No less than six foreign artists of real value have provided quality playing in these last weeks: five pianists and a violinist.
Joshua Bell is famous in the world and here, where each of his visits was greeted with enthusiasm. His recent visit for the Mozarteum at the Colón was wonderful not only for him but because it let us discover a major talent: Italian pianist Alessio Bax. Bell´s violin sound is incredibly smooth and accurate, with intonation of infinitesimal exactitude. And Bax has the most accomplished and unfailing technique along with a highly developed sense of style and taste. To boot, they think and play in perfect accord.
And the programme was ideal: four lovely sonatas in good contrast. Mozart´s Nº 25, K.301, epitomizes his career when he was between Mannheim and Paris. Beethoven´s Nº9, "Kreutzer", is probably the most famous in the whole repertoire. Debussy´s only Violin-Piano Sonata is his last work (1917): brief, varied, fresh and imaginative. And Grieg´s Third Sonata is an attractive combination of Romantic vehemence and singability. The encore was a fitting end: Wieniawski´s "Polonaise Op.4", as brilliant as required.
Also at the Colón, Festivales Musicales made a hit with the debut of Korean pianist Sunwook Kim in a programme dedicated to the three great Bs of German music: Bach, Beethoven and Brahms. Kim won the Leeds Competition in 2006, when he was only 18, and has since played with great orchestras and conductors. At 25 he showed amazing maturity; I have often been struck by the adaptability of Orientals to our Occidental musical tradition.
Bach´s First Partita flowed from his fingers with nicely chosen tempi and complete naturalness; he made small joins between "da capos" and added apposite ornaments. Then came a great test: Beethoven´s Sonata Nº 28 was expressed with admirable strength and complete command of the intrincate counterpoints of the last movement. Finally, Brahms´ Third Sonata is a massive five-movement work: the young lion is here expansive and virtuosic. Kim, with a total lack of pose, played it with a strong structural conception and astonishing accuracy. His encore was quiet, the slow movement from Beethoven´s Sonata Nº 8, "Pathetic".
Few foreign pianists if any have had such an extended career among us as the American Ralph Votapek. When he first came in his twenties he had a great success: here was an artist that exuded freshness, positiveness and charm, with an eclectic repertoire and a fully grounded technique. He was in the line of notable American pianists with a dynamic personality that established total contact with the public without any grandstanding.
As the decades went by, he not only played in BA but was a constant presence in provincial cities. The years didn´t seem to touch him. Now incredibly in his seventies, his step almost as elastic as almost a half century ago, he offered two concerts: on Tuesday night at AMIJAI (I couldn´t attend) and on the immediate Wednesday a Midday concert for the Mozarteum at the Gran Rex.
He played with perfect articulation and beautiful style a rarely done Sonata by Haydn, Hob.XVI-46. Then, the enormous Liszt Sonata, that redoubtable masterpiece. It was a good performance, but not quite as wild and virtuosic as the music needs. He was
in his element with the adaptation for solo piano of Ravel´s "La Valse" done by the author. Although of course it´s a professional job I can´t help hearing in my head the myriad colors of the composer´s orchestral version. But Votapek did as well as I expected. His encore was a specialty where he always shines, a Gershwin Prelude.
Martha Noguera is a tenacious lady who founded Chopiniana years ago, an international annual piano festival. Many interesting artists came to us for the first time. Last year I welcomed that the venue was the San Martín´s Casacuberta, but the amphitheatre wasn´t available and she had to come back to the Palacio Paz (Círculo Militar), whose high Oval Room is certainly beautiful but has tremendously reverberant acoustics.
Due to collisions with other events I missed the first two concerts, with Miceal O´Rourke and Luis Ascot. As usual in this series, there are Polish artists; Raphael Lutschevsky has been here before. He has a big sound and ample, Romantic phrasing, sometimes wilful. I dislike the Liszt arrangements of Schubert Lieder, for he adds enormous complications to pure, simple music; they are trivialized as virtuoso showpieces. But "Funérailles" is strong, powerful Liszt, quite well done by the pianist.
Of the three Chopin waltzes Op.34 I liked the first two but the third was overfast. Lutchevsky was at his best in Chopin´s magnificent Third Sonata, played with acumen and impeccable mechanism. The encores: two Piazzolla pieces (why?).
Finally, Lovro Pogorelich (Ivo´s brother) made his debut in an all-Brahms programme. It was unusual, for he offered the Sonatas Op.1 and Op.2, long, overwrought works with a surfeit of fortissimo chords, but with many traits of the future Brahms; they are rarely heard. And to finish, the unplayable Second Book of the "Paganini Variations", inhumanly difficult.
Except for a few details, the artist managed to present this tough programme in very professional and commendable versions. He sounded powerful and commanding. Interesting encore: Liszt´s "La lugubre gondola", an enigmatic late work. This time a different hall in the First Floor, rectangular and with better acoustics, was used, due to an event in the Ground Floor.
For Buenos Aires Herald