sábado, diciembre 27, 2014

Colón 2015: hits and misses in the announced concert life

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For Buenos Aires Herald 

Opera and ballet next year at the Colón

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

For Buenos Aires Herald

Spohr, Martinu, Ferrandini and Gurdjieff: variety is life

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For Buenos Aires Herald 

Tosca and Butterfly, contrasting Puccinian heroines

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For Buenos Aires Herald

The wonderful feast of singing together

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For Buenos Aires Herald 

Menotti´s operas: their key is easy access

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For Buenos Aires Herald