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 

A varied cocktail of musical textures


                 The Buenos Aires Philharmonic received the visit of Chilean conductor Maximiano Valdés, appreciated from other Colón performances and currently Principal Conductor of the Puerto Rico 

Symphony and Artistic Director of the Casals Festival in the same island.

At the last moment it was realized that the programme, originally having two scores, was too short, and a welcome novelty was added : Jan Sibelius´ second tone poem.  In fact, this very pleasant and melodious "Spring Song" (1894) had its origin in a previous "Improvisation" and was created  close to one of his masterpieces, the "Four Legends" (in fact four tone-poems) that include the famous "Swan of Tuonela". But it was revised in 1902, eliminating a Spanish-tinged passage, and surely that was the version we heard.

Esteban Benzecry, born 1970, is having a successful European career, where his style is liked. He has perfected a rich orchestration, colorfully evoking sounds of American ethnic people with abundant endemic percussion. His Violin Concerto dates from 2006-8, was premièred in 2009   (Paris) and in 2010 at San Juan; now Xavier Inchausti has presented the score in our city and it is worth knowing. As was to be expected, the violinist played with the amazing technique and command for which he is famous, and was apparently very well accompanied.

There are three Evocations. According to the author, the first movement, "Evocation of a dream", mixes Andalusian "cante jondo" with Sephardic reminiscences and invented bird songs. The second evokes a tango atmosphere, and the third, "Evocation of a lost world", takes such elements as the baguala, the carnavalito and the malambo. Formally it resorts to the passacaglia and the toccata.

Shostakovich´s Fifth Symphony is the most often played of his fifteen and with good reason, for it is masterly and very expressive. Premièred  at Leningrad in December 1937 with huge success, the author needed that triumph after being condemned by Stalin for his opera "Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk".

Rostropovich opened  a controversy when he didn´t accept the usual fast tempo for the final pages and instead rammed them home with tremendous slow power, as he did in Buenos Aires. Thus instead of victory we had tragic drama. I am glad to say that the lucid version of Valdés accepted that point of view and with an orchestra on its toes we had a vivid and moving experience throughout.

 Two sessions of the Mozarteum´s Midday Concerts at the Gran Rex gave much satisfaction. Usually they last about 50 minutes, but the recital by Ophélie Gaillard (cello, debut) and Anaïs Crestin (piano) lasted about 70! And I certainly didn´t complain for the artists were first-rate and the programme was beautiful.

 Two exquisite French composers alternated with characterful Slavic creators. The "sui generis" Debussy Sonata remains an offbeat, quirky marvel. Four short Fauré pieces were successively a feast of  melancholy, charm, uncloying sweetness and mercurial "moto perpetuo": "Élégie", "Sicilienne", "Romance" and "Papillon".

 The unmistakable language of Janácek (aching melody and contrasting rhythms) is fully present in the three-movement "Pohádka", "A tale: the story of Zar Berendyey". And finally, the pithy and concentrated Shostakoch Sonata Op.40.

 Gaillard is a real find: her fluid technique is matched by a ready sensitiveness and fetching presence. And Crestin (a young French woman living in BA) played accurately and in style; I would only object a certain lack of weight in passages that need it.

The Colón´s Academic Orchestra of the High Institute of Art closed the 55th (!) season of the Midday Concerts. Lucas Macías Navarro is the superb first oboe of the Concertgebouw Orchestra; he has started conducting recently. He will be the soloist in the final concert of the B.A.Philharmonic playing Richard Strauss´ Oboe Concerto.

As oboist and coordinator rather than conductor, he played marvelously Alessandro Marcello´s Concerto, maybe the best Baroque piece for the instrument, adding numerous ornaments with consumate taste and 

Schubert´s Fourth Symphony was called "Tragic" by the composer and it is indeed the most urgent and dramatic of his first six, although it was written when he was only 19. Here it was evident that the conductor is still rather green, though certainly musical. Although he obtained good ensemble from the 47 players, his phrasing needed more color and intensity, and the first movement´s main section was just an Allegro, without the necessary "vivace". But it was nice to observe the concentration and enthusiasm of the young executants; they are the breeding ground for the main orchestras and already have a very decent professionalism.

It had rained heavily and the subways were flooded, so the audience was sparse in the stalls; but in the upper floors 800 kids applauded and behaved, and that is surely a positive fact.

 Mario Videla is our best Bachian; playing the splendid organ of the Church St John the Baptist he gave lucid and admirable readings of three Buxtehude pieces (a Chaconne, a Choral fantasy and a Prelude and fugue) and of two towering J.S.Bach scores separated by the four-movement Pastorale. The Partita on the chorale "Sei gegrüsset Jesu gütig" is a theme with eleven variations; the final score was the Toccata, Adagio and Fugue in C major.

This concert for Festivales Musicales was greatly enhanced by the very good video of Videla´s playing; it adds the visual side to the traditional loneliness of organists and facilitates the understanding of the music.


For Buenos Aires Herald 

“Elektra”, the edge of the abyss

            Some scores of the Twentieth Century represent the very limit of a long tradition or the irruption of a new style. On this second category, suffice it to mention Stravinsky´s "Rite of Spring", where for the first time in Occidental music the basic parameter is rhythm. Richard Strauss´ "Elektra" (1909) is the prime example of the first category: although the composer had been at certain moments of his symphonic poems (the best in history) close to the complete dissolution of tonality, the feeling of being at the very edge of the abyss is paramount in his greatest opera.

            Of course, "Elektra" is a fantastic achievement because it is an ideal blend with one of the greatest librettos ever penned: the transformation by Hugo Von Hoffmannsthal of Sophocles´ seminal tragedy into a Freudian case of sexual obsession and vengeance.  The Elektra complex is the counterpart of the Oedipus complex, and the terms have stayed up to present times as synonymous of incestuous love.

            There is also the tremendous pulse of death in this work: the word "blood" pervades it. In few operas is the Eros-Thanatos syndrome so strong.  The tension almost always seems ready to tear everything apart. The few moments of release come from Elektra´s sister Chrysothemis, who wants to lead a normal life.

            The other great part is Klytämnestra, their mother, present in only one scene, but it is a crucial one, harmonically the closest to atonality and dramatically almost unbearable. For we are immersed in Mycenaean Greece just after Troy´s war, very far from the Arcadic feeling of later centuries. Klytämnestra is a monster but a fascinating one.

            Orest comes late in the game: the moving Recognition Scene, just before he executes the vengeance killing his mother and her husband Aegisth. And there is a great character that never appears but is essential: Agamemnon, the slaughtered father.

            Generally the Colón has tried to put on Strauss operas with quality. "Elektra" already has a powerful tradition at the Colón, ever since Strauss himself leading the Vienna Philharmonic premièred it in 1923. As José Luis Sáenz points out in his useful article, our theatre has punctually revived it every decade up to now.

            I was twelve in 1951 when I heard Christel Goltz on the radio (conductor Böhm): even in puberty this opera made a very deep impression on me. Later on I saw Goltz in Vienna (1961), Inge Borkh in Munich (1964), and Nilsson in Vienna (1969). Here I heard Gladys Kuchta in 1966, the splendid Daniza Mastilovic in 1975. I was traveling when during Renán´s time a marvelous threesome was assembled in 1995: Hildegard Behrens, Rysanek as Klytämnestra and Deborah Voigt as Chrysothemis; but fortunately I saw a DVD of it. Finally, the rather poor 2007 revival at the Coliseo.

            Well, the 2014 presentation was the best thing of the season. The women were on a high level and had already made their mark here: Linda Watson as Brünnhilde  and both Iris Vermillion and Manuela Uhl in that other Straussian masterpiece, "Die Frau ohne Schatten".  Watson has  vital qualities: stamina (it´s the most trying role in the whole repertoire), firm highs, volume, ability to sing softly and fully, and complete command of the words; on the debit side: she doesn´t dance, the sort of clumsy but meaningful dance indicated by Hoffmannsthal; and her timbre lacks beauty when pressed.

            Manuela Uhl (the luminous Empress in "Die Frau ohne Schatten") as Chrysothemis was warm and beautiful, with splendid highs and expansive phrasing,  though sometimes her lower range was weak. Iris Vermillion was so perfect as the Amme (Wet-Nurse) in "Die Frau ohne Schatten" that I expected a lot from her, but her Klytämnestra, though certainly quite good, didn´t have the same impact: she didn´t look or sound degraded enough, and her presence was too young, although her command of the music was undeniable.

            Hernán Iturralde has the right type of baritone for Orest: compact, dark, of good volume; he should have worn a wig, he looked too elderly. Enrique Folger did well in the short and ungrateful part of Aegisth. The Five Maids weren´t satisfactory except the Fifth, well sung by Marisa Pavón. Of the bit parts I single out the fresh new voice of Eduardo Bosio as Young Servant.

            I was very impressed by the huge orchestra led by Roberto Paternostro, absolutely basic for a fine "Elektra". The professional firmness of everyone, the Expressionist response to the innumerable accents, the rapport with the stage, the impeccable tempi, were necessary for the undoubted success of this "Elektra".

              A minimalist approach to the staging works well in this case. Pedro Pablo García Caffi was the producer as well as the stage and lighting designer, whilst the costumes were designed by Alejandra Espector. Perhaps it was wise that he didn´t take a bow at the end for there´s turmoil in the orchestra: just before the beginning all the players showed placards in the pit demanding better salaries ( as you know, he is the Colón´s Director). But fair is fair, and he did a good job though with some blemishes.

            He opted for several big truncated cones which give a Mycenean impression, the handling of the singers was generally correct except in the Aegisth scene, some lighting effects were good and others seemed too modern.  Stairs were missing as well as a cyclopean wall. The clothing by Espector was adequate except perhaps Klytämnestra´s.

For Buenos Aires Herald 

Mixed results from foreign artists

             Two ensembles with distinguished careers offered concerts for Nuova Harmonia, and in both cases results were less satisfactory than I had hoped for. The one at the Coliseo brought back the Swiss Piano Trio; the other, at the Colón, was the first visit of The Moscow Soloists led by world-famous violist Yuri Bashmet.

            The Swiss Piano Trio is made up of pianist Martin Lucas Staub, violinist Angela Golubeva and cellist Sébastien Singer. It exists since 1998 and came to Argentina in 2007 and 2013. The programme biography gives no details about the players, but all three are still young, I´d say in their late thirties or early forties.

            Maybe part of the trouble was in the programming: apparently Swiss artists (either born or resident) can´t get financial support for their tours if they don´t include a Swiss (or resident) composer. And, as happened recently with the Camerata Bern, either they don´t choose rightly or composing is currently at a low level in that country. I disliked the Buenos Aires première of Martin Wettstein´s "Alpentangomania" (offered last year at Llao-Llao by these players). It fuses old tangos and Alpine folk melodies in 20 minutes of pretty obvious music, even if there are some added effects.

            Beethoven´s Trio Nº 2, Op.1 Nº2, was written in Bonn just prior to the composer´s change of residence to Vienna; he brought the three Trios of Op.1 to the Austrian capital and of them the first two are rather conventional pieces; only Nº 3 gives a definite inkling of Beethoven´s strong personality. It is agreeable Late Classic-style, and it needs some persuasive handling from the players to become interesting. What I heard both here and in Wettstein was professional, noncommittal playing.

             The enormous Tchaikovsky Trio was tackled by the artists almost complete: they even included the powerful fugue, often eliminated (the score allows it!), though the final gigantic variation was drastically cut: only the exposition was heard, but the development and recapitulation were cut, so that about 5 minutes were missing, before going on to the lugubrious funeral march ending.

            The piano part has grand virtuoso writing similar to that of Tchaikovsky´s First Piano Concerto; Staub is certainly very proficient, but he did have some serious smudges along with many passages of impressive firmness. The string players were here much more present than in the First Part (they have to be, otherwise they are swallowed by the piano). The joint interpretation wasn´t characterful, even if some pieces such as the Waltz variation (encored at the end) had charm; but others lacked enough intensity and that pathetic tchaikovskian sadness wasn´t projected.

            As to the Moscow Soloists, I was quite happy with their quality: the eighteen string players are energetic, play with excellent intonation and ensemble and with praiseworthy unanimity. The group was established by Bashmet in 1992.  The founder is both conductor and solo violist; in the first capacity he showed fine style in Mozart´s Divertimento K. 136 (perhaps the most overplayed score of the entire string ensemble repertoire) and in Schubert´s Quartet Nº 14, "Death and the Maiden", in the string group arrangement by Gustav Mahler as edited by David Matthews and Donald Mitchell. Schubert´s masterpiece has been wholly respected by Mahler, who only adds basses; some sections are played by the concertino rather than by the violin section.  This was dramatic, committed playing.

            But...(I can hardly believe it) the disappointment was Bashmet the violist. For his playing of the "Arpeggione" Sonata, also by Schubert, was listless and small-voiced, though accurate. It doesn´t help that the unspecified arrangement for strings of  the piano accompaniment was very bland. And the score is minor Schubert, written for an instrument that died almost as soon as it was created. It had six strings tuned like a guitar; currently it is played by cellists. Violists have almost no repertoire for solo viola and strings, so it´s hard to imagine an alternative to this arrangement (the few good concertos for viola are  with symphony orchestra).

            The programme also included a five-minute première: the enigmatically called "Senza volto" by the Russian Igor Raykhelson, born 1961. Built on a rather jazzy theme, this miniature concerto movement is written for violin (Andrei Poskrobko), viola (Bashmet) and cello (Anton Naidenov); it was pleasant and well played.

            The encores were good fun and probably premières: the quirky Polca from Schnittke´s "Suite Gogol" (it certainly has the right satyric tinge to it) and the Waltz from the film "Face of another" by Toru Takemitsu, catchy and bittersweet. Brilliant playing.

            The Siberian pianist Konstantin Scherbakov, born 1963, paid us a second visit, thus ending the Chopiniana cycle at the Palacio Paz. Frankly I found his programme very conventional, but it was played with great vitality and virtuoso panache. The well-trodden grounds of Beethoven´s "Moonlight Sonata" (Nº 14) and  "Appassionata" (Nº 23) were firmly traversed, though with exaggerated dynamics (and in Nº 14 the intermediate movement was too slow).

            The Chopin Second Part included two virtuoso vehicles, the rarely played "Introduction and Rondo" Op.16, and the always effective "Andante spianato and grand brilliant Polonaise" (the Andante too slow), both thrillingly executed. And in the middle the very substantial Ballade Nº3, quite well done.

            The first encore was an unknown little jewel, the Prelude Op. 11 Nº1, a dreamy piece by Lyadov. And then, Chopin´s First Waltz,  too fast.

For Buenos Aires Herald

“Romeo and Juliet” during “La Belle Époque”

            Autonomous City of Buenos Aires. Romeo is the son of River´s hooligan chief ("barrabrava"); Juliet, the daughter of Boca´s counterpart. During a masked milonga at La Boca Romeo and friends peep around with mischievous intent; Romeo and Juliet look at each other for the first time and fall instantaneously in love. Then follow the incidents narrated four centuries ago by a certain Elizabethan playwright and adapted by two 1860s Frenchmen to be clothed with music in that strange contraption, an opera.            Well, why not? Is it different from what Mercedes Marmorek did in her staging for Buenos Aires Lírica at the Avenida of Gounod´s "Roméo et Juliette"? In both cases the plot was transported from its time and place to another city and period. The rationale? To bring it closer to our comprehension, for we are too ignorant to accept it in the original conception. Well then, go the whole hog and instead of the Duke of Verona make the Chief of Government sentence Romeo to exile in Berazategui (after all, he is from River, that´s enough to merit chastisement).

            As I read the hand programme, I found that the telling of the plot was illustrated by a splendid photograph of Verona and that the action takes place there during  the Middle Ages (I rather feel that  the proper time is the Renaissance), so there´s something hypocritical about a programme that gives no inkling of the complete transformation of sense and essence that we were about to see. Days later I read an interview with the producer entitled (and I agree) "The Verona lovers, but from the kitsch and vulgar", and it turns out that these are the very words Mercedes Marmorek uses to describe her approach: "an aesthetic vision taken from  the Nineteenth-century´s vulgar and kitschy taste". She also says that she was inspired by the St Valentine postcards of that time and that she wanted to eschew realism in the acting, trying to imagine a theatrical play in the Paris of 1890 (yes, we see the Eiffel Tower).

            Well, I have no doubt that she accomplished what she wanted. I am equally sure that I heard Gounod´s music and the libretto by Jules Barbier and Michel Carré on the Shakespeare 1595 play, based on Brooke´s 1562 poem. Apart from that, in a few passages I could identify with the characters but mostly I couldn´t: the distortion was too great. And if you really feel that Gounod is so kitschy, why put it on? For this staging disparaged composer and librettists and was an extravaganza rather than the telling of a sentimental and sincere Romantic opera full of beautiful melodies.

            I don´t have the space to itemize every aspect that infuriated me, so a few examples will have to suffice. 1) After the Prelude, the stage reveals the sign "L´amour" in lights, hearts transperced by arrows dominate the design, plus a sculptured Cupid: and on this ambience we hear the austere choir that describes the tragic story of two families dominated by hate.  2) Then, the joy of the Capulets Ball includes two ridiculous clowns out of a vaudeville show and four can-can dancers.

            3) In the Second Act, as Roméo sings his lovely aria praising the rising sun, what looks a bizarre yellow moon "à la Méliès" brusquely drops from above. 4) Juliet is dressed throughout like a ballerina, from ball to death by way of marriage and night of love; and Romeo as a strange sort of soldier also keeps on the same clothes (the duet after their only night together is quite sexless).

            5) Starting the Second Tableau of the Third Act, Romeo´s page Stéphano, a typical trouser role, is converted into a girl singing like a girl. 6) The following scene, with all the sword fighting, is completely ridiculous in a Belle Époque ambience. 7) An absurd little ballet of Cupids accompanies the Prelude to the Fifth Act, "Juliette´s Dream", just before the crypt scene. Enough, you get the idea.

            In other words, the concept is all wrong. But to be fair, some things are pleasant to see. The stage design by Nicolás Boni has some handsome frameworks; the costumes by Lucía Marmorek are agreeable though often against the dramatic situation; the lighting (Alejandro Le Roux) has some good ideas. The choreography by Ignacio González Cano was embarrassing.

            But there were two reasons to go to this "Roméo et Juliette": Oriana Favaro and Santiago Ballerini. The soprano is fresh, beautiful and sings well (a bit weak in the lows).  Ballerini has that rare thing among our tenors, a firm, expansive high range, though he hardly has the "physique du rôle".

            Of the others I liked Walter Schwarz (Brother Laurent), Vanesa Mautner (Gertrude, the wet-nurse) and Laura Polverini, a disinvolt Stéphano (though she has to interact with a grotesque invention, a man in armor).  Christian Peregrino (Duke of Verona) has an imposing presence but his singing is very woolly. Ernesto Bauer was a miscast Capulet (hindered –not his fault- by a silly hair-do) and Sebastián Angulegui, replacing Ricardo Crampton, was a harsh Mercutio.

            Fortunately both Orchestra (under Javier Logioia Orbe) and Choir (Juan Casasbellas) did quite well.

            The cuts were the standard ones (ballet and epìthalium in the Fourth Act, and after the death of the lovers the reconciliation of Capulets and Montagus). The French was poor in almost all the singers.

For Buenos Aires Herald