lunes, mayo 18, 2015

Integrals, a splendid programming idea


            In recent weeks an important panorama of contemporary music was presented at the Colón. During a week, the CETC (Center for Experimentation) offered an integral of the Iannis Xenakis Quartets, a retrospective on Francisco Kröpfl´s production and an integral of Marta Lambertini´s chamber music on literary texts. And to crown it all, the start of the Colón Contemporáneo in the Main Hall gave us the complete Piano Etudes by György Ligeti played by its foremost interpreter, Pierre-Laurent Aimard.

            The idea of integrality is very formative and intellectually rich, for you can follow a creator´s trajectory in an organized and satisfying way. It works well if the numbers help: you can do the Beethoven symphonies, quartets and even the 32 piano sonatas, but an integral of the Bach cantatas or the Haydn symphonies can only be possible over many years, and such extended plans often fail. And of course the quality of the music is essential.

            But more restricted integrals such as those in the first paragraph of this article are certainly possible and useful even for veterans among the audience. I will give pride of place to the Ligeti/Aimard afternoon, for it probably was the most perfect symbiosis of admirable music and great playing we are going to have this year. And I was very glad to see the Colón almost full, mostly with young people.

             One anecdote: it started 15 minutes late "due to the agglomeration at the box office". (So said a voice to the audience). I was told that there were two queues: one for those who had bought the tickets on Internet, and one for last-minute patrons.

            Ligeti came to the attention of the wider public when Stanley Kubrick included the composer´s "Atmospheres" in his film "2001". By the way, Colón Contemporáneo ends this year with precisely that famous movie with a live orchestra playing the music selected by Kubrick.

            Ligeti´s only and controversial opera, "Le Grand Macabre", was seen at the Colón though with a reduced orchestration due to a labor conflict. And important concert creations have also been heard, placing him as the most interesting Hungarian composer of the after-WW II years.

            His three books of Piano Etudes were composed late in his career: the First in 1985, the Second in 1993 and the Third in 2001. They are probably the most valuable Etudes since the Debussy series. The rhythmic language comes from an unlikely mix: the Chopin/Schumann tradition and the indigenous music of Subsaharian Africa. Say the programme notes: these Etudes "conceive the pulse as a musical atom, an indivisible common denominator multiplied in different ways to generate rhythms".

            Matters explored include the Theory of Chaos, the Indonesian gamelan, the cool jazz of Bill Evans or the mechanical music similar to the pianola pieces of Conlon Nancarrow. Sample titles: "Autumn in Warsaw",  "The Devil´s staircase", "Infinite column", "Out of breath": they all explore to the piano´s possibilities to the hilt, with vast imagination and freshness.

            The programme also included the early "Musica ricercata" (1951-3), eleven pieces which start exploiting two notes and end up with all twelve of the chromatic scale.

            The playing was out of this world. It was Ligeti himself that chose Aimard for a recording of the composer´s complete piano music, and it is still the obliged reference, for this artist has a prodigious technique coupled with ideal understanding of the creator´s style. Memorable is the word for the experience of hearing him in this repertoire.

            I will be brief about the three CETC Integrals, but two of them were quite interesting. The forbidding language of Iannis Xenakis, the composer-architect-mathematician   , certainly takes some time to absorb, for it is uncompromising and strong. The Jack Quartet (USA) tackled valiantly this very difficult music with mostly Greek names: "Tetora", "ST/4, l-080262", "Ergma", and especially the 15-minute "Tetras".

            I have long enjoyed Lambertini´s production, one of the best composers of her generation (she is is my contemporary). Her music is humorous, fresh, accessible. She has a fine ear for beautiful textures, and so she has written for the Trio Luminar (flute, viola and harp, as in a famous Debussy Sonata). No less than five pieces were on an author dear to her, Lewis Carroll: she has written two operas, "Alice in Wonderland" and "Through the Looking Glass", and the chosen scores for this concert belong to the same world of fantasy and refinement. Naturally, the Trio Luminar (or members of it) played them with their usual  delicacy.

            The other two pieces were vocal: on Ronsard ("Rossignol, mon mignon"), and on a different mood, the long and rather dramatic setting of "En el aura del sauce", poem by Juan L. Ortiz. Susanna Moncayo, in good voice, was accompanied by the Trio Luminar.

            Francisco Kröpfl, born in Hungary in 1931, has formed Argentine composers for several generations. His retrospective presented scores of widely divergent times: the first was from 1958, the others from 2006, 2007 and 2011. Severe, cerebral music, presented by the composer and correctly played by pianist Bruno Mesz and groups that included in one case  ("Relato") the spoken voice of Lucía Maranca.

            A strange hodgepodge of sounds, "Metropolis", "not what is usually considered as music", said the composer, was presented in its second version, with eight channels of sound. Hardly my cup of tea, but others may have more empathy for this sort of experiment.

For Buenos Aires Herald 

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