sábado, diciembre 27, 2014

Colón 2015: hits and misses in the announced concert life

            As happened this year, in 2015 the high point will be the Daniel Barenboim marathon, again with the WEDO (West Eastern Divan Orchestra) and Martha Argerich. But  other aspects of concert life are open to considerable criticism: the Philharmonic season, the Sunday morning concerts with Argentine artists, and particularly the so-called Fifth anniversary Cycle. Of course, there´s always the reflected glory of the concerts programmed by the Mozarteum Argentino and Nuova Harmonia, of which I wrote weeks ago. But they simple hire the Colón, it´s no merit of the institution.

            The Barenboim concerts are billed as "Stellar subscription series: Festival of music and reflexion" (this last word refers to yet another dialogue between Barenboim and Felipe González; why not someone else?). A good thing: some of the events will be repeated in non-subscription concerts. (Remember also that the Mozarteum includes the WEDO in two concerts, though that specific programming hasn´t been informed).

            The WEDO plays a fantastic programme on July 24-25: Wagner´s "Siegfried Idyl", Schönberg´s First Chamber Symphony and the première of "Incises" by Boulez. Unfortunately the Bareboim-Argerich concert on July 26 won´t be repeated; it will feature Bartók´s Sonata for two pianos and percussion. July 29-30 will let us hear two Tchaikovsky hits, the First Concerto and the Fourth Symphony (Argerich should be dazzling). Another golden programme will happen on August 7 and 8: Wagner´s "Tannhäuser" Overture; Beethoven´s Triple Concerto (soloists unannounced) and that enormous chromatic tone poem by Schönberg, "Pelleas and Melisande".

            Then, an intriguing curiosity: on August 4, Iranian and Arabic music! And an interesting initiative, quite typical of Barenboim: a chamber concert with Bruckner´s Quintet will be offered at three symbolic buildings of different creeds: the Islamic Center, the Libertad Temple (Jewish) and the Metropolitan Cathedral.

            But standards will fall crucially in the Fifth anniversary cycle (of the Colón´s reopening), for Pedro Pablo García Caffi has concocted an umpalatable mixture of popular and academic music: out of seven concerts, just two are what one expects from the Colón: good classical fare with valuable interpreters. The other five offer jazz, tango (twice), folklore, and vulgarised arrangements of famous pieces. Several will use amplification.

            The two that are welcome at the Colón, to my mind, are the recital by the great pianist Evgeny Kissin (June 2) and a worthwhile collaboration of soprano Paula Almerares and pianist Karin Lechner (August 12). I much appreciate Wynton Marsalis´ Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra (March 27) but jazz shouldn´t be at the Colón. Folklore will surely be well represented by Jaime Torres´ Ensemble, but again this isn´t the venue. Ditto for the tango: a virtuoso trio (Binelli-Isaac-Ferman) on September 1 and the Saluzzi Family on October 2. But all this at least has a reasonable musical quality. I´m afraid that won´t happen with the arrangements of Lito Vitali with numerous guests that shouldn´t have accepted this particular artistic date (September 4).

            Of course, I have objected such things as the recitals called "Las elegidas" and "Los elegidos", or Charly García: they were simply out of place. But they weren´t part of a concert series neck to neck with academic music, and that makes it much worse.

            I am disappointed to a lesser degree by the B.A.Phil´s season, reduced to only 14 concerts; even with repetitions at the Usina del Arte (commendable for they are free) it´s too few. And fully ten  will be conducted by Enrique Arturo Diemecke. To boot, there will be a pre-season series of the Beethoven complete symphonies  conducted by him (March 3 to 6). Only a few of the soloists are established names. The repertoire is thin, with not one of the long-expected premières or revivals, and –this is unforgivable and contrary to a recent interview with Diemecke- not even one choral-symphonic work.

            I don´t have the space to give full details, so I will just cite what seems to me worthwhile. April 23: Polish conductor Antoni Wit in Gorecki and Lutoslawski. June 4: Chinese conductor Tan Li Hua in a session featuring the Concerto for pipa (Chinese lute) by Zhao Jiping played by Wu Man. June 18: Diemecke will give his own revision of the Deryck Cooke performing version of Mahler´s originally incomplete Tenth Symphony. June 25: Richard Stoltzman will play the Corigliano Clarinet Concerto.

            A combination of two rarely played scores on July 23: Scriabin´s Piano Concerto (with Alexander Markovich) and Bruckner´s Sixth Symphony, Diemecke on the podium. August 13: an attractive combination of Sibelius ("Karelia Suite"), Rachmaninov ("Rhapsody on a theme by Paganini" with Sergio Tiempo) and Nielsen´s fascinating Fourth Symphony. September 3 features the almost unknown Concert Fantasy by Tchaikovsky with pianist Rusten Hayrudinov. October 1: Víctor Hugo Toro gives us a Baltic overview: Grieg ("Norwegian Dances"), Nielsen (the Clarinet Concerto with Mariano Rey) and Sibelius (First Symphony).

            The Argentine interpreters free series on Sunday morninga presents some good stuff but is overweighed with choirs: eight out of sixteen concerts. I especially look forward to the Coro de la Universidad Nacional de Cuyo, the Conjunto Pro Musica Antiqua de Rosario and the Estudio Coral de Buenos Aires.

            The Colón Contemporáneo offers Ligeti by pianist Pierre-Laurent Aimard (May 3), the spectral music by Gérard Grisey (August 14), "Trans" by Stockhausen (November 12) and the famous Kubrick film "2001" with live music.

            Finally, I find the Centro de Experimentación in full decline, and am only attracted by the series of Integrals (Xenakis quartets, chamber music by Kröpfl and Lambertini).

For Buenos Aires Herald 

Opera and ballet next year at the Colón

            Well, after weeks of mournful rumors about a drastic reduction of activities, this writer received the complete Colón season by mail, with no press conference (so, no questions, no dialogue) and things don´t look so bad for a country in a steep slope of degradation. I have some qualms about the chosen repertoire, especially because during months there was talk that finally in 2015 we would have the première of the complete "Les Troyens" by Berlioz. The long wait will continue.

             There are a few "name singers": tenor Ramón Vargas in two operas, Anna Caterina Antonacci in a mezzo role (she was here long ago as a soprano), mezzo Violeta Urmana (debut), soprano Irene Theorin (debut) as Kundry in "Parsifal". No renovation in conductors, again Ira Levin and Roberto Paternostro will have the main titles. A matter that will raise eyebrows and be bothersome for many will be the change to 8 p.m. in beginning time (the traditional 8,30 p.m. was much more comfortable); this may have sense in long operas like "Don Carlo" but not in short ones. (This will also apply to ballets).

            Productivity will keep being very low, seven titles against the fourteen of the Sixties (plus a summer season with three operas!). Naturally no information whatsoever about the current condition of the building (a big piece of masonry fell recently and could have injured orchestra players) or about what remains to be done (for the Colón is still incomplete, and there´s the scandal of the library in containers since 2006). And the Legislature no longer investigates.

             The orchestras have been protesting before performances with placards about low salaries and bad treatment; but I very much doubt that Mauricio Macri will redress complaints; such things don´t win votes, big public works do. And I don´t think that the orchestras will strike: they might lose their resident status as happened recently in Rome!

            This is the season. Basic facts in this order: conductor (C), producer (P), singers (S).

            MASSENET. Werther. C: Ira Levin. P: Hugo De Ana. S: Ramón Vargas, Anna Caterina Antonacci. April 14, 16, 17, 18, 19, 21. Good cast for an unnecessary revival, there have been many "Werthers" in the past decade, including the Colón at the Coliseo of 2007. Why not "Thaïs", missing since 1952?

            DONIZETTI. L´elisir d´amore. C: Ivan Ciampa. P: Sergio Renán. S: Adriana Kucerova, Ivan Magri, Giorgio Caoduro, Simón Orfila. Except for Renán, obscure debuts. The piece was chosen because a comedy was needed, but it would have been much more interesting to offer "La Fille du Régiment", incredibly a première for the Colón. May 8, 9, 10, 12, 14.

            LUCA FRANCESCONI. Quartett, on Heiner Müller´s play. Première. C: Brad Lubman. P: Alex Ollé, of La Fura dels Baus. S: Allison Cook, Robin Adams. This work may be interesting, but it leaves out other much needed premières, such as any Henze or Hindemith or Britten´s "Billy Budd". When the season is so improductive (just seven titles), every choice matters. June 16, 19, 21, 23.

            MASCAGNI. Cavalleria Rusticana. LEONCAVALLO. I Pagliacci. C: Roberto Paternostro. P: José Cura. S: all Argentine, including Cura. July 14, 17, 18, 119, 21. Last coupled at the Colón in 2000, it is plausible to programme it, though other institutions have presented them, sometimes separately, during the intervening years.

            VERDI. Don Carlo. The  Colón has opted for the 4-act Italian version. C: Levin. P: Eugenio Zanetti (a debut at the Colón, I believe). S: Vargas, Tamar Iveri, Violeta Urmana, Fabián Veloz, Alexander Vinogradov. September 20, 23, 26, 29. Last at the Colón, 2004.

            PROKOFIEV. The Angel of Fire. C: Levin. P: Florencia Sanguinetti (debut as producer of this artist of the Colón staff). S: Vladimir Baykov, Elena Popovskaya, Roman Sadnik (debuts).  This fascinating opera had very successful performances here in 1966 and 1971 and it is an excellent idea to revive it, now in Russian as it should (we had seen it in Italian). November 3, 6, 8, 10.

            WAGNER. Parsifal. C: Paternostro. P: Katharina Wagner. S: Christopher Ventris, Irene Theorin, Stefen Milling, Ruan McKinny, Kay Stiefermann (all debuts except Ventris). December 4, 6, 9, 11. At last "Parsifal"! Twenty-nine long years have passed since the Decker-Oswald collaboration. And we are still waiting for "Die Meistersinger" (1980!) and "Tannhäuser" (1994). And of course, the last complete "Ring" dates from 1967... Yes, the Colón has much amends to make in this direction. And I tremble to think of Katharina Wagner as producer, she has been ruining Bayreuth´s artistic standards for years.


            Two things stand out: the enormously postponed (since the 1940s!) of what for me is one of the five best ballet scores of the XIXth Century: Léo Delibes´ "Sylvia" (the others: Delibes´"Coppélia" and the three Tchaikovsky items). My special thanks for its inclusion  in the beautiful and stylish Ashton choreography. The other surprise: all ballets are offered with the Buenos Aires Philharmonic conducted by Emmanuel Siffert.  And one rather sad conclusion: not even one of our conductors is given a chance either in opera or ballet, which is grossly unfair.

            There will be a new "Neoclassic trilogy" with choreographies by Bigonzetti, Frédéric and Wainrot. March 15, 17, 18 to 21.

            An incredible and incomprehensible lapse of  five months will go by before the première of the Ashton choreography of "Sylvia", which will have the wonderful presence of Alicia Amatriain, of the Stuttgart Ballet. August 23, 35 to 29.

            Than , the welcome revival of the Cranko "Onieguin", with the special event of Paloma Herrera in her farewell performances. October 11, 13, l4, l5, 16, 17. The dates with odd numbers will be danced by Herrera.

            There has long been an "Anna Karenina" ballet with music by Rodion Shchedrin written for his wife, Maya Plisetskaya, but the one that will be premiered has a collage of Tchaikovsky music (as also happens in "Onieguin") and the choreography is by Boris Eifman, whose "Rodin" was premiered here this year with success. December 20, 22, 23, 26, 27.

            With "popular" prices (that is, less expensive) the current "Swan Lake" will be offered on May 26 to 30. There will be two galas: one will celebrate the fifth anniversary of the Colón reopening on May 24 and will include two short ballets along with other items; the other will be an international gala with soloists from SODRE (Montevideo), the Royal Ballet of London and the Royal Flemish Ballet. Maricel de Mitri will give her farewell performance on that gala, August 16.

For Buenos Aires Herald

Spohr, Martinu, Ferrandini and Gurdjieff: variety is life

            You probably know the first two family names of this article, Spohr and Martinu, but I bet you haven´t in the cases of Ferrandini and Gurdjieff. As for me, after 47 years of reviewing, I have finally heard live music of the latter two. And certainly my chances of hearing scores by the first two have been scarce. Out of the immense morass of concerts offered during recent weeks I chose four, precisely becaused I´m still curious (and hope to die that way: it´s the principal characteristic, or should be, of working as a musical critic).

            Ars Nobilis has existed for many years now, always led by Mabel Mambretti. It was born in 1997 and has  been a persevering labor of love. During the initial seasons the concerts were not free but had low prices and offered carefully chosen programmes. However, in recent seasons the orientation has been different: free concerts and many, as much as 30 or even more. Venues change and quality varies, but some are interesting; quite a few are given outside our city in localities such as San Miguel.

            I was attracted by a concert at the Salón Anasagasti of the Jockey Club, a pleasant place for chamber music. In a way, Ars Nobilis was a part of the large  plan of concerts and lectures imagined by Norberto Padilla as Cultural Director for the Club, often rewarding for  music lovers.

            The programme was very worthwhile: Mendelssohn´s quartets are wrongly neglected, as proved by Nº4, Op.44 Nº2, agreeably done by the Cuarteto Ritornello. Then, what is for me the best piece ever written for wind quintet, Nielsen´s Quintet Op.43, carefully played by the Ensemble Ars Nova plus hornist Álvaro Suárez Vázquez. The première of Martín Cafieri´s Guitar Sonata was the consequence of winning First Prize in the Eighth Alemann competition instituted by Mambretti, who had been  married to composer Eduardo Alemann. The piece was tonal and well wrought, as well as nicely played by Matías Couriel.

            To cap it all, the splendid Nonet by Ludwig Spohr (the first in history), combining woodwinds, horn and strings, a very skillful and melodic composition. The Cuarteto Ritornello, the Ensamble Ars Nova and bass player Santiago Quagliariello put  a lot of concentration and effort and the result was plausible though it left room for betterment.

            I have a soft spot for Bohuslav Martinu´s music, an eclectic, kaleidoscopic composer with a style of his own, to my mind the other great name of Czech Twentieth Century music (of course, his "companion" is Leos Janácek). That wonderful Museum, the Fernández Blanco, gives concerts coordinated by Leila Makarius every week of the season, often innovative. And for a ridiculous price (ten pesos).  As part of the Week of Czech Culture and coordinated by Ana Janku, pianist Orlando Milláa and the Cuarteto Fénix (Laura Rus, flute; David Bortolus, oboe; David Lheritier, clarinet; María Marta Ferreyra, bassoon), plus second bassoonist Julieta Di Fede, offered a fascinating conspectus of this creator´s chamber music, in all cases very well played.

            A nervous  Flute Sonata (1945) with Martinu´s typical dislocated rhythms was followed by two contrapuntal Madrigals (1937) for oboe, clarinet and bassoon. Then, an early, dynamic Scherzo for piano (1924), and finally, a five-movement Sextet for piano and winds (two bassoons!), the fourth being a blues (he wrote many pieces in jazzy styles). It dates from 1929.

            The Usina del Arte is presenting weekly a panoply of events and it has become the single most noteworthy fact of the year: notwithstanding its isolation and doubtful security and accessibility, the quality of its programming has steadily risen and no music lover can discard some visits in a season. An admirable cycle of Baroque music, e.g., in which I missed several worthy dates because of collisions with other things I had to cover. But at least I could hear the wonderful presentation in their Chamber Music Hall (capacity 280, chockful) of the Proyecto Bach led by Jorge Lavista, with famed Argentine soprano María Cristina Kiehr (she has a great specialized Baroque career in Europe).

            Giovanni Ferrandini (1715-93) worked at the Munich court for thirty years and wrote many cantatas as well as ten operas. He was the discovery of this concert, for his cantata "Giunta l´ora fatal" proved dramatic and intense, especially in the recitatives. After the splendid Concerto TWV 51 for flute, violin and strings by Telemann,  played with panache particularly by flutist Gabriel Pérsico, we had a novelty: Bach´s well-known Cantata Nº 82, "Ich habe genug", in an adaptation by Bach himself from the original for baritone to a version for soprano, flute and strings. And it works!  Beautiful interpretations from all concerned. Plus an encore, one of Cleopatra´s arias ("Piangerò") from Handel´s "Giulio Cesare".

            And finally, a rarity at AMIJAI. American pianist Charles Ketcham has long been a crusader for the music collected by the esoteric George Gurdjieff (1866-1949) in different regions, such as Armenia, Greece, Kurdistan, the Caucasus, Persia, Tibet; there is also music of the sayyid, a Muslim group in India, and dervish music from Persia and Bukhara. But it is homogenized by the piano arrangements of Thomas de Hartmann (1866-1949) and it often sounds too Occidental, apart from losing the original timbres of endemic instruments. Ketcham played very professionally and with deep conviction, but it didn´t make much of an impact on me.

For Buenos Aires Herald 

Tosca and Butterfly, contrasting Puccinian heroines

            With rare exceptions (Gianni Schicchi), Puccini´s operas are led by his heroines. Within a week, the Teatro Argentino staged "Tosca" and the Colón, "Madama Butterfly".  Both are very much in love and both commit suicide, but their temperaments are dissimilar and their stories offer very different worlds and conflicts.         The new artistic directress of the Argentino, Valeri Ambrosio, confesses very little operatic experience, even as audience member. But she had no qualms in taking upon herself the staging of "Tosca", her second "hit title" selection after "La Traviata". And she promises more of the same for next year, so forget about the innovative programming of Suárez Marzal and Lombardero: Ambrosio goes for the sure thing.

            She comes from musical comedy of the "Priscilla" kind, hardly the preparation for a "Tosca". So I have to thank her for one decision: she respects the original time and places: Sant´Andrea della Valle, Palazzo Farnese and Castel Sant´Angelo. Following the current trend, her staging is multimedia and she chose collaborators that don´t have an operatic background: Ana Repetto (stage designer), Maximiliano Vecco (multimedial content designer), Sandro Pujía (lighting; an isolated "Boheme" is his only operatic antecedent). Only the costumes, selected from the Argentino´s vast and splendid archive, were supervised by two people long associated with this theatre, Fabiana Yalet and Raúl Gatto.

            The initial zoom form the Square in front of Sant´Andrea to the inside of the Church was impressive, for Vecco had access to very good documentary material; so the architecture was projected, and Repetto´s contribution  was a big wooden contraption  from whose top Cavaradossi painted an absurdly gigantic Madonna. When the Sacristan entered, Ambrosio invented two wholly unnecessary parodic mimes as helpers. Otherwise she respected the libretto and the Te Deum was impressive.

            I was bothered by the bad use of projections in the First Act, and again in the Second: I don´t need to be shown everything mentioned in the libretto, as when Tosca evokes nice moments passed with Mario, nor do I have to see the tortures inflicted on the painter. Another thing  was very wrong: an enormously long table placed dead center and whose only object was for the singers to ludicrously climb on it.

             Up to then there was a mix of good and bad, but the Third was unremittingly bad. From  the beginning: the boy shepherd singing a folk song was an apprentice soldier and a travestied woman; Mario bribed openly the Jailer in front of a completely superfluous dozen soldiers, who remained in place throughout, even during Mario and Tosca´s very private duet, and the firing platoon supposed to enter, kill Mario and go away was made up of those already on stage, and after killing Mario stayed transfixed in their places...

            Amparo Navarro had sung Verdi at the Colón ("I Lombardi") and the Coliseo ("I due Foscari"). A handsome woman, she moves well, but she sang a small-scale Tosca, professional enough however. Chilean tenor José Azócar is neither handsome nor young enough for Mario; his singing was very stilted and vibratoed, though firm. The best vocality was Hernán Iturralde´s, an uncharacteristically bald Scarpia; the Chief of the Pope´s Secret Police in Napoleonic times wasn´t malignant nor subtle, but the voice was always solid in the whole range.

            Several other artists did well: Víctor Castells (Angelotti), Fernando Santiago (Sacristan), Santiago Bürgi (Spoletta), Oreste Chlopecki (Jailer). But the helmsman of the Orchestra, Carlos Vieu, went beyond normal standards and produced an admirable orchestral tapestry, with all players responding with real quality. And the Choirs (mixed and children) were very good (Hernán Sánchez Arteaga and Mónica Dagorret).

            As usual, in his "Madama Butterfly" Hugo De Ana did everything: production, stage , costume and lighting design. And as usual, he was arbitrary but interesting. He too goes multimedia, and often his ideas are technically valuable but wrong in terms of adequacy to the libretto.

             We certainly don´t need Hokusai´s famous Wave in the quietest piece of the whole opera, the "bocca chiusa" chorus.  The three metallic cubes (one bigger and central) officiate unconvincingly as Butterfly´s house. Those absurd black ninjas are quite a bother in a number of scenes, and nowhere as obnoxious as when Cio-Cio-San shows her son to the Consul (the poor kid is brought on stage carried by the ninjas, ruining all verisimilitude). There is no hill and the sea is omnipresent (all against the libretto). Both the Bonze and the rich Yamadori are ridiculed. An unwarranted assistant sailor in the First Act even played a mute saxophone! And kitsch often intrudes, especially when instead of cherry flowers we get what looks like discombobulated mops.

            However, there are some insights: the convincing demeanor and beautiful costumes during Butterfly´s wedding; the merited slap in the face administered by Kate (Pinkerton´s wife) to her husband; or the collaboration by Suzuki in the ritual suicide once she understands that Cio-Cio-San´s determination is irrevocable. By the way, De Ana´s team of collaborators comes from Europe.

            Once again the Colón has changed the announced singers with no explanation: instead of the famous Patricia Racette, the unheralded Armenian Liana Aleksanyan; replacing Fabián Veloz, the Russian Igor Golovatenko as Sharpless. Aleksanyan works at Braunschweig and has had little international projection; however, she is a seasoned professional, with a pleasant voice of good range, though not enough volume in the center, acts well, has the right appearance and stamina.

            James Valenti certainly looks the part, "tall and strong", as Butterfly says. His singing is agreeable though the voice has little metal. The best voice was the young baritone Golovatenko, who should have a fine career in lyric roles. Guadalupe Barrientos (Suzuki) and Sergio Spina (Goro) were convincing. Fernando Radó (Bonze), Mario De Salvo (Imperial Commissary) and Gabriela Ceaglio (Kate) were in the picture. The kid, Matías Romig, moved nicely and has the right looks.

            Ira Levin showed again his versatility in a well-conducted and –played performance, abetted by good choral work (Miguel Martínez).

For Buenos Aires Herald

The wonderful feast of singing together

            You may travel all over the world and you will be hard put to find the likes of the Estudio Coral de Buenos Aires, the fantastic professional chamber choir assembled during 34 years by Carlos López Puccio. CLP is of course very popular as a member of Les Luthiers, which exists for even a longer time (over 40 years). His ebullient, tireless personality comes over in his  presentations, generally as erudite as funny.

            They ended the Sunday morning free concerts of the Colón with one of the most fascinating programmes I´ve ever heard, called "Isms of the XXth.Century" (the appellation has to be taken with a grain of salt, for the last piece of the morning was written in 1897). And I would correct "Romanticism" with "Neo-Romanticism" concerning two pieces by Samuel Barber: "To be sung on the water" (Louise Bogan) and "The Coolin' ", from "Reincarnation", Op.16 Nº3 (James Stephens). A good thing: the hand programme had all the texts translated into Spanish.

            The characteristics of the group were evident after this start: following Robert Shaw´s example, CLP disposes his select thirty choristers alternating man-woman instead of the traditional four blocks (tenors, baritones/basses, sopranos, mezzos/contraltos). Of course each one must know thoroughly his/her part and have the concentration to disregard whatever his/her companion/s is/are doing, and at the same time have the exact entries and endings incorporated to the millimeter. The director´s expressionistic gestures carry conviction in themselves, but there were countless hours of rehearsal to be able to offer us such rigorous exactitude blended with the chosen composers´ style.

            A very early (1908) and short piece by Anton Webern provides a beautiful sample of Atonalism: "Enflieht auf leichten Kähnen" ("Flee on light barques", Stefan George), Op.2. Then, an impish political satire by that incredible American pioneer, Charles Ives, giving us a bit of Modernism: "Vote for names", with the piano accompaniment of Diego Ruiz and the accurate singing of soprano Marcela Sotelano.  Then, the three charming Neoclassic pieces by another American, William Bergsma: "Riddle me this", on traditional texts.

            Then, the Spectralism avantgarde: Giacinto Scelsi´s "Gloria",  on the basic parameter of the spectrum of sound; hard to sing and brilliantly done. And in complete and welcome contrast, the only two choral pieces we have from Gershwin ("Jazzism"): the two madrigals from "A Damsel in Distress", a 1937 film: "Song of Spring" and "The Jolly Tar and the Milkmaid", done with panache by the choir and the soloists: Ricardo González Dorrego (tenor) and Silvina Ravalli (soprano), and Ruiz.

            After the interval, back to Neoclassicism with an early work by that incredibly long-lived American, Elliott Carter (1908-2012): "Musicians wrestle everywhere", on a lovely Emily Dickinson poem; Carter would eventually become an avantgarde shaper of very difficult music. Readers know that I´m not an admirer of John Cage, but his "Four2", a 1990 "score" of sorts, is a good example of Indeterminism, a way of handling sounds with a high aleatoric ingredient.

            On the other hand, I find a lot of György Ligeti´s production important; "Hälfte des Lebens" (Middle of Life") is an iridescent Micropolyphony score, from "Three Fantasies on Friedrich Hölderlin"; its extremely complex but coherent textures were expressed by the choir with marvelous ability. The sensitive "Dirait-on" by Morten Lauridsen (American of Nordic descent), with piano,  enhances the short, perceptive poem by Rainer Maria Rilke. And finally, the long, powerful and ample "Hymn", Op.34 Nº 2 (1897), by Richard Strauss, on an attractive text by Friedrich Rückert, exemplified Post-Romanticism. The choir sounded like sixty! Four soloists: Rosana Bravo, Pol González, Silvina Sadoly, Pablo Zartmann.

            Two encores: a Cuban "pasacalle" of rich rhythm by Roberto Varela, and the famous Negro Spiritual "Deep River" in the moving arrangement by Shaw and Parker, with a splendid solo by baritone Martín Caltabiano.    

            I believe that this incredibly varied mosaic done with gorgeous professionalism can only be done in our country by the magician CLP and his singers. 

            The Grupo Coral Divertimento, on the other hand, isn´t professional in the sense of living from their singing, but they all read music and their conductor has been for many years Néstor Zadoff, certainly the best of his generation. Each December they present at AMIJAI a short programme (never over an hour) of valuable and rarely done choral-symphonic music. And they do have a following: the auditorium was chockful. Alas, there were no hand programmes and the access was extremely slow; the concert started half an hour late.

            I have known the Mendelssohn Psalms through a Geneva recording for many years, but I hadn´t had a chance to hear them live. So this opportunity was very welcome, for they have the qualities of his oratorio "Elijah" in shorter form; Romantic but solidly built and inspired.

            There are several; we heard Nº 95, in five movements, 30 minutes: "Kommt, lasst uns anbeten" ("Come, let us pray"), with fine solos by tenor González Dorrego and too incisive singing by soprano Rebeca Nomberto. And Nº 42, seven movements, 25 minutes: "Wie der Hirch schreit" ("As the stag roars"), with Nomberto as soloist.

            With a good chamber orchestra and an enthusiastic though aged choir, Zadoff led with his accustomed conviction and command.  I do wish they could offer us longer programmes that would allow them to bring to us works such as Franck´s "Les Béatitudes", one glaring omission decade after decade.

For Buenos Aires Herald 

Menotti´s operas: their key is easy access

            After WWII, excepting Benjamin Britten, only one opera composer has had wide success. Gian Carlo Menotti, Italian-American, never had the musical importance of the Britisher, but in many of his works he had the knack to communicate with his audience. Of course, he was a tonal composer; Italianate melodies came easily to him. And he never tried to be avantgarde; as happened with Nino Rota, with whom he had some similitudes, they didn´t change the history of music but brought to stage works with an attractive blend of intelligent libretti and music that had no problems of access.

            Except the initial and charming "Amelia al ballo", Menotti´s operas are in English and he wrote his own libretti with much wit in comedy and dramatic sense in such intense operas as "The Consul" and "The Medium". Many have been offered in Argentina, generally with good success. "The Consul" has a terrible political content and had great impact here ever since its premiere in Italian in 1953; the last Colón performances were, as it should be, in English (1999), and Buenos Aires Lírica´s presentation some years ago, also in English,  was excellent. For myself, I was fascinated by the early recording with Patricia Neway, Cornell MacNeil and Marie Powers. 

            "The Medium" also strikes home strongly, especially if interpreted by the likes of Régine Crespin (1987). "The Saint of Bleecker Street" is a New York drama painted with a sure hand and it was premièred by La Plata´s Argentino in 1961. But Menotti also has a lighter side, such as his opera for children "Help, help, the Globolinks", in which an alien invasion is treated with imagination; the Colón offered it in 1987 and 1993. Or a lovely show of great refinement combining dance and song such as "The Unicorn, the Gorgon and the Manticore", whose world premiére I had the privilege of witnessing back in 1956 in Washington; the Argentino offered it some years ago.

            And there are other short operas that have been seen here. "The Old Maid and the Thief" is a bittersweet fable and I appreciated it some years ago at La Scala de San Telmo.  "The Telephone" was given by the Grupo Encuentros two or three years ago, I believe. "Amahl and the Night Visitors" was premièred here in 1957 with the Columbus Boychoir and  with local casts in 1965 and 1966; probably it was done later as well but I don´t recall it.

            The Instituto Superior de Arte (ISA) del teatro Colón had the good idea of pairing the 25-minute "The Telephone" (1947) with "Amahl and the Night Visitors", written for TV in 1951 and lasting 50 minutes. The venue was the pleasant Teatro 25 de Mayo in the Almagro borough.

            "The Telephone" is a short charade quite appliable to Internet: the mania of a girl who can´t be without a telephone for a minute drives her suitor mad, who wants to declare and is always frustrated; he finally does it by means of a telephone call...and they will marry. It was charmingly done by soprano Constanza Díaz Falú and bass-baritone Juan Feico, with the support of the Orquesta Académica of the Institute under the firm hands of Juan Casasbellas, and in a simple but effective staging by Jorge de Lassaletta. 

            I have had a soft spot for "Amahl..." ever since I bought in 1956 the record of the original TV production conducted by Thomas Schippers. The story of the crippled boy of a poor widow that is visited by the Wise Men from the East with the moving ending when he is cured by the Lord  for the Mother´s act of faith after attempted robbery is effective and sometimes humoristic. It also gives some time to the songs and dances of the shepherds.     

            Although the stage design by Héctor Calmet wasn´t suggestive, the movements were well handled by Lassaletta and Casasbellas conducted with sensitivity. Vanesa Aguado Benítez showed a firm dramatic voice as the Mother and gave strength to her lines; she seems ready for bigger assignments. The boy (Jorge Chamorro) was better acting than singing. The Kings were especially well sung by the lower voices: Walter Sebastián Bartaburu (Belshazzar) and Luis Loaiza Isler (Melchior); Gastón Oliveira Weckesser was a correct Kasper. The young people who danced and sang did it with engaging enthusiasm.  The ISA did a good and necessary job.

For Buenos Aires Herald

lunes, noviembre 24, 2014

The Big Two announce their concert seasons

            In recent years I used to refer to the Big Three: Mozarteum Argentino, Nuova Harmonia and Festivales Musicales de Buenos Aires. Unfortunately,  Festivales has called it quits, as an evidence of deep crisis, so now we have left the Big Two. There are signs of difficulties, but they have announced their seasons, and they will be good.

            Mind you, don´t expect much intellectual stimulus: the programmes will be largely based on standards, and few bright ideas will be found. But the artists are of  quality, whilst it is evident that certain markets aren´t being easy, perhaps due to political reasons: grade-A orchestras from  the USA will be absent (we don´t even have an ambassador from that country).

            The Mozarteum maintains its two cycles at the Colón, but in the provinces their net of filials has had some casualties: Rosario and now, it seems, Salta. What a pity for it is the only private federal concert-giving net, and this reveals local financing problems as a consequence of the deep economic crisis.

            I deeply admire the constancy and hard work behind these important cycles: they require sometimes years of communications and when something doesn´t work out it often is because there was a problem in Europe.

            They will start on April 13 and 15 with the Choir and Orchestra of the Bachakademie Stuttgart under Hans-Christoph Rademann, offering respectively Bach´s Mass and Händel´s "Messiah"; hardly innovative but probably satisfactory in its results. Also from Germany, the Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen, led by violinist Pekka Kuusisto (April 20 and 27). Both these groups make their debut here.

            Pianist Jan Lisiecki (debut) will play Bach and Chopin on May 11 and 13. The Atos Trio comes back on May 18 and 19. The fourth visit of the Budapest Festival Orchestra under its founder Ivan Fischer is most welcome; their two programmes are attractive: Brahms´ Fourth Symphony and Ravel´s Piano Concerto (with the excellent Alexander Toradze) on June 26, and soprano Miah Persson (debut) as soloist in both Strauss´ Four Last Songs and Mahler´s Fourth on June 27.

            In early August -dates to be confirmed- we´ll have again the visit of the West Eastern Divan Orchestra under Daniel Barenboim. Then, on August 17 and 18, a recital by Dutch mezzosoprano Christianne Stotijn (debut) with pianist Maciej Pikulski; they will offer songs by Tchaikovsky, Strauss, Mahler and Brahms.

            The return of Hesperion XXI with Jordi Savall is the most interesting item of the whole season. They will do two fascinating programmes: on September 7, one on the Folías of the Old and New Worlds; and on September 8, a "Dialogue between the Ottoman, Armenian, Greek and Sephardic musical traditions of old Istanbul".

            The Italian pianist Alessio Bax will play Beethoven, Rachmaninov and Mussorgsky (October 5 and 6). Finally, the BBC National Orchestra of Wales under Grant Llewellyn with harpist Catrin Finch on November 2 and 4 (debut of all concerned) is an intriguing presence.

            Since an early press conference in April telling us at the Coliseo their plans for 2014 (some renovation of the theatre and a new team led by two young women) the Nuova Harmonia authorities have already changed and now only Elisabetta Riva is left. The presentation of the new season took place at the Italian Embassy and there the Ambassadress and Ms Riva (among others) gave us the evidence of support by Italy and details for 2015. For the Coliseo is the only theatre owned by Italy in a foreign country. And even in the middle of a strong crisis, Italian artists will be here in three out of ten international programmes, though with groups already known.

            With a couple of exceptions, the music will be very standard repertoire, and following the trend of recent decades, orchestras will dominate. And there will be no vocal music whatsoever.They start on April 16 (all concerts at the Coliseo unless specified otherwise) with the Russian State Symphony Orchestra under Mikhail Jurowski, featuring cellist Alexander Buzlov (debut) in Dvorák´s Concerto; main score, Tchaikovsky´s Fourth.

            An enjoyable classical concert will be offered with the debut of the Austro-Hungarian Haydn Philharmonic with Alexander Lonquich (debut) as conductor and pianist (Colón, May 15): Schubert´s Fifth, Mozart´s Concerto Nº 25 and Haydn´s "Oxford" Symphony. The Interpreti Veneziani will do a Baroque Italian night on June 4. The Orquesta Sinfónica Nacional de España will pay us a new visit on July 14, this time under Juanjo Mena (debut): Ravel, Falla´s "Noches en los jardines de España" with pianist Javier Peiranes and Tchaikovsky´s Fifth.

            The Quarteto della Scala di Milano will give us Schubert, Beethoven (the "Harp" Quartet) and Verdi on August 11. Pianist Horacio Lavandera will be the sole Argentine presence playing Beethoven, Chopin and Liszt (August 25). I Solisti di Pavia under the cellist Enrico Dindo will do Italian composers and Piazzolla´s "Las Cuatro Estaciones".

            In what is perhaps the most innovative programme,  a very attractive duo (Viktoria Mullova, violin; Katia Labèque, piano) will play sonatas by Mozart, Schumann and Ravel but add pieces by recent composers, Pärt and Takemitsu; September 28, Colón. The Camerata Ireland under Barry Douglas (conductor and pianist) will offer Mozart and Beethoven, plus a novelty: "Irish Folk Songs and Jigs" (Eimear McGeown, Irish flute); October 21. Finally, Il Gardellino (Dutch Baroque Ensemble) will play G. Benda, C.P.E. and J.S.Bach on November 6.

For Buenos Aires Herald 

Two Argentine chamber operas plus a Juventus celebration

            In  recent years Argentine composers have written a good many chamber operas, simply because a full-scale opera is very expensive to put on and creators won´t risk it unless there is either a competition whose prize is the staging or otherwise having been commissioned to write one. Two recent instances: the start of the Cycle of Concerts of Contemporary Music (though it wasn´t a concert!) with "La libertad total" at the Teatro San Martín´s Sala Casacuberta, music by Lucas Fagin, text by Pablo Katchadjian; and at the Colón´s CETC, "Hércules en el Mato Grosso", music by Esteban Insinger, libretto by Pola Oloixarac. Both premières, of course.

            Martín Bauer has led the San Martín cycle for close to twenty years, but he was also the czar (for a much shorter time) of the TACEC, the Argentino´s equivalent of the CETC. Even more than the latter, the former put the accent on experimentation, an orientation I dislike for it rarely produces good quality. But the new winds blowing at La Plata have ended the TACEC.

            It was going to be the place of the Fagin/Katchadjian opus  première but it was cancelled when already much advanced; Bauer decided to compensate the authors by giving them pride of place starting the aforementioned Cycle. I´m afraid it wasn´t a good move for the piece seemed to me clearly second-rate. I would have thought that after the precursors Lautréamont and Jarry the theatre of the absurd had already had illustrious practitioners such as Ionesco, Beckett and Arrabal.

            The deplorable spoken text of Katchadjian  took about half of the 50 minutes length and the absurdisms had no substance and no aim. The two actors met some characters who sang and were incomprehensible; the "singing" was pure distortion, presumably humoristic. Some reasonably interesting ambience was provided by nine players (a sense of timbre seemed to me the sole talent of this ill-advised venture).

            I respect the professionalism of the singers who had thankless tasks: Mercedes García Blesa, soprano; Ricardo González Dorrego, tenor; Damián Ramírez, tenor; and Pol González, bass. And the players under Mariano Moruja were good. Luciano Ricio and Julián Cabrera were the harassed actors directed to shout their way through many passages by Mariano Tenconi Blanco. For the record, the poor stage and costume designs were by Micaela Sleigh, the rather better videos by Santiago Brunati and María José Jerónimo and the correct lighting by Matías Sendón. There were two performances.

            I rather liked "Hércules en el Mato Grosso". It was commissioned by the CETC and the result was entertaining and original. The  pretentious denomination of "lyric drama" is given to this imaginative telling of the perilous incidents met by two Europeans in the Mato Grosso during explorations in 1825. Three brief acts without intervals last 50 minutes. The text is in Portuguese, Quechua and German!

            The opera is defined as "an imaginary trip based on a true story" involving the botanist Baron Langsdorff and the French painter Hercule Florence, a would-be predecessor of photography ("painting with light"). Two metaphoric characters evoke the terrible Green Hell: Anacondas Rainha and Vestal, monstrous and seductive. Oloixarac´s libretto and Insinger´s suggestive music (mainly tonal) weave a convincing spell, aided by the attractive stage design of Luna Paiva, the adequate costumes of Leticia Pompei and the good lighting by Eduardo Pérez Winter. Walter Jakob produced with fine attention to detail.

            Very well sung by Alejandro Spies (baritone) and Martín Díaz (tenor), they were at times surrounded by the dangerous duets of the Anacondas, done with much conviction by sopranos María Paula Alberdi and María Virginia Majorel. The only players were pianists Victoria Gianera and Leandro Rodríguez Jáuregui,.very competent. The whole was coordinated by Sebastián Zubieta. Both at the beginning and the end there were some offstage electroacoustics by Diego Cano.  The place was packed and four performances were given.

            The Great Anniversary Gala of Juventus Lyrica is a cause to rejoice: a private opera group has reached its fifteenth year with a good level of artistry, a considerable audience and a fidelity to its main idea: opera done with love and conviction. It was a staged concert at the Avenida conducted by Antonio Russo and produced by Ana D´Anna, the twosome that founded Juventus. There were ups and downs but the end result was agreeable. Four performances with different casts; I attended the fourth, delayed 35 minutes due to the gigantic decibels of the Gay Parade outside the theatre!

            There were no less than 27 pieces, all opera or operetta save for the "attributed" Rossini Buffo duet for two cats. The orchestra was too small (only 21) and  some arrangements were the consequence. Best points: Figaro´s entrance aria in Rossini´s "Barber..." by a brilliant young baritone, Juan Font. The "Rigoletto" duet with an intense Jaquelina Livieri and an intelligent interpretation by Ernesto Bauer. An "E lucevan le steelle" ("Tosca") very firmly sung by Darío Sayegh. A beautiful "Va pensiero" from the Chorus of Juventus (Hernán Sánchez Arteaga). The low point: an absurd Queen of the Night aria sung by four (?) sopranos.

            Fragments from "La Boheme", "Les Contes d´Hoffmann", "Carmen", "le Nozze di Figaro", "Don Giovanni", "Les Pêcheurs de Perles " plus operettas by Johann Strauss II and Lehár were acceptably done but with too loose a hand from D´Anna; the singers sometimes interacted with Russo and the public in a spirit of fun. The veteran maestro was spry and musical. I will mention as positive Laura Polverini, Carlos Ullán, partially Enrique Folger, Soledad de la Rosa, Laura Penchi, Rocío Arbizu.

For Buenos Aires Herald 

Festivales Musicales and Nuova Harmonia wrap up their season

            Festivales Musicales de Buenos Aires offered the final two concerts of its season, and Nuova Harmonia closed their year with a symphonic concert at the Colón. NH will formally announce their 2015 plans next week, although they already appear in the hand programme. Alas, that won´t happen with Festivales: although a cryptic phrase in the programme of Bach´s Mass implies their final goodbye, it isn´t clearly stated, but it is unfortunately true: after 39 years they are leaving the field to  (they say) younger musical associations.

            I´m sure that I express a shared feeling of deep regret, for Festivales Musicales was for decades an essential element of  life in our musical community. In fact it started as a way of replacing another basic institution, Asociación Amigos de la Música: I can truly say that in the Fifties and Sixties it was the most intelligent and progressive concert organizer, but after the death of Leonor Hirsch de Caraballo it never recovered its impulse and steadily declined.

            Mario Videla had been a part of Amigos and had witnessed the Karl Richter Bach Festivals; in the initial group Videla was joined by Antonio Russo and Jesús Segade and they all concentrated on the Baroque period. Shortly after the orientation decanted when Videla teamed with Leonor Luro; she proved a splendid leader, cultured, dynamic and well-oriented in artistic matters. Of course, Videla´s vast know-how was always there.

            An essential concept was that each Festival had a central idea: e.g., Purcell-Britten or From Berlioz to Ravel, or the Baroque in different mixtures or Mozart. Another was to bring over distinguished specialists: The English Concert, Les Arts Florissants, Musica Antiqua Köln, The Academy of Ancient Music, La Petite Bande... A veritable cascade of revelations at the highest level, enriching the souls of concertgoers.

            But again, fate intervened, and Leonor Luro died. And the orientation changed: there was no longer a central idea and Festivales started to lose its individuality. Unfortunately the country also changed and its political and economic decline meant that fewer sponsors were available. There were signs of imminent demise during these last years but somehow one hoped that a solution would be found, such as a powerful new sponsor or a strong personality with Luro´s drive. Neither appeared, although there was good disposition and hard work from all involved in Festivales.

            They will be sorely missed, but at least a "daughter" of great value will survive: as Videla announced, the Academia Bach will go on, and it´s no secret that I deeply admire his work there.

            A reprogrammed concert (planned for July but one of the artists fell ill) was presented at the Auditorio de Belgrano with the unusual mixture of baritone and string quartet. In music of Late Romanticism and tonal Twentieth Century there was an odd-man-out, to my mind unnecessary and partial: the long aria "Schlummert ein" from Bach´s Cantata Nº 82, "Ich habe genug" (wrongly programmed to end the evening, but fortunately Pablo Saraví announced a new order for the music and Bach was heard first).

            Víctor Torres sang two introspective and beautiful pieces in  addition to Bach: Samuel Barber´s "Dover Beach" (1931) on a melancholy poem by Matthew Arnold, and Respighi´s lovely "Il Tramonto" ("The Sunset"), Shelley in Italian translation. The blend of strings and baritone works admirabl. I have a soft spot for the Barber, for the composer was also a baritone and did a very commendable disc which I own. I found Torres in good voice and well attuned to the style of both creators; the blend with the Cuarteto Petrus was very neat.

            The Cuarteto Petrus has presented before (and I reviewed that occasion)  two attractive quartets of Slavic composers, both quite well-known: Borodin´s Nº 2 and Dvorák´s Nº 12, "American". They play them at an international level and all four must be mentioned: Saraví, Hernán Briático, Silvina Álvarez and Gloria Pankaeva.

            The Bach Mass was chosen to end Festivales´ long trajectory. I wish I could be more enthusiastic but I found the version good rather than great. Perhaps Videla´s disposition was (understandably) not at its best, but this Bach, although respectful, well-rehearsed and listenable, lacked the special spark of the great evenings. In the Ensamble Academia Bach, 30-strong, I single out the solos of Fernando Ciancio (trumpet), Fernando Chiappero (horn) and Claudio Barile (flute), but the strings sounded mushy. And the Orfeón de Buenos Aires (Néstor Andrenacci and Pablo Piccinni) sang decently enough, although far from the sound quality and precision of the great Bachian choirs.

            Countertenor Martín Oro was the best soloist even if I prefer the timbre of a contralto for such pieces as the Agnus Dei, short in expression this time. But he blended very well in his duos with the clear-voiced Soledad de la Rosa. Santiago Ballerini sang correctly his Benedictus, and Torres had an off night.

            Kazakhstan is the biggest, northernmost and  more developed of the five "-stan" countries that used to be a part of Siberian Russia and are now independent. The final concert of Nuova Harmonia was supposed to be the debut of the Beijing Symphony but a strange thing happened, that enormously rich country decided that it wouldn´t sponsor the trip! And so we had the unexpected visit of the Kazakh State Symphony Orchestra (the "Orchestra" is redundant in their appellation) at the Colón.

            Conducted by the young Frenchman Nicolas Krauze, who showed enthusiasm and professionalism, they gave interesting performances of two Russian classics: the Mussorgsky/Rimsky-Korsakov "A Night on the Bare Mountain" and Tchaikovsky´s Sixth Symphony, "Pathetic". They sounded well and disciplined, but with a touch of steppes roughness.

            Kazakh violinist Galya Bisengalieva gave a nicely played, standard account of Bruch´s First Concert. As was only natural, there was also some Kazakh music: in the programme, a beautiful melody from the opera "Kyz Zhibek" by Evgeny Brusilovsky as arranged by Renat Salavatov; and both encores were Kazakh (the first with the violinist).

For Buenos Aires Herald 

Ballet Folklórico de México, the Bringer of Joy

            In recent years the visits of folk ballets have been few and far between, pero in earlier times (1950s to 1980s) they were frequent and often meant fruitful revelations, adding new cultural elements to the spectator´s life. When they are good (and they generally are) they leave a sediment of curiosity and empathy and become the best ambassadors of their country.

            Moiseiev, Beriozka, Mazowsze, Philippines, Africa...and the Ballet Folklórico de México, were Bringers of Joy (paraphrasing Holst´s Jupiter from "The Planets"). The latter visited us for the second time thirty years ago, and its return (at the Coliseo) was long overdue.

            I visited Mexico in 2009 and the BFM was performing at its resident venue, the beautiful and vast Palacio de Bellas Artes, both museum and auditorium. I was very sorry to be frustrated in my attempt to see them because of an excursion to Taxco and Cuernavaca.

            The BFM, founded by Amalia Hernández in 1952, changes very little over the years; rightly, there´s no "aggiornamento": what we see existed fifty and even a hundred years ago. Pancho Villa is evoked, the corridos, the mariachis, the evergreens that are in the memory of many Argentines as symbols of Mexico ("La Bamba", "Jarabe Tapatío", and so on).

            Mexico is basically a "mestizo" country, a blend of the native peoples and Spanish blood, and this is reflected in their songs and dances, although with some territorial differences (e.g., the blend with Aztec or with Maya). They are fiercely nationalistic even now, when the Revolution is centenary, and their colorful and violent history is vividly painted in the murals of Rivera and Siqueiros. Although the BFM basically shows the sunnier side of life, it does touch upon conflictive days of yore. Also, the "Danza del venado" is still a staple of their repertoire, a Yaqui dance (only tribe that has no mixture).

            I will not translate all the titles of the tableaux, I feel my bilingual readers will appreciate them as they are. The First Part, after an Overture, presented "Los concheros", in which the dancers use the jingles in their feet for a strong statement of the Pre-Hispanic Mexicans  and of Catholic beliefs, with resplendent feathery attire. "Sones antiguos de Michoacán" shows three barefeet dances; one with jingles, the other two  "jarabes" (fast charming steps); this is the lovely region of Pátzcuaro and Morelia.          Then, "Tarima de Tixtla", three happy dances from a small city in the Estado de Guerrero, whose capital is Chilpancingo: "El Toro", "El Arranca Zacate" ("zacate" is "grass") and "La Iguana". Followed "La Revolución" (1910), rebels sing and dance "Adelita" whilst crashing a party of aristocrats.

            "Charreada". In "La Charrería" men and women do dances derived from their work in the fields ("charro" is "cowboy") and in them the "common good" is identified with "love".  Finally, a 17-minute "Fiesta en Tlacotalpan" (a picturesque Veracruz pueblo) goes through 14 dances and songs and features enormous puppets called "mojigangas"; the Spanish influence is evident in the fandangos.

            The beautiful pre-Hispanic "Danza de los quetzales" (wonderful feathers adorning the dancers´clothes), danced at Puebla, started the Second Part. Then, a Danzón (derived from the Habanera) and a Jarana, a fusion of Maya music and Spanish zapateado and jota. Then, the aforementioned "Danza del venado", so characteristic. And finally, a rambunctious "Fiesta en Jalisco" in which the dancers of the troupe  descend to the stalls and dance with the audience members in a paroxysm of joyful communication.

            All this wonderfully done by anonymous dancers and by impressive musicians with that inimitable sound of the mariachis (exciting trumpet interventions) and strong-voiced singers. And with splendid clothes and props. A true feast all the way.


For Buenos Aires Herald 

Simkin and Kochetkova sparkle in “Don Quixote”

            Daniil Simkin is a dance phenomenon who impressed mightily in previous visits. Now the slim imp measuring 1,70 mt showed again his immense agility and childish/naughty charm in a "Don Quixote" built around him. And with a splendid partner, Maria Kochetkova, who danced the final duet this very year with Herman Cornejo in the Ballet Gala.

            They are both Russian but working in the USA, he at the New York-based American Ballet Theatre, she at the San Francisco Ballet. Young, personable, with mutual chemistry, they were an ideal couple Basilio-Kitri in what is perhaps the most extensively staged ballet of the last forty years in Buenos Aires.

             In fact both the Colón and the Argentino  have so often presented either the Zarko Prebil or the Petipa/Gorsky choreography that to put it on seems an easy job. But it isn´t: the ballet is light but long, there are many difficult steps, it has plenty of roles and no less than five scenes in three acts. Only big outfits can do it properly. The corps de ballet has a lot to do and in different styles: Spanish, Gypsy, "ballet blanc".

            Ludwig Minkus´ 1869 music has often been denigrated, to my mind unfairly: it may be rather conventional and with no flashes of genius, but it is perfectly adapted to the action, has nice melodies, good rhythms and adequate orchestrations. This Austrian composer knew how to give a Spanish tinge to his pieces. And how to imagine music for pantomime (there´s a lot of it) and for variegated dancing.

            Mario Silva is currently Director of the Teatro Argentino Ballet and has presented his Petipa/based choreography there; it was the one used at the Coliseo, with some Prebil added (the Gypsy Girl´s vehement solo).  This was a joint production of Grupo Ars and Teatro Argentino presented at the Coliseo; the Ballet Estable  (of La Plata) surrounded the two famous soloists.

            There are plenty of character roles, including Don Quixote and Sancho Panza, and I have seen them more humorous and richer in details in other stagings. Here the same gestures were redundant too many times, and to boot weren´t sufficiently expressive. Some of the men of the corps de ballet are overweight and lack enough agility; the girls were generally better, though less adjusted than when I saw them at La Plata.  Petipa and Gorsky reign in the complex and pure steps that need great dexterity as well as personality. And there both the soloists of the Argentino and in superlative terms, the guests, gave much pleasure.

            Of the Argentino artists I single out the following as the best of that group: Bautista Parada´s Torero as the Bullfighter (a strong, tall man), Aldana Bidegaray as the fiery Gypsy Girl, Julieta Paul as an appropriately ethereal Queen of the Dryads, Genoveva Surur and Darío Lesnik as Queen and King of the Gypsies, María Alejandra Baldoni as Street Woman and Agustina Verde and Natalia Mujtar as Kitri´s friends. The character roles were indifferently taken (Don Quixote, Sancho Panza, Lorenzo the Innkeeper, Camacho).

            But of course whenever Simkin and Kochetkova were on stage the others faded into the background. Simkin was, along with Julio Bocca, the most accomplished Basilio I´ve seen, with his daring cabrioles and humorous acting. And the beautiful Kochetkova was admirable throughout, perfect in technique and always completing Simkin´s gags.

            Lovely costumes from Eduardo Caldirola and agreeable though sometimes incongruous stage designs by Augusto González Ara. Correct lighting by Matías Rodríguez.

            Finally, a good account of the music by that expert conductor, Carlos Calleja, leading his 39-member Orquesta Académica de Buenos Aires.

For Buenos Aires Herald 

miércoles, noviembre 12, 2014

Richard Strauss and Verdi reign as seasons close

            The Buenos Aires Philharmonic under Enrique Arturo Diemecke closed its successful season with a valuable all-Richard Strauss concert. And the Ensamble Lírico Orquestal tackled the Verdi Requiem to finish their cycle.

            Diemecke´s affinity with Strauss has been appreciated throughout the musical year (150th anniversary of the composer´s birth). Indeed, his total command of the difficult material was again fundamental for the final result, although the Phil wasn´t quite at its best.

            Prior to the music Diemecke dedicated the session to his young assistant Carlos Bertazza, who died some weeks ago and left a lasting memory of musicianship and decency. As Bertazza helped prepare the concerts and took care of many logistics aspects of the Phil, he will have to be replaced for next season.

            As I read the hand programme I was surprised that the Oboe Concerto was announced as the first work; Diemecke put things right by starting with "Metamorphoses", a melodious contrapuntal homage to the Munich National Theatre, destroyed by bombs; hence the quote from the Funeral March of Beethoven´s "Heroic" Symphony.  Written for 23 string soloists, it is a tricky and beautiful score of great melancholy. However, all 23 have to have perfect intonation, and not all did, so there were murky moments.

            Then came the high interpretative point of the concert:  Strauss´ Oboe Concerto was created close in time to the "Metamorphoses" (1945-6) but it inhabits a bucolic, airy, euphonic world. We had a world-class soloist, Lucas Macías Navarro, first oboe of the Concertgebouw Orchestra, and it was pure bliss to hear him, not only for his marvelous technique but for the subtle taste of his phrasing. The Orchestra accompanied well.

            An incredible half-century separates the two aforementioned scores from "Also sprach Zarathustra" ("Thus spoke Zarathustra"), an amazingly complex score inspired by Nietzsche written when the composer was 31 back in 1895. By then his command of orchestration was a wonder of the late Nineteenth Century as well as his enormously intricate language, sensual, rich in harmony, imaginative, contrasted. Although Diemecke´s qualities were again to the fore, the orchestra had some blemishes in the solos, even if many moments had true impact.

            Can it be that the inner turmoil of the theatre had some effect on the players´ concentration? In effect, as happened in the "Elektra" performances, the orchestras are complaining with placards reading "Enough!" ("Basta") and "Dignified Salaries" ("Salarios dignos"). They are right, of course, and this time they have avoided the silly strikes that affect the audiences and turn public opinion against them; instead, they were roundly applauded. 

            Verdi´s mighty Requiem Mass will always be desecrated by a certain sector of the public as much too operatic and dramatic; it is  not sacral, but that doesn´t change the fact that we deal with a masterpiece of immense genius. It is also quite a challenge for all concerned: you need four splendid soloists, a first-rate big choir and a full orchestra who has to solve many complicated passages.  The Ensamble Lírico Orquestal at the Auditorio de Belgrano was quite audacious in programming it.

             So I will use an adjective that recognizes the hard work and competence of all concerned but implies some shortcomings: honorable. Conductor Dante Ranieri was in his youth one of our best lyric tenors, particularly for his  phrasing and sense of style. From 1992 on he has taken up conducting, especially in Medellín (Colombia); but in BA he had conducted mostly operas with small orchestras. So this Requiem meant a step forward and a great challenge for him. The ad-hoc Orquesta del Ensamble Lírico Orquestal numbered 63, enough but not huge, and worked rather well most of the time, apart from trumpet smudges (there are eight!), whilst Ranieri chose good tempi and managed reasonable rapport with the Choir.

            The Coral Ensamble Adultos was led by Gustavo Codina, Artistic Director of the Ensamble; 71 strong, it was attentive and strong, though some voices could be improved.  The soloists were Sonia Schiller (soprano), Laura Cáceres (mezzo soprano), Leonardo Pastore (tenor) and Lucas Debevec (bass). The first was firm in the high range but unpleasant in the lows. The second has two  different registers: a very solid upper range and a middle and low range of rather strange timbre. The tenor didn´t avoid some sentimentalisms but sang with "italianità", and the bass was impressive in his intensity and volume.

            There was a second performance which I didn´t attend; except the tenor the others changed: Silvia Gatti (soprano), Nora Balanda (mezzo soprano), Mario de Salvo (bass); conductor Codina.

            To end, a "review" assisted by poetic justice: as I couldn´t go to an interesting concert by the National Symphony, I went to the rehearsal at the Auditorio de Belgrano, and I enjoyed myself; there´s a good chance that things weren´t very different in the concert proper that same Friday but in the evening. It was the debut of young Croat conductor Miran Vaupotich and he chose two powerful Russian tone poems, neither played often: Rachmaninov´s "The Isle of the Dead", inspired by Böcklin´s famous paintings, and Tchaikovsky´s "Francesca da Rimini", depicting the anguish of Hell for those famous lovers, Paolo and Francesca.

            Two interesting Concertos completed the programme: Werner Tärichen´s for Timpani and Carlos Franzetti´s for clarinet. Marcos Serrano and Mariano Rey were the splendid soloists. Vaupotich impressed me well , he is dynamic and knowledgeable.


For Buenos Aires Herald 

The Mozarteum ends brilliantly its season

            The countertenor voice isn´t a new phenomenon of our musical life. About three decades ago, the reinventor of this sort of vocal emission was here with his son: Alfred with Mark Deller sang countertenor duets and solos (even before, the New York Pro Musica brought along the transparent voice of Russell Oberlin). I met Deller in the Fifties with his groundbreaking and wonderful Vanguard records, and I heard him in an unforgettable recital at Washington´s Library of Congress in December 1957.

            Since then, the Baroque market has burgeoned with countertenors galore. The complete Bach sacred cantatas under Leonhardt and Harnonocourt featured Paul Esswood. Festivales Musicales brought English groups that premièred Purcell masques here with countertenors and William Christie with Les Arts Florissants did French repertoire with the likes of Dominique Visse.  Argentina produced international countertenors such as Franco Fagioli and Martín Oro. The Mozarteum brought countertenor stars for Baroque programmes. The Colón presented Monteverdi´s "L´incoronazione di Poppea" with countertenors Michael Chance and Visse.

            So the debut of Philippe Jaroussky with his Artaserse Ensemble for an all-Vivaldi night was certainly welcome for he is an important artist, but the countertenor battle has long been won in our midst. There will always be prejudice against men who sing in contralto or soprano tessitura, but it is simply a matter of singing with head voice. The concerts (there are two subscription series) closed the successful Mozarteum season brilliantly.

            I have written before that the repertoire of Händel operas will never be able to be reproduced exactly as it were in the composer´s time because castrati have disappeared. Yes, it´s intriguing to imagine the splendor of those males with powerful lungs that sang in women´s tessituras  and the abundant references of 1720s and 1730s tell us that they were  musically and sonorously fascinating. But I don´t see candidates that in the name of pure historicism would want to go under the knife...And so their parts are sung now by women or by countertenors; I much prefer the second option.

            Since the Deller years countertenors have found a way to be more audible and now they can be heard in big theatres like the Colón. They will never have the fullness of a lung-projected voice, but I heard Jarousski at all times, although sometimes tenuously in slow, meditative music.

            My generation (I have just reached my 76th year) saw the eclosion of the Vivaldi mania with the glorious recording by I Musici of "Il Cimento dell´armonia e dell´invenzione", whose  initial concerti are "The Four Seasons", now classical music´s top hit. It also witnessed the discovery of hundreds of forgotten scores and the substitution of the obsolete Pincherle catalogue by the Ryom.

             Now all the instrumental and the sacred music is recorded but quite a few of his 40 operas remain unknown; so it was very useful that Jarousski programmed pieces from "Il Giustino", "Orlando finto pazzo" and "L´Olimpiade". I remember the stunned surprise provoked about thirty years ago by the première of "Il Giustino" at the Coliseo by a group of Leyla Gencer disciples in a production that featured L´Olimpichetto, a portable reduction of Palladio´s Vicenza Teatro Olimpico. Unfortunately no further operas have been heard since then.

            The Ensemble Artaserse has grown since it was founded by Jarousski in 2002, when the countertenor was only 21; as it came to BA it numbered 13 strings plus a theorbo and harpsichord and organ. Led by Alessandro Tampieri they first played the Concerto for strings and continuo in C minor, RV 120; the reading seemed to me very accurate though rather soft in attack. After the "Stabat Mater" (of which more below), they did what I find an aberration: instead of playing the whole of the announced Concerto for strings and continuo in D major, RV 123, they only played the first movement as an introduction to the Motet "Longe mala, umbrae terrores".

            I wasn´t quite convinced by Jarousski in the "Stabat Mater" (which includes the first ten verses of the original twenty), sung with too many gestures and not enough sacrality, but the fast initial aria of the motet was impressive: his voice went with complete ease to the higher regions and the articulation of the florid passages was simply fantastic. The other, slower aria, was sensitively sung.

            But it was in the operatic repertoire that Jarousski completely bowled me over, even if it left me more admirative than moved. The voice is beautiful and pure, the Baroque articulation is of uncanny precision, and the music he chose was either fast and nervous or slow and expressive. Both moods were impeccably done and the Artaserse accompanied very well.  The instrumental group also did a fine performance of the Concerto Op.3 Nº 8 from the famous series "L´Estro Armonico", with Tampieri and the idiosyncratic Petr Ruzicka as interesting soloists.

            More Vivaldi in the encores: "Sento in seno" from "Il Giustino", and the lovely "Cum dederit" from the "Nisi dominus" RV 608, done with taste and serenity.

            I will add that Vivaldi is much more varied than the usual image of him, and that I was never bored; rather, I wish there were more programmes entirely dedicated to him. There´s still so much that isn´t known and of such elevated quality  For he was undoubtedly the greatest Italian of the Late Baroque. What an incredible genius to extract so much from such simple elements!


For Buenos Aires Herald 

Great Mahler and Britten scores played by our orchestras

            As readers know, I believe in difficult and challenging programming, both for the information of music lovers and for the betterment of our orchestras. I certainly can´t complain about two recent concerts from the Buenos Aires Philharmonic and the National Symphony.

            Roberto Paternostro, who in the same week did a splendid job conducting Strauss´ "Elektra", was correct and careful in Britten´s Serenade for tenor, horn and strings (1943), but really came into his own in a wholly admirable rendition of that late masterpiece by Gustav Mahler, "Das Lied von der Erde" ("The Song of the Earth"). He (and we) had a problem: the originally announced soloists were to be mezzosoprano Barbara Dever and tenor Jonathan Boyd, but without any explanation (as usual...) the Colón substituted them with Alejandra Malvino and Enrique Folger.

            The matter was serious in the case of Britten, for Boyd has the right voice and style, in the line of Peter Pears, whilst Folger was manifestly uncomfortable both vocally and in his English articulation. Hornist Fernando Chiappero used two instruments, one natural and the other with valves, which seemed to me right according to the score, but his playing wasn´t as clean as he has shown in other concerts.  Chiappero did well but with room for improvement, and I felt that an encore  I didn´t identify was quite unnecessary,

            But even with these caveats I was glad to hear live this complicated and very personal work, with its refined choice of poets and the endless imagination with which they have been musicalized. Framed by a horn Prologue and Epilogue, we heard six poems by various authors each with its very individual musical texture: Charles Cotton, Alfred Tennyson, William Blake, Anonymous (a Yorkshire "lyke-wake dirge"), Ben Jonson and John Keats, going from the witty to the pastoral and to hard drama.

            As to "Das Lied von der Erde", it is a work that I deeply love since my teens, when I heard the Böhm-conducted Colón première and I bought the marvelous Bruno Walter-Kathleen Ferrier and Julius Patzak recording.  It is, with the composer´s Ninth and unfinished Tenth Symphonies, a sublime metaphysical musical transition towards his death.

            The wonderful poems are taken from the Hans Bethge translations of Chinese poets in his anthology "The Chinese flute": four from the famous Li Tai-Po, one by Chang Tsi and the enormous half-hour final Lied in two parts, "The farewell", by Mong Kao-Jen and Wang Wei, with Mahler adding his final "Ewig" (eternal) among celesta and harp exquisite sounds. The other five songs are very contrasting in mood, with titles such as "Toast for earthly miseries", "The solitary during Autumn" and "About beauty".

The richness and loveliness of the music puts this vocal symphony at the very top of a not abundant genre.

            I am glad to say that we had a very good reading, small details apart: Malvino has a beautiful, steady voice, she is expressive and very musical; Folger sang his very taxing and high-lying music with firm tone and reasonable line;  the Orchestra sounded well in the outbursts led by Paternostro with control and strength. Also the instrumental soloists contributed many moments of sheer beauty and excellent command in slow meditative passages.


            The Swiss maestro Emmanuel Siffert came back to the National Symphony to lead an attractive and complex programme: Prokofiev´s Third Piano Concerto and Britten´s Spring Symphony. The first is of course a repertoire staple and by far the best of the five piano concertos written by the Russian composer, but it is always worth hearing in a good performance.  Fernanda Morello is a very estimable artist and she gave a well-articulated performance of a score of strongly contrasting moods, but she lacks the big guns for  those steely and inexorable fragments that appear frequently. The conjunction of soloist and orchestra, very intricate, wasn´t always as accurate as it should be. Morello´s encore, a dreamy Grieg piece, showed her best qualities of tone and sensitivity.

            The Britten Symphony dates from 1949 and is largely a positive and exhilarating work after the sad first minutes depicting the final stretch of Winter. It is written for three vocal soloists, mixed and children choir and an ample orchestra. The four parts give us enormously varied textures as we traversed fourteen fragments on different English poets from diverse periods. Such is the variety that there´s not one moment of boredom; this is masterly composition with a gigantic and exhilarating climax at the end.

            Rarely done due to its difficulties (the 44 minutes have to be very well rehearsed to arrive at destination unscathed), I was very happy by the overall results. I own the recording led by the composer and it is splendid, but this "porteño" offering was more than honorable. Siffert is certainly a very accomplished musician and obtained a generally satisfying performance from almost all concerned (some trumpet smudges, e.g.).         

            The bright and confident tones of soprano Laura Penchi, the firm line of mezzosoprano María Luisa Merino Ronda and the clean, musicianly singing of tenor Ricardo González Dorrego gave a fine account of the solo music. The Coro Polifónico Nacional, very well-prepared by Roberto Luvini, sounded out with equilibrium and quality (there are many first-rate voices in it) and the Coro Nacional de Niños (María Isabel Sanz) gave us fresh, well-tuned sound.

            So we had two vocal symphonies in a week!


For Buenos Aires Herald