martes, octubre 14, 2014

Variegated concerts from foreign and Argentine artists

            The Lucerne Symphony Orchestra under its Principal conductor James Gaffigan made its local debut in a Nuova Harmonia concert at the Coliseo. Buenos Aires has received in earlier seasons the visit of the accomplished Lucerne Festival Strings.

            The Lucerne Symphony is in residence at a building designed by Jean Nouvel and inaugurated in 1998 called the Culture and Congress Center. The orchestra is the oldest in Switzerland, founded in 1806. Except for Mengelberg it hasn´t had starry names as Principal Conductors, and if its roster is the one printed in the hand programme, it is a small orchestra of only 65 players. Notwithstanding this, the sound was full and satisfying, though of course they didn´t play works of heavy orchestration (I don´t think it´s a Mahler or Strauss orchestra).

            They concentrated on the Nineteenth Century. I have long loved Weber´s Overture to "Oberon".  Gaffigan, a New Yorker born in 1979, proved firm and responsible in his views, and the orchestra played with vigor and subtlety.

            Then came the high spot: the wonderful Mendelssohn Violin Concerto brought back to Buenos Aires the talent of Renaud Capuçon, who made his debut here ten years ago at an Argerich Festival. He played with growing intensity, master both of slow "cantabiles" and virtuoso chains of semiquavers, and he was well matched by  an attentive orchestra.

            But repertory-wise, it was both useful and gratifying hearing again Dvorák´s Sixth Symphony after quite a while, for it is an admirable warm score. Gaffigan has the measure of the score and got a sympathetic reading out of the very competent orchestra. Encores: Brahms´  Hungarian Dance Nº5, and  welcome indeed, the rarely programmed slow and dreamy fourth movement of the Dvorák "American Suite".

            At a subscription concert of the Buenos Aires Philharmonic, conductor Enrique Arturo Diemecke was presented with the distinction of "Outstanding Cultural Personality" by the Legislature, which he certainly deserves. This time his programme was Latin-American and featured his brother Pablo Diemecke (debut) as soloist in the Violin Concerto by Carlos Chávez.

            The session started with Astor Piazzolla´s 1969 "Tangazo", one of his best crossover works, 13 minutes in alternating moods; Diemecke showed empathy with his style. The Chávez Concerto was new to me and certainly I can´t remember another performance, although it wasn´t announced as a première. I tend to like his music and he is certainly one of the two most relevant Mexican composers (the other is Silvestre Revueltas). But this 25-minute score has its longueurs along with many attractive passages and would have benefited from some pruning. I found Pablo Diemecke professional but not seductive in his tone; I do think the music needs a more lustrous sound and a more personal reading. Apparently the orchestra played well but I can´t compare as I had no score.

            Last year we heard a spectacular performance of "La noche de los mayas" by Revueltas interpreted by the fenomenal Orquesta Simón Bolívar and conducted by the ultra-mediatic Gustavo Dudamel. I can give no higher praise to the B.A. Phil and Diemecke that they were only one step behind, in a splendid execution which allowed the audience to enjoy contrasted, picturesque and evocative music, especially the percussion-dominated "Night of enchantment". I  add that  José Ives Limantour should be in the hand programme as arranger and organizer of the original Revueltas material for the film of the same name. He did a fine job with this four-part suite retrieved and concocted  after the author´s early death.

            My last paragraphs concern a small venue that has meant much to music lovers for 22 years, always led by the untiring Susana Braun Santillán: La Scala de San Telmo. Early in the year it didn´t seem sure that she would go on, but she did and I celebrate it. She is presenting nine different shows every week: classical, crossover and popular concerts plus theatre. I was attracted by the programming of last Saturday and I heard two concerts in a row; both were useful and interesting.

            The first was called "Galanuras hispánicas", and a trio of artists from Rosario gave us varied Seventeenth- and Eighteenth-Century works: Spanish songs by Juan de Lima Serqueira (active in Mexico), J.del Vado, Tomás Torrejón y Velasco (Spanish, settled in Lima, Peru, wrote the opera "La Púrpura de la Rosa" in 1701) and José Marín. There were two instrumental pieces by Italians: Domenico Scarlatti, who lived in Spain; Domenico Zipoli, who settled in our Córdoba as a Jesuit priest. And of special interest, three missionary songs in the Mapuche language recopilated by B. Havestadt and three bright and joyful pieces from the Peruvian Códice Trujillo.   I especially enjoyed the fine voice and style of soprano Laura Romero; she was accompanied with varied fortune by Alejandra Sottile in a beautiful spinet and by Pablo Ignacio Polito in Baroque guitar and mandoline.

            Finally, a salvage operation led by pianist Manuel Massone: music of unknown Argentine composers born between 1820 and 1855, the "lost" generations between Esnaola and Williams. I heard no masterpieces but I enjoyed getting to know, e.g., a Romanza by Alfredo Napoleón, or three pieces by Francisco Hargreaves (author of the first Argentine opera, "La gatta bianca", unfortunately lost), especially the very brilliant Capriccio on the opera "Ruy Blas" by Marchetti. Habanera, waltz, tango, galop, triste, pericón... such were the scores. Best pianists: Massone and Facundo Miranda.

For Buenos Aires Herald

miércoles, octubre 08, 2014

Videla and Opitz, protagonists of our musical scene

            A musical scene is made up of myriads of people, but some of them have important trajectories as leaders of a special project. This article focuses on two of them; there are of course others.

            Mario Videla was and is the very soul of the Bach Academy. For an astonishing 32 years he has kept alive the Academia Bach de Buenos Aires, inspired originally on the Bach Academy led by Helmuth Rilling (frequent guest here). The greatest Baroque composer was undoubtedly Johann Sebastian Bach, and the essence of his vast composing is found in the more than  two hundred cantatas that have come down to us (many others have been, alas, lost). And the Academy has made it a point, year after year, of prermièring at least two cantatas, so that music lovers are enormously in Videla´s debt for such marvelous discoveries.

            Videla collaborated with the famous Bach Festivals under Karl Richter presented in the Sixties by Amigos de la Música and as organist, harpsichordist and conductor has kept J.S.B. as the center of his musical life, although of course he has also been the longtime Artistic Director of Festivales Musicales, an institution that was born after Amigos´ demise with the idea of prolonging some basic aspects, especially the constant search for great scores that have never been played here.

            I have to be sincere, about a decade ago Festivales lost its way and started to be less interesting and adventurous; at the same time sponsorship steadily declined. Videla told us that from next year on, the Academy would be called Amigos de la Academia Bach and will have associates; he didn´t mention Festivales, and I interpret it as a new situation of independence, for this year the hand programme still prints "Organized by Festivales Musicales".

            This concert, as so many others through more than three decades, was offered at the Central Methodist Church, an old friend of splendid acoustics. There were two high points: a magnificent Concerto in D minor, Wq22, by Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, the J.S.Bach son who saved most of his father´s scores and that was in his own right one of the great figures of his time, going all the way from the Late Baroque to Late Classicism impregnated by the the Pre-Romantic wave of "Sturm und Drang". Twenty-five minutes of deeply impressive music that goes beyond the typical flute concerto of the day in its audacious harmonies and imaginative interplays. And it had a wonderful performance from an inspired flutist (Claudio Barile) and the Soloists of the Bach Academy.

            As usual we had the erudite comments by Videla, and we discovered the astonishing Cantata Nº 103 by J.S.B, called "Ihr werdet weinen und heulen" ("You will cry and lament").  It is short (17 minutes) but it includes the fantastic inventions of the initial Chorus (an instrumentation with originally a sopranino recorder, here replaced by a piccolo, plus two lovely instruments, the well-named oboes d´amore, and the habitual strings and continuo) with advanced chromaticisms in the word "heulen" ("lamenting") and a solo baritone (quite unusual in an opening chorus), and a strong tenor aria with trumpet obligato. The players were all admirable, including trumpeter Fernando Ciancio. The singers correct, no more: Periferia Vocal was the choir conducted by Pablo Piccinni (also baritone), and other soloists were the mezzosoprano Cecilia Arellano and the tenor Mauro Di Bert, who has a strange timbre but handles the florid singing well.

            The least interesting thing was another aspect of C.P.E.Bach: two rather conventional short motets  (premièred) from his Hamburg church production; apart from some dissonances (not quite solved by the Choir) the rest was pretty tame.

            For more than twenty years Guillermo Opitz has been the Artistic Director of the Fundación Música de Cámara, a singular institution that gives its concerts in palaces, residences and embassies. This time the venue was  that jewel of San Fernando, the Palace Sans Souci. And with a fascinating idea: a whole concert dedicated to Richard Strauss´  Lieder in the year of the 150th anniversary of his birth. It´s the first time in my long life that I hear such a musical session.

            Maestro Opitz is the last of the line of influential German teachers that came to B.A. after WWII. The hand programme included an impressive and enormous list of singers and pianists that have attended his master classes since 1993: no doubt he has been essential in the maturing of talents that in many cases have had important careers. A typical feature of these seasons of the FMC is a song programme (not necessarily Lieder) on a special subject; this one was typical: eight singers and seven pianists gave a conspectus of Strauss´ long Lieder career: we heard 24 contrasting pieces where both the vocal line and the very personal piano writing provided constant pleasure.

            Two artists already have ongoing careers: Oriana Favaro (soprano) and Walter Schwarz (bass). Of the others I was well impressed by the vocal quality of soprano Laura Sangiorgio and tenor Rodrigo Ortiz, the expressiveness of Anahí Fernández Caballero (a stunning beauty, by the way) and the natural delivery of baritone Gabriel Vacas. I  found Milagros Rey (mezzosoprano) a bit green in the control of high notes and Roxana Schiavi not quite comfortable in the difficult florid music she sang (the Brentano Lieder)  The pianists were generally good (though the instrument is rather poor) especially Matías Galíndez, Pierre Blanchard and Sebastián Achenbach.

For Buenos Aires Herald

martes, octubre 07, 2014

A plethora of pianists and some new music


            In recent weeks a true plethora of pianists have been playing in BA. This article will cover some of them. There was a time (about 15-20 years ago) when piano recitals had diminished strongly, but there seems to be a vogue for them in recent years, and I certainly welcome this for it is the best recital instrument.

            The "Festival Internacional Encuentros 2014" is the 46th imagined by Alicia Terzian, still tireless at 80. She has programmed hundreds of premières of the 20th and 21st centuries, many of them worthwhile. This is a private effort organized by the Fundación Encuentros Internacionales de Música Contemporánea. It doesn´t have the vast budgets of the November contemporary festival of the Teatro San Martín, but it has existed for far longer and with  less means has managed to offer interesting programmes.

            This year they are offering their concerts at a satisfactory venue: the Auditorio Augusto Sebastiani of the Fundación Beethoven, Santa Fe 1452. I am writing today about three pianists who played in two recitals, and I haven´t been able to attend the other concerts of the cycle, which has included the Conjunto Ritmus, the Grupo Encuentros that she leads and a final vocal recital by Marta Blanco doing a fascinating Homage on the Centenary of World War I.

            She has also included films on musical subjects: Keith Jarrett, Philip Glass, the Ondes Martenot, Viktor Ullmann (the author of "The Emperor of Atlantis"). There was also a seminar on choral direction given by the Welsh specialist Gwyn Williams and another on piano playing offered by the pianists I´m reviewing.Terzian always presents her concerts, and I often disagree with her prickly and contentious sayings, but that doesn´t diminish my admiration for her substantial contribution to our musical life.

            Terzian has traveled intensely over the years and always has had a particular relationship with Switzerland. All three pianists hold posts at the Geneva Conservatory. The Armenian Eva Aroutounian is Directress of it. Her programme was varied and valuable, played with admirable professionalism and keen insight.

            Curiously, she did something similar to what happened in the recital this year of the Keller Quartet: an alternation of pieces by the Octogenarian Hungarian György Kurtág with  short Bach Preludes (the Keller chose "The Art of Fugue"). The epigrammatic scores by Kurtág are called "Játékok" ("Games", written over a very long time, 1973-2010) and seemed to me very uneven in quality; sometimes they jelled with Bach but often they didn´t.

            Karlheinz Stockhausen wrote very innovative "Klavierstücke" ("Pieces for piano") from 1952 to 1984; Nº IX explores the intensity of chords and is akin to minimalism. More to my taste are six short pieces by Luciano Berio, especially those that attempt a pianistic evocation of the four elements. Two by Peter Eötvös are an obvious homage to Berio using the same sort of idea. This brilliant recital finished with the astonishing First Sonata by Prokofiev, written at 16 and already unmistakeable in its style.

            The other recital had two parts; the first played by Philippe Chanon, Assistant Director of the Geneva Conservatory; the second by the Argentine Adrián Kreda, Dean of the Piano Department in the same institution. Both are very good pianists, always fully in command. Chanon also did a combination of Baroque and contemporary, playing attractive and imaginative Preludes by Maurice Ohana intercalated with two splendid pieces by Jean-Philippe Rameau, "Les Sauvages" and "La Dauphine". Then, the three masterpieces of Debussy called "Estampes", played with virtuoso panache. And finally, the brief and scintillating "Île de feu" by Messiaen.

             Kreda gave a charming account of the beautiful Julián Aguirre pieces called "Cinco tristes", the First Book  of the "Aires nacionales argentinos" (1898, not 1888 as stated wrongly in the programme).  Then, an atypical dreamy, long and minimalist John Cage ("In a Landscape", 1948), prior to the horrors he would later inflict on hearers. Finally, one of Ginastera´s most characteristic, propulsive and Bartokian scores, the First Sonata, played with astonishing strength and accuracy.  

            Chopiniana is the only cycle of piano music; it was created some years ago by Martha Noguera and although Chopin features especially, invited pianists can always play other composers. Her own recital, offered like the others at the Palacio Paz, was very long and enormously difficult; a true challenge for a petite, 70-year old pianist. I think she was unwise to pile up so much extreme virtuosity, and although she is astonishingly vigorous and her technique has always been very important, she did have some dicey moments, especially in the final piece, that fantastic "Mephisto Waltz", the best of Liszt but terrible to play.

            She started with an early Mozart Sonata, Nº 3 K.281, very cleanly played. Then followed the great challenge of Beethoven´s mighty "Waldstein" Sonata (Nº 21), where there were some garbled moments but also beathtaking feats (the octave glissandi at the end).           

            The Second Part started with some beautiful pieces by the Slovak Eugen Suchon, followed by the première of the Argentine Gustavo Fedel´s Prelude Nº 3 (the author was present), pleasant enough; and three pieces from a group called "Trivialities" by Maraj Kogoj, well-written pieces by a composer new to me. All seemed very well-played.

            Believe it or not, followed Chopin´s 24 Preludes Op.28 and the aforementioned Liszt. Exhausting for any player, Noguera showed the firmness of her preparation in the kaleidoscopic pieces of the Polish composer.

For Buenos Aires Herald

Paloma´s Giselle starts her long goodbye

             Some years ago Julio Bocca startled the ballet world when he announced that he would stop his dancer´s career on his 40th birthday. He was as good as his word, and thus we were bereft of our greatest male dancer; but he wanted to depart in full glory, and he did. Now our most famous female dancer, Paloma Herrera, has made a similar promise. And as she is a very serious artist, I assume that she will keep it. She too has said that she wants to say goodbye whilst her means are still at their best. It is a wise though hard decision.

            She is now 38, months away from her 39th Birthday. When this ballet season was sold, the Colón gave what seemed great news: the revival after 17 years of the marvelous Kenneth MacMillan choreography of Prokofiev´s "Romeo and Juliet", to my mind the best long ballet music of the Twentieth Century. I, as so many others, relished the idea. But...with no explanation whatsoever (as usual) the Colón eliminated it and programmed that eternal substitute, "Giselle". Thus we also lost the memorable stage and costume designs of "Romeo..." by Nicholas Georgiadis. It was a deep disappointment, for it cancelled the most important presentation of the year.

            Mind you, I´m not disparaging "Giselle". It is the most emblematic Romantic ballet (there aren´t many that have survived) and a good performance of it should be a staple of any big company over the years. But some years ago we were left without Nureyev´s marvelous "Nutcracker" because of a silly row with the choreographer´s representatives and again the replacement was "Giselle".  It simply isn´t elegant behavior.

            Paloma is mediatic and of course the house was full; even the City´s Chief of Cabinet, Horacio Rodríguez Larreta, was present. For many, unfortunately, it´s irrelevant whether she dances Juliet or Giselle; they go to see her.  We missed an interesting dialogue between artistic genders: for in these weeks we will see Shakespeare´s original at the Teatro Regio and Gounod´s opera at the Avenida (Buenos Aires Lírica).

            It´s a curious thing that in ballet the periods aren´t the same as in music: Classicism in the latter is the time of Mozart, in dance it´s the great era of Petipa in Russia during the second half of the XIXth Century. But they do coincide in the Romantic period: "Giselle" is contemporary with Schumann.

            The music by Adolphe Adam was written in just a week and is an accomplished piece according to the style of those times: it was premièred in June 1841. There was at least one important predecessor: choreographer Filippo Taglioni´s "La Sylphide" (1832), admired here in the reconstruction made by Pierre Lacotte and danced by the ethereal Ghislaine Thesmar. In both cases there are two acts: the first is basically realistic, the second fantastic. And there was a curious anticipation in a "grand´opéra" by Meyerbeer, "Robert le Diable" (1831), in that creepy scene where the dead nuns come alive and dance.

              The plot was concocted by several hands: the ultra-Romantic Téophile Gautier, the vaudeville author Jules Vernoy de Saint-Georges and  Jean Coralli, "maître de ballet" at the Paris Opera.  The original choreographers were Coralli and Jules Perrot. But when decades later it was revived in Russia by Marius Petipa, he added several fragments (with music by Drigo and Minkus). From the very beginning, a "Pas paysan" was added with music by Burgmüller. This checkered history is common to many old ballets.

            Lidia Segni was in charge of this revival based on the three mentioned choreographers, and she has staged it before, at Montevideo, La Plata and Bahía Blanca. She is very knowledgeable on the matter, and her version is traditional and true. I have often seen the versions by Alicia Alonso (shown here in 1958 and revived often) and Gustavo Mollajoli (1984), also danced frequently, and remember such great interpreters of Giselle as Carla Fracci, Olga Ferri and Silvia Bazilis.

            Paloma´s has been a star for decades at no less than the American Ballet Theatre but has kept contact with the Colón. Her Giselle was admirable both in the perfection of her dancing and the contrast between the fragile girl in love of the First Act and the willi of the Second (willis: avenging nocturnal spirits of the maids that die from unrequited love before their wedding), ethereal but finally sensitive to the repentance of her Albrecht.  She wasn´t as personal or intense as some other dancers, especially Fracci, but this was the work of an authentic star.

            She was ably partnered by Juan Pablo Ledo, probably our best current dancer of the Colón Ballet (internationally it would be Herman Cornejo). Others who did a good job were Vagram Ambartsoumian as Hilarion  the vengeful forester, Paula Cassano as Myrtha, Queen of the Willis, Fabrizio Coppo as Duke Albrecht´s squire and Miriam Barroso as Berthe (Giselle´s mother).  The Pas Paysan was danced with young talent by Maximiliano Igleasias and less brilliantly by Carla Vincelli.

            The beauty of "ballet blanc" bloomed in the Second Act with the Willis in immaculate white, dancing with poise and discipline.

            Pluses were, of course, the beautiful stage and costume designs by Nicola Benois and the fine lighting by Rubén Conde. And the playing by the Buenos Aires Philharmonic under Swiss conductor Emmanuel Siffert was mostly quite good, apart from some minor slips.

For Buenos Aires Herald

The polemical Orchestra of Sound Administration

            Probably the weirdest name in the world of interpretation of symphonic music is the Orchester der Klangverwaltung München; literally, the Orchestra of Sound Administration, Munich.  For in fact it merely describes what an orchestra is; to take it as their name indicates a deep-seated desire of the founders to be considered prime examples of that talent.

            It was founded by the violinists Andreas Reiner and Josef Kröner in 1997 and they are still with the orchestra as concertmaster and assistant concertmaster. Their aim was and is to "interpret the extraordinary musical conceptions of their Principal Conductor Enoch zu Guttenberg". The hand programme also states that "the members belong to the main symphonic and operatic orchestras, such as the Vienna and Berlin Philharmonics", plus Munich players and others from chamber groups mainly from Germany.

            They also inform that they play instruments by great luthiers such as Stradivari, Guarneri, Amati, Guadagnini and Gofriller.  Obviously this orchestra assembles itself only in certain periods of the year (probably the Summer months).

            The Orchestra paid us a visit some years ago and left a good impression. Of course it came with zu Guttenberg, already known here for his interesting Bach performances with the Neubeuern Choir.  In the current visit they are replacing the originally announced debut of the Bruno Walter Symphony Orchestra under Jack Martin Händler, but they have kept the soloist, pianist Stefan Stroissnig (debut).

            Perhaps because Stroissnig´s choice was the long "Emperor" Concerto by Bweethoven, the programme was finally overextended. With normal speeds, the initial Beethoven Overture Leonore Nº 3 lasts about 14 minutes, the "Emperor" about 41 and the monumental Bruckner Fourth Symphony, "Romantic", close to an hour. But the conductor made me think of the illustrious but controversial very slow Bruckner presented here years ago by the Munich Philharmonic under Sergiu Celibidache. Indeed, zu Gutteenberg´s Fourth clocked 73 minutes! And if you add that the pianist played a substantive encore (Schubert´s Impromptu Op.90 Nº 4) lasting about seven minutes, we had an unusual total length of two hours and fifteen minutes! Plus the intermission, of course.

            No wonder there was a feeling of restlessness as Bruckner´s solemn and grandiose music proceeded. There´s the habitual problem with Bruckner symphonies, that of multiple editorial versions of his symphonies, due to the uniqueness of his style that disconcerted so many of his contemporaries and causes problems even now, and the composer´s easily influenced personality led to numerous revisions. In this symphony such is particularly the case of the fourth movement, and I well remember the surprise of local music lovers when decades ago the Vienna Symphony under Rozhdestvensky played the original version, so different from the one usually heard.

            Nowadays the normal thing is to follow the postwar Nowak edition for the Bruckner Society. My own score is a pre-war relic with no specification,  and I had a hard time following it. In BA we´ve heard quite a number of admirable interpretations and they have normally lasted about an hour: Masur with the Gewandhaus, Barenboim with the Chicago, Mehta, Van Otterloo with the Colón Orchestra, Moralt with the Radio del Estado Orchestra... And the same goes for most recordings. But the fact remains that Celibidache (who did other symphonies) was deeply impressive with slow speeds, and zu Guttenberg didn´t convince me in the same degree, although I certainly respect his work.

            Was it a matter simply of basic tempi? Well, yes, partly; but what impeded proper flow were the exaggerated silences (they are in the score but not so long) and also some fragments taken too solemnly (yes, "Feierlich" is of the essence in Bruckner, but one mustn´t forget that he thought as an organist and that his peculiar orchestration feels like organ registers in a church). Now, all was done with undoubted honesty, commitment and energy by a very complete musician, and the orchestra is of truly distinguished quality, particularly the brass. Maybe shorter pieces in the First Part would have made this long Bruckner give a less lengthy effect.

            I liked the Leonora, it was strong, beethovenian and had reasonable tempi; the only thing was the trumpet fanfare, played not from afar as indicated but from an upper floor of the Coliseo in this Nuova Harmonia concert: it was way too loud though precise.

            As the "Emperor" Concerto went on, I had the distinct feeling that it had lacked enough rehearsal, for there were both bad joins and moments where the presence of the orchestral soloists was too dim. Stroissnig, now 29,  after some initial hesitations found his best form and showed a good mechanism (fine octaves) and sensitive phrasing in the quieter fragments, but I think his sound is rather small for this concerto, he would have been much better in the Second or in a Mozart.

            In fact, I enjoyed his playing very much in the Schubert Impromptu, light, charming, with the right amount of give and take; he had shown little charisma until then, so this is apparently the proper style for him.

            All in all, a concert that made me think hard about problems of proper speeds and of the need for intensive rehearsal in concerti.

For Buenos Aires Herald

Out-of-the-way music from varied venues

            The last concert of the Buenos Aires Philharmonic had some curious characteristics: a) It was much too short: just 56 minutes. There was surely room for an extra score. As the main piece was Mozart´s last symphony, it would have been quite interesting to put as initial score one of the not-so-long Haydn symphonies such as Nº 85, "La Reine".  b) The whole programme employed half the orchestra! c) The two scores for oboe had just strings as accompaniment in Vaughan Williams´ Oboe Concerto, and strings plus piano in Ramiro Gallo´s Small Concerto.

            VW´s score is endearing and, in Claudia Guzmán´s precise words, "luminously bucolic". With its typically English modal harmonic language and a sense of texture in the strings reminiscent of his famous Fantasy on a theme of Tallis, it provides plenty of possibilities for the soloist, both expressively and technically. Garrote is very proficient but I find his tone rather thin, without the roundness needed by many passages. Conductor Roberto Paternostro accompanied well.

            It was the oboist that contacted Ramiro Gallo and suggested that he would like to have a short concert piece from him.  It is an unassuming, tango-tinged score, contrasting in eight minutes a rhythmic theme with a melodic one. Pleasant though hardly memorable, it was nicely played.

            But there was a big positive surprise in the Second Part, with a magnificent interpretation of Mozart´s Symphony Nº 41, "Jupiter".   Paternostro, who these days has been conducting a rather wan "Falstaff", showed a different face in a perfectly rehearsed, completely sane, forceful without harshness interpretation, abetted by a B.A.Phil absolutely on its toes. That incredible fugal last movement, to my mind the most extraordinary orchestral piece Mozart ever composed, had the best execution I have heard for ages. On this showing and other recent triumphs with Diemecke, the Phil is ready for an international tour.

            It is always agreeable to hear  good children voices, so I welcome the first visit of the Freiburg Cathedral Boys´ Choir conducted by Boris Böhmann. The charming city at the edge of the Black Forest has indeed a fine Cathedral (Münster), and many of the churches in Germany have a tradition of admirable boys´ choirs, especially Leipzig´s Thomanerchor and the Regensburg Domspatzen. Without being in that exalted level, the Freiburg boys showed pure voices and fine training. The choir has in fact the four ranges, as it includes men (tenors and basses).

            The programme was sung at the Gran Rex for the Midday Concerts of the Mozarteum and had two dissimilar parts. The first was rather austere: it even started with a Gregorian chant by the men.  Then, the lovely Kyrie from Palestrina´s best-known Mass, "Papae Marcelli",  a motet by Bruckner, another by Liszt in his mystical stage, a fragment from Wagner´s  "Das Liebesmahl der Apostel" ("The Pentecost Feast") and Fauré´s early "Cantique de Jean Racine". All sung with fine intonation and good style under the severe leader Böhmann.

            The second section was a complete contrast: an arrangement by Reimund Hess of old German songs called "Andere Städtchen- Andere Mädchen" ("Other peoples- other girls"). Very light and traditional, with piano accompaniment (unidentified), here the singers and the conductor unbended. The first encore was in the same vein, whilst the second seemed to be their habitual "signature piece", naming the "Vaterland" and Breisgau, the county of Freiburg.  It was heartwarming to hear the joy of about 800 kids in the audience loudly cheering.

            The Chopiniana  cycle at the Palacio Paz went on with two concerts: one was all-Chopin and brought the debut of the Polish pianist Michal Karol Szymanowski; yes, almost identical with the composer, but no kin! The other was a varied programme by Argentine pianist Luis Ascot with no Chopin in the programme.

            Szymanowski was born in 1988; he is a modern Chopinian: no day-dreaming, but clear, forceful projection when needed and expression without mawkishness. His splendid technique is tightly under control. The hand programme was very untidy and he played the pieces in a different order. First, the lovely Barcarolle showed that he has a singing line. Then, two Mazurkas (Nos.53 and 49, unidentified in the programme ) were, of course, authentically Polish in his interpretation. Aferwards, he was a powerhouse in  the savage Etudes Op.25 Nos. 10 and 11. And he closed the first part with a sparkling Waltz Nº 5.

            The Third Sonata went mostly very well, except some doubtful rhythms in the Largo and in the last movement a moment of confusion and some mistakes. The encores were rarities brilliantly played: the            virtuosic Concerto Waltz Op.3 by Josef Wienawski (brother of the more famous Henryk) and the fierce "Toccata" (from "Toccata, Chorale and Fugue", 1955) by Milosz Magin.

            The Argentine Luis Ascot has had a vast career, especially in Geneva and Brazil. His eclectic programme started with the stark First Volume of Ginastera´s "Preludios americanos", admirably played, but an unlikely partner for Mozart´s Sonata Nº5, interpreted with nice style. I part company with the pianist in Schumann´s "Papillons", played with too much rubato and with annoying anticipations of chords by the left hand, producing unwanted syncopations. 

            The Brazilian Second Part was pure pleasure, including four pieces by Villa Lobos and five by Ernesto Nazareth, Brazilian tango, Waltz and Polka, charming rhythmical music written during the early Twentieth Century. In the encores, more Brazil and a sensitive Nocturne N` 20 by Chopin.

Verdi´s “Falstaff”, a celebration of life

            Make no mistake, Verdi´s "Falstaff" is one of the very best comedies in music, along with Mozart´s "Marriage of Figaro", Rossini´s "Barber..." and Wagner´s "The Mastersingers". I have often impugned Pedro Pablo García Caffi (the Colón Director) on the matter of wrong repertoire choices, but surely he is right in vindicating "Falstaff", the victim of labor troubles in 2010 (only one performance was offered before strikes disrupted the season).

            Few composers have been at their best in their old age; only Leos Janácek comes to my mind as a prime example. And it is certainly marvelous to think that the most complex and accomplished Verdian operas were finished in 1887 ("Otello", at 73) and 1893 ("Falstaff", at 79). The peasant from Busseto kept refining his tools and ameliorating his technique decade after decade, bringing them to a level that has proved unattainable by any other Italian composer.

            Verdi (as did Berlioz) had a lifelong admiration for Shakespeare and gave his best to the greatest playright in history; "Macbeth", even in its original 1847 version (revised 1865), is the most advanced and interesting of his early works. And unfortunately he never went ahead with a planned "King Lear", which could have been amazing.

            As happened with "Otello", he had the collaboration as librettist of Arrigo Boito, learned and subtle writer who in both cases did a wonderful job, albeit too precious (even Italians find words they didn´t know existed). His basis was "The Merry Wives of Windsor", though with some elements taken from "Henry IV"  but eschewing completely his adventures with Prince Hal and his discomfiture after being thrown out of court by the Prince when he became King Henry V (these scenes are in "Henry IV"); one main element was taken from "Henry IV", the magnificent "scena" about "the honour" that closes the First Tableau.

            Although there was a youthful Verdian comedy, "Un giorno di regno" (seen in recent years in BA), and which by the way is much better than what many commentators say, and there were comic elements in "Un Ballo in Maschera" or in "La Forza del Destino" (Melitone), they are poor antecedents for the triumphant celebration of life we have in "Falstaff".

             In truth, the protagonist is mainly interested in food, drink and sex, and he shows little spirituality; in politically incorrect tirades he says uncomfortable verities about the nature of man, and surely we see many elements of our current reality in them. For great comedy always has its tragic side. The story is the monumental chastising joke "perpetrated" by the Merry Wives on the obese, sensual old man .

            I absolutely love this creation, and to me this through-composed opera is his very best. Bred on the reference recorded versions by Toscanini and Karajan (his first) which I met when I was in my early teens, I had the good fortune of seeing and hearing the greatest Falstaff in my experience, Giuseppe Taddei, in 1954. I greatly admired the subtle interpretations of Renato Bruson and Geraint Evans, but Taddei was my model, and I suppose he is a great inspiration for Ambrogio Maestri, who did in the recent performances the most convincing Falstaff seen in Buenos Aires since Taddei. He has it all: the "physique du rôle" (a huge man both in height and girth), a powerful, true baritone; and real talent for acting.

            Two other singers were quite good, and in both cases they replaced the originally announced Italians, Aida Garifullina and Simone Piazzola (is the Colón short on dollars?). Thus, Paula Almerares was a radiant Nannetta in very good voice, and Fabián Veloz as Ford proved again that he is our best Verdian baritone. The debut of the famous Barbara Frittoli (Alice) was less starry than I hoped: the volume was a bit thin and the timbre less attractive, but she is elegant and professional in her late forties. Our Guadalupe Barrientos was a good Meg, more forward and bigger-voiced than most.

            The others were less positive. The best of that group were Falstaff´s servants, Bardolfo (Juan Borja) and Gustavo Gibert (Pistola); it isn´t their fault if the producer lacked imagination for their movements. Emanuele D´Aguanno (debut) was a correct tenorino, no more, as Fenton. Elisabetta Fiorillo (Mrs. Quickly) has the heavy contralto lows required, but as she goes up she becomes very shrill, and her interpretation was too gross. Sergio Spina unmercifully bawled his way as Dr. Cajus; he may be angry but he is still supposed to be singing Verdi.

            Roberto Paternostro was a rather wan conductor, who didn´t get enough presence and brilliance from the orchestra (although he had reasonable tempi), and more seriously didn´t obtain from the singers enough precision in the perilous ensembles. The Choir under Miguel Martínez was a good deal better.

             Strangely, Mexican producer Arturo Gama (debut) didn´t work with his own team but with local collaborators: Juan Carlos Greco (stage designs and lighting) and Aníbal Lápiz (costumes). Only the latter were satisfactory in a staging that fell short in visual attraction and ambience, distorting some basic elements such as the tree in the last Tableau and showing little congruity, but at least it was far from the disastrous "Konzept-Regies" Gama learned when he was at the Berlin Komische Oper. Nostalgia overwhelmed me when I remembered the marvelous Zeffirelli production I saw in Rome back in 1964.

For Buenos Aires Herald