lunes, agosto 19, 2013

The fascinating world of choral music

            Two consecutive Wednesdays provided indisputable evidence that we have in Buenos Aires first-rate chamber choirs of international caliber. The Mozarteum Midday concerts at the Gran Rex gave their welcome to Musica Quantica, a young group founded in 2006 by Camilo Santostefano. Last year they won in Europe several competitions and now they are traveling there for the second time. And Festivales Musicales received our most acclaimed choir, the Estudio Coral de Buenos Aires led by Carlos López Puccio, at the Coliseo.

            Musica Quantica has 26 well-chosen voices  and is very disciplined. Santostefano directs them with taste and knowledge. They presented a  challenging and innovative repertoire, starting with the most modern of Early Baroque composers, Carlo Gesualdo, with his 1611 madrigal "Itene o miei sospiri". Then, a big jump to Romanticism, although Mendelssohn´s psalm "Warum toben die Heiden" has strong links to the Late Baroque.

            Fron then on, we traveled through the Twentieth Century. "O sacrum convivium" is an early work by that great mystic, Olivier Messiaen, still far from the audacities to come. "Twelfth Night" represents well the Neo-Romantic art of Samuel Barber; no reference to Shakespeare´s play, it "compares metaphorically Christ´s birth with the promise of next Spring" (Claudia Guzmán in her programme notes).

            Very long-lived (born 1915), the Norwegian Knut Nystedt is an intense creator of sacred pieces; one of the best is "O crux" (1979), where the mystery of the Cross transcends the initial obscure anguish and leads the listener in an "ascendent way to the radiant possibility of salvation" (Guzmán). "Te lucis ante terminum" is instead the work of a young Romanian, Gyöngyösi Levente (b.1975), on a Medieval text included in Compline (at the end of the liturgical day); this is introspective, well-wrought music.

            Maybe the most original of the contemporary pieces included is Eric Whitacre´s "Leonardo dreams of his flying machine", where several vocal effects are used appositely within a Renaissance madrigal-like structure to suggest musically the title. The work of the choir, always very good, was particularly impressive. The variegated programme put us then in touch with a fecund Filipino composer, John Pamintuan, born 1972 but already author of 400 choral compositions; his "De Profundis" (Psalm 130) blends successfully Western tradition with the indigenous Philippines musical essence.

            After so much novelty and severe sacrality, we were back in famous repertoire with Piazzolla´s "Fuga y misterio", and the concert ended with a Cuban piece, "El guayaboso" by Guido López Gavilán (born 1944), whose picaresque charm and vibrant rhythm evokes the guagancó (a rumba style of long standing).  

            Founded by Carlos López Puccio in 1981, the Estudio Coral de Buenos Aires is 32 years later the most prestigious chamber choir we have. As has been the norm, it currently has many choristers that can be soloists both in this group and elsewhere, and their quality shows, for they blend when they should and take their solos brilliantly. O course, López Puccio is a famous member of Les Luthiers, and his irrepressible humor impregnates his fast and often funny presentations of pieces. His enormous dynamism hasn´t diminished in his late Sixties and his unortodox, Expressionist gestual language, communicates readily to his talented choir.



            One of his many talents is the ability to programme both without concessions and attractively.  And the way he disposes the 30 singers, mixing men and women instead of putting them in blocks according to their register, is taken from Robert Shaw; it puts a lot of extra responsibility in each singer.

            The idea for this concert was brilliant: anniversaries of each selected composer. They started with Verdi (200th of his birth) and his lovely, subtle "Ave Maria", written "on an enigmatic scale".  Then, a little-known but important Welsh creator, Arnold Bax (at least his brilliant tone poem "Tintagel" was played by the Philharmonic): 130 years of his birth and 60 of his death. "This Worldes Joie" is based on an anonymous poem of about 1300 of pessimistic content; scored for eight voices, the three stanzas are beautifully harmonised.

            130 years of Anton Webern´s birth: his short cantata "Entflieht auf leichten Kähnen" (1908), still Late Romantic, has atonal touches and canonical writing.  It is based on a poem by the Symbolist Stefan George. To end Part One, the "Chansons françaises" so characteristic of Francis Poulenc (fifty years of his death) are simply folk songs arranged by the composer with his special wit and harmonic sensibility.

            The quality of the Second Part was even higher, both in interpretation and composition. Hindemith´s "Six chansons" on French texts by Rainer Maria Rilke are a masterpiece of refinement; he died as Poulenc in 1963 and these songs were created in Switzerland (1939). The immensely subtle "Five flower songs" are further proof of the innate affinity of Benjamin Britten with the voice; the finest English composer of operas was born a century ago.

            The only composer alive in this programme is Krzysztof Penderecki, who is 80. His stark "Stabat Mater" of 1962 is surely one of his best works: dense, innovative, strong.  György Ligeti lived between 1923 and 2006, so this is the 90th anniversary of his birth. "Hortobágy" is an early score (1929) based on Hungarian folklore; its three sections, of absorbing interest, tell us about aspects of the homonymousNational Park.

            The encores were outside the anniversary norm and of both Americas: a Negro Spiritual, a Villalobos piece and a Venezuelan exciting fast song.

For Buenos Aires Herald

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