lunes, julio 07, 2014

Refreshing innovation in our orchestras

             Innovation in orchestral programming doesn´t only mean premières of contemporary composers, but also second performances of meaningful scores, premières of creations that somehow have never arrived to Buenos Aires although they may have been written centuries ago, or revivals of neglected works. There is a good percentage of unnecessary or even wrong choices, although that´s the risk that must be taken; unless that quota is very large, it is always better than deadly routine. The only partial justification for a programme made of surefire hits is to present grade A performers.

            I recently wrote with enthusiasm about interpretations by the Buenos Aires Philharmonic under their Principal Conductor Enrique Arturo Diemecke. Well, they did it again. A night with just two masterpieces proved endearing and memorable. Readers know that I have deep admiration for Richard Strauss´ tone poems; "Don Quixote" is one of the most complex and of the best. It is rarely played because it requires a major cellist to play the protagonist, as well as excellent first desks for Dulcinea (violin) and Sancho Panza (viola, tuba). This version had all that.

            The Brazilian Antonio Meneses has paid us rewarding visits before, but I certainly feel that his playing this time puts him on the first rank of world cellists. The warmth and beauty of his phrasing (I could call it psychological), the scrupulous regard fro the composer´s indications and the exactitude of his intonation couldn´t be bettered. Violist Marcela Magin had a splendid night, and there were good contributions from the new assistant concertino Demir Lulja (from Albania, resident here) and tuba player Héctor Ramírez, apart from other distinguished first desks (Claudio Barile, flute; Néstor Garrote, oboe). And Diemecke showed amazing control of the difficult score in a reading full of passion and delicacy. A small blemish: appaerently the Colón doesn´t have the asked-for wind machine for the variation VII, "Riding through the air". They are indeed "Fantastic variations on a chivalresque subject".

            Of course, one of the most beautiful of all symphonies, Beethoven´s "Pastoral" (Nº6), is anything but rare in concert life, but in a nice performance such as this it will always be more than welcome. Again it was finely phrased, even if I missed the transparency of, e.g., Barenboim with the Orchestre de Paris.

            Last year I was disappointed when the National Symphony cancelled Stravinsky´s "Oedipus Rex", although I agreed with Chilean conductor Francisco Rettig, who refused to conduct because the authorities still owed him his fee for 2012 concerts. Happily this season it was reprogrammed, this time with the Argentine conductor Facundo Agudín, who is working in Switzerland. It was a concert performance of this opera-oratorio with text in French (the narrator) and Latin (the action) by Jean Cocteau adapting Sophocles. Notwithstanding the fact that I would have preferred Stravinsky tackling the setting of a Greek rather than a Latin text, the 55-minute score is a masterpiece of enormous expressive power.

            Agudín has a very angular and rhythmic gestural style particularly telling in the great climaxes; he got good results from the NS and had the advantage of the excellent Male Choir of the Coro Polifónico Nacional under Roberto Luvini. The correct Narrator (in Spanish) was Guillermo Gutkin. The singers expressed themselves in Latin. Although Enrique Folger was very dramatic as Oedipus, his voice was alarmingly harsh. Cecilia Díaz as Yocasta was a seasoned professional but sounded a bit diminished. The best soloist was Mario De Salvo as a sonorous and in tune Creon and Messenger. Ricardo González Dorrego was a straightforward Shepherd and Alejandro Di Nardo as Tiresias sang musically but was rather restricted in both ends of his register.

            Previously we heard the première of the orchestral version of "Fuga Parisina" by Pablo Mainetti with the author on bandoneon. Tango-tinged, blessedly not Piazzollean, the 14-minute piece was correctly composed though somewhat repetitive in its elements.

            At the same venue, the  Auditorio de Belgrano, I witnessed last Sunday an interesting though rather strange combination of works by Vivaldi and Mendelssohn. It was a presentation of the Ensamble Lírico Orquestal led by Gustavo Codina, a private group worthy of support. The Argentine conductor José María Sciutto works in Rome and showed himself a very able musician both in Baroque and Romantic music. He led a 71-member Coral Ensamble Adultos and a 43-player Ensamble Lírico Orquestal. Although the Choir was firmer than the instrumentalists, both collaborated usefully.

            Vivaldi´s Gloria, RV 589, is quite well-known and splendid, but I had never heard the "Introduzione al Gloria", "Ostro picta, armata spina", RV 642, quite pleasant though hardly sacral. The soloist was Ana Laura Menéndez, rather too incisive but correct. She also sang in the Gloria, along with soprano Cecilia Layseca (musical and contrasting in timbre) and countertenor Damián Ramírez, who sang with good line.

            After a reasonably good performance of Mendelssohn´s "Fingal´s Cave" or "The Hebrides", it was worthwhile to hear "The First Night of Walpurgis", a wild setting by Mendelssohn on Goethe´s Ballad about Druidic rites in the Harz Mountains  against the dominating Christians, quite a touchy subject; the last 15 minutes are certainly the most advanced music ever written by the generally contained composer. Sciutto´s performance was intense and convincing, and his soloists responded well, especially baritone Enrique Gibert Mella; the others were contralto Laura Cáceres and tenor Duilio Smiriglia.

For Buenos Aires Herald

Youth orchestras, chamber zarzuela and avantgarde flute

            This article will be a true potpourri mixing youth orchestras with an offbeat chamber recital dedicated to zarzuela and a concert premièring an important work by Luigi Nono.

            One of the good things of recent decades has been the proliferation of youth orchestras. Here in B.A. there´s little room at the top, for those that are permanent members of our three most  important orchestras tend to remain several decades in their posts, but there are ad-hoc organisms for private opera and other endeavors.  Young blood needs youth orchestras to acquire experience and confidence .

            The Orquesta Estudiantil de Buenos Aires founded and conducted by Guillermo Zalcman existed for almost twenty years as a labor of love, and only in these last two years has had the support of the City Education Ministry under a programme called Música para la Equidad, currently led by Eduardo Ihidoype. Zalcman remains faithful to his trajectory: no other conductor has been responsible for so many premières, although mostly tonal works of the period 1870-1930.

            The orchestra was born at the School Mariano Acosta and Zalcman has had to make do with what was available in instruments and talent; even if its operational base has expanded, we still read "copistry and arrangements" and find that six saxophones are part of the organism when certainly they shouldn´t be, they are not normal members of a symphony orchestra. So the versions we hear aren´t "pure" and that´s certainly a hindrance. There are also "keyboards" instead of "piano and celesta".

            But their love of music is communicative and I go sometimes to their concerts, attracted by interesting programming. On this occasion, at the Facultad de Derecho UBA, the only score already known but scarcely played was José Martí Llorca´s Second Symphony,  intricately wrought. The composer was Spanish but lived here. The Czech Zdenek Fibich is an attractive Late Romantic and I found his symphonic poem "Toman and the wood nymph" quite imaginative. It was the first of three premières; the others: a charming short Serenade by the Russian Vasily Kalinninkov, and the brilliant ballet "Old King Cole" (1923) by that lovable British creator Ralph Vaughan Williams, full of contrasts and orchestral "trouvailles".

            The Estudiantil has a  rare feature: it gives encores, something that only visiting orchestras do. With enthusiasm they offered dynamic dances by Glière ("The Red Poppy") and Khachaturian ("Gayaneh").

            The Orquesta Académica del Instituto Superior de Arte del Teatro Colón gives periodic concerts for free on some Thursday afternoons. It is a chamber orchestra of good quality, and I went to their short concert led by Ricardo Sciammarella (known here as a cellist) because it included the complete Beethoven incidental music to Goethe´s "Egmont" (it was preceded by the "Coriolan" Overture). The Interludes and the two songs by Klärchen are rewarding and were nicely done (the soprano was the clear-voiced Jaquelina Livieri). But the Melodrama (the spoken words of Egmont) needed the mellow though dramatic tones that Ángel Mattiello produced in 1955, not the violent barking of Pol González. The conducting and playing were correct.

            I was pleasantly surprised with the Orquesta Académica de la Universidad Nacional de Lanús under Daniel Bozzani at the Facultad de Derecho UBA. Medium-sized (65-strong), it proved large enough to do justice to Late Romantic composers and played with enthusiasm and discipline under Bozzani, formed at the Catholic University here and then in Germany and Switzerland. Some weakness in the horns was counterbalanced by a surprisingly good cello sector.

            I was lured to attend because to my knowledge they did the Sibelius Third Symphony only for the second time in our city; the first was was by the B.A. Phil under Calderón in 1973 ( I programmed it). And it is a beautiful and powerful 32-minute score that doesn´t merit such neglect (the same goes for Nos. 4 and 6). Before it we heard Mendelssohn´s "The Hebrides" and Bruch´s First Violin Concerto, with an impressive Rafael Gintoli as soloist; the veteran artist remains a redoubtable master.

            The Ensamble de Madrid (debut) is a piano sextet that exists since 1985 and their repertoire is certainly offbeat: arrangements of zarzuelas. The players are astonishingly good and I´m rather disconcerted that apparently most of their time is taken up by this unusual task. But I like zarzuela´s tunes and the arrangements, though they weren´t imaginative, were apposite to the instruments and very agreeable. Most were by José Francisco Pacheco.

            In segments of about eight minutes we heard fragments from "Pan y toros" (Francisco Asenjo Barbieri), "El año pasado por agua" (Chueca and Valverde), "La Torre del Oro" (Jiménez), "La Chulapona" (Moreno Torroba), "La Gran Vía" (Chueca and Valverde) and "La Marchenera" (Moreno Torroba"). Encores: "De Madrid a París" (Chueca), "Luisa Fernanda" (Moreno Torroba) and Vives ("Juegos malabares"). The venue was AMIJAI.

            The Usina del Arte´s chamber hall presented the South-American première of Luigi Nono´s "Das atmende Klarsein" ("The breathing clarity" is a rough translation). During 48 minutes a low flute with experimental figurations alternates with a choir singing Rilke and old Greek and German hymns; the result is original and related with "Prometheus", premièred last year at the Colón. Sergio Catalán (flute) and the Coro de Cámara Zahir (Diego Boero) gave a faithful account of this presentation of the Compañía Oblicua. In the First Part the Choir sang pieces by Ola Gjeilo, Gyorgy Ligeti and Eric Whitacre.

For Buenos Aires Herald

From musical antiques to modern turmoil

             That incredible nonagenarian, Cristián Hernández Larguía, is still at the helm of the group he founded in 1962, the Pro Musica Antiqua Rosario. At the Church  Nuestra Señora del Carmen (rather ample but too resonant) they presented "Music and monarchy (Music in England during the reigns of Henry VIII and Elizabeth I)" as a part of "ReVivaldi 2014"  ("Permanent festival of antique music in Buenos Aires"). Well, "antique" was the old appellation for music from the Middle Ages, the Renaissance and the Baroque, but during the last decades the Baroque is no longer called "antique".

            A big group came to B.A. this time: 34 singers, singer-players and players. Two of them, the Assistant Director Néstor Mozzoni and the assistant Susana Imbern, have been  loyal collaborators of the Director during several decades. As usual, the maestro talked to the audience in his uninhibited way about the programme, which was a good and varied cross-section of the music during those famous reigns. 

            Henry VIII was also a composer, so we heard his "Pastime with good company"; and then two Anonymous pieces, two by William Cornysh including the lovely "Ah Robin", and a splendid Alleluia by John Taverner. During the long reign of Elizabeth I a plethora of great musicians appeared in a true Golden Age. Starting with an anthem by the great Thomas Tallis, followed a madrigal by John Ward, three charming works by Thomas Morley, three by the greatest of them all, William Byrd, two dances by Anthony Holborne, three dances and an ayre by John Dowland, an anonymous dance, a madrigal by John Farmer, two pieces from the famous "Dancing Master" by John Playford, a ballett (a danced song) by Thomas Tomkins, and two contrasting scores by Thomas Weelkes, an anthem and a ballett. Encores by Morley.

            One of the instructive and rewarding things of this session was the variety of instruments used: recorder, cromorne, viola da gamba, tin whistle, sackbut (antecedent of the trombone), shawm, dulzian, traverse flute, harpsichord, lute, percussion of different sorts.  The cunning alternation of vocal, vocal-instrumental and instrumental pieces was a further delight.

            Hernández Larguía´s versions may not be quite up-to-date musicologically, but Rosario isn´t Europe and he always makes positive, beautiful and tasteful music. He was the pioneer in these lands and still holds the torch at his advanced age. Among the players I especially liked Juan Carlos Migliara (lute), Manuel Marina (harpsichord), Emiliano Zamora (tin whistle) and Pablo Mantero (viola da gamba). The singers had admirable ensemble but the group falls short in outstanding vocal soloists.

            Now let´s go to little-known but worthy Baroque. The Academia Bach presented at the Museo de Arte Decorativo (an ideal venue) scores involving a Baroque traverse flute, a fortepìano and and a small positive organ. The players: Manfredo Zimmermann, an Argentine residing in Cologne, who proved to be a master flutist as well as very stylish. And Mario Videla, who seemed rather unsure in two sonatas for fortepiano by Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach (quite interesting) but showed greater command in a Trio sonata by the same author and was fully comfortable playing the organ in Johann Sebastian Bach´s Triosonata BWV 525a for flute and organ (the original, 525, is just for organ).

             There was also an intricate sonata  for flute by C.P.E.Bach, and to start, his employer Frederic II of Prussia´s  very well written Sonata in E minor for flute and continuo (the great monarch was a good musician). By the way, the fortepiano and the organ are owned by Videla, and as the former is rarely heard (it´s the Baroque piano such as Johann  Sebastian knew it, of course dimmer in sound than the later pianoforte), it was a useful experience.

            Now an abrupt jump to the late Twentieth Century. Frankly I´m not a friend of minimalism, and the first contact of our public with that trend ended in strong booing: "In C" by Terry Riley. Now however it is widely accepted (though not by me), witness the Latin American première at the Colón of "Music for 18 musicians" by Steve Reich, who was present. Much better than Riley, but still a prime example of the limitations of this type of musical construction.

            It dates from 1974-6 , and it is based on eleven chords presented in the Introduction; each one will be developed until an epilogue gives us the eleven again. The principal interest is the range of tone colors (timbres): 4 pianos (at the Colón I believe it was 2 pianos and 2 keyboards); 3 marimbas; 1 vibraphone, 4 female voices (2 sopranos, 2 mezzosopranos); two clarinets (and bass clarinets); 1 violin; 1 cello.  No drums, no brass.

            An unrelentless and unchanging fast rhythm is imposed by the marimbas and pianos and never wavers; the voices are textless and a mere element of the overall sound; any variety is provided by the vibraphone and the clarinets; the strings saw away unrewardingly.  I could have taken this for about 20 minutes but it lasted 62!  The execution was as far as I could tell excellent, especially by the Uruguayan percussion group Perceum.

            It was preceded by the 3-minute "Clapping" (it´s just that and very simple) by Reich and a lady, called a manifesto by supporters. Mind you, the theatre was packed and seemed to enjoy the whole thing. It wasn´t the usual Colón crowd, but a youthful one.

For Buenos Aires Herald