so there were some misadjustments. However, Gergiev knows this music inside out and the results were very authentic, if not always polished enough. It may be added that the Estable lacks the Phil´s know-how in concert-giving; they are a pit orchestra. And some of their soloists are quite inferior to the Phil´s (horn, bassoon).
Gergiev brought two young singers of some merit, though I´m afraid they aren´t future stars. Ekaterina Goncharova, beautiful and fresh, was well-coached for her aria from "Iolanta" and the final duet from "Eugen Onegin", but her vibrato is very wide and her expression, though intense, lacks variety. Baritone Andrei Bondarenko fared better, especially in Yeletsky´s beautiful aria from "Pique Dame"; however, his light lyric voice spreads as soon as he sings loud. Fine accompaniments from Gergiev, naturally. On his own he gave us a rather lackluster Polonaise from "Eugen Onegin" and a much better Adagio from "The Nutcracker". I liked the musicality of his Fifth Symphony even if only the fourth movement proved completely convincing.