lunes, julio 27, 2015

Tough stuff at the start of the Barenboim marathon

            The so-called Abono Estelar 2015 of the Colón started with chamber groups of the WEDO (West Eastern Divan Orchestra) conducted by Daniel Barenboim. In terms of what generally attracts a mainstream audience paying very high prices, it was a decidedly offbeat experience, and only Barenboim could pull it off. At the end there was huge applause for a 40-minute première by Pierre Boulez, as if it were a Beethoven symphony.

            A piece of advice: if you go to any other of these concerts or are a subscriber, do buy the big hand programme, where you will find descriptions of the programmed scores. With the "common" one you are given nothing at all. But you won´t find the roster of players anywhere. Why? In an earlier visit I was told that it was for security reasons, as the WEDO is made up mostly of Israelis and Palestinians. However, the soloists of the orchestra in other sessions are mentioned: if they risk identification, why not the others? I agree that they may have a point in this crazy world that makes pacifists a target, but the whole existence of WEDO implies a definite risk, and I do feel I have the right to know who are the players.

            The strangeness of this concert has at least two points: the size of the "orchestra" and the aesthetics of the chosen scores. We heard 13 players in the first work, 15 in the second and 9 in the third. Hardly a symphonic concert...

            Now to the aesthetics. Richard Wagner´s "Siegfried Idyll" is his only chamber work, but not in the habitual molds of quartet, quintet, etc: wholly "sui generis". It was written in 1870 and is one of the most beautiful birthday presents ever: his wife Cosima Liszt woke up at their charming home in Tribschen, small village on Lake Lucerne, to the sounds of a 20-minute tone poem written for 13 instruments and based on melodies from "Siegfried". It is lovely music of sustained lyricism and mostly slow.  The playing was as pliant and sweet as the music demands, with specially fine solos from the lady hornist.

            And now, a total contrast: acidity and defiant modernism in Arnold Schönberg´s "First Chamber Symphony", Op.9, incredibly written in 1906; it is still tough music with difficult access, but undoubtedly an early masterpiece. It is tightly built on a harmony by fourths, not thirds as in tradition. For non-musicians: traditional harmony by thirds is, e.g., C-E-G (do-mi-sol). On fourths: C-F-D flat (do-fa-si bemol). Of course, at that time Debussy and Scriabin were also experimenting with those departures from history; but not with such vocation for violent contrasts and dissonances (expressionism "avant la lettre").

            The piece was often played here in the 50s and 60s thanks to that wonderful Orquesta de Amigos de la Música, and with great conductors: Hans Rosbaud (1952), Paul Kletzki (1957), Zubin Mehta (1962) and Michael Gielen (1967). But in recent decades it has been rarely played, and more´s the pity, for it is a seminal score in the gradual dissolution of tonality that would bring atonality and afterwards the twelve-tone system (in both cases, Schönberg was the leader). The version was very good.

            Pierre Boulez is now 90, and an old friend of Barenboim who has been his champion for decades. Both as composer and conductor he has deep influence. In the second field of endeavor he has always had a special magic to obtain transparency from the most convoluted textures.

            As a composer and a writer on music he has always been an "enfant terrible". A passionate endorser of twelve-tone music  but in the extreme version of Anton Von Webern, Boulez pushed to total serialisation of all parameters and produced a piece of enormous importance, heard twice in BA: "Le Marteau sans Maître" (premièred here in 1970).

            The extreme difficulty of his music and its complexity have always proved hard nuts to crack and his music is programmed quite seldom. In recent decades he has been influenced by composers that have made sound itself (not harmony, melody or rhythm) the basis of their invention. "Sur incises" (Argentine première) doesn´t altogether disregard the mentioned parameters but gives paramount value to a very particular texture that I have never heard before: three pianos, three harps and three percussionists.

            "Sur incises" is a colossal expansion to 40 minutes from "Incises", a 3 ½ minute piano piece.  "Incise" in French means "sentence", "clause", in English. Well, in this case, according to Pablo Gianera, we hear "the amplification of a minimal gesture, an ´appoggiatura´ and a brusque gesture falling to the low register".  And Boulez said: "a mirror of the piano sound transformed by percussion and harp".

            There´s a lot of turbulent music and  rhythms based on "fortissimo" repetition of chords. To my mind 20 minutes would have been enough. But the textures were fascinating. The percussion was made up of marimba, bells, xylophone and big drums that sounded like the steel ones used for calypso in Trinidad. The combination with the pianos and the cascading harps often was either beautiful or mordant.

            The playing seemed splendid (of course, I had no score). The music sounded cohesive and  technically perfect under the control of Barenboim. One question: no orchestra has more than one piano player and two harps; so apparently they were brought here specifically for this score! 

For Buenos Aires Herald

The National Symphony: from transcendent to mediatic

            Within a week the National Symphony (Orquesta Sinfónica Nacional) went from the transcendent to the purely mediatic. On July 10 the audience applauded with wild enthusiasm one of the best performances I´ve heard in concert of Mahler´s Second Symphony ("Resurrection"), one of his most cathartic. On July 17 the mediatic show was centered on Martha Argerich doing what probably has been her lightest concert ever in BA.

            I have a pronounced soft spot for Mahler´s Second, ever since I got in 1951 my very first vinyl album, the monumental score conducted by Otto Klemperer with the Vienna Symphony. I was twelve and the commotion lasted months as I played it over and over.

            Mahler always said that each of his symphonies builds a world of its own. The terrifying first movement was initially imagined as a tone poem called "Totenfeier" ("Celebration of Death") and later modified as the logical start of an 80-minute score that would end with Klopstock´s Ode to Resurrection. The second movement is a Ländler (slow country waltz) with a contrasting turbulent section; the third, an incredibly imaginative Scherzo of sardonic content; the fourth, just a metaphysical song, "Urlicht" ("Original Light").

            The enormous fifth  has a long purely symphonic stretch that starts with an earthquake that leaves bare the corpses and then pictures retrospectively  the long defiance of life until an offstage band leads to the concluding part: the choir sings very softly the beginning lines of the ode, and then the solo voices (soprano and contralto) intervene in the ever-growing texture, to finally arrive to the transfigured and glorious final minutes, the glow of Resurrection.

            It is a major challenge for any orchestra, and I am very glad to say that I haven´t heard the NS in such good shape for many months. But there was an essential factor. Of course, music lovers know well Enrique Arturo Diemecke, now in his tenth year as Principal Conductor of the Buenos Aires Philharmonic. But earlier than that he had conducted the NS in a very well-received concert, so it was a splendid idea to call him back for a concert at the recently inaugurated Blue Whale. And he emerged from the challenge with flying colors.

            We know he is an excellent Mahlerian, but he hasn´t done the Second at the Phil, probably because of the eternal problem of not counting with the Colón Choir (incompatibility of rehearsing hours). With the NS he had of course access to the admirable Coro Polifónico Nacional, a highly professional big outfit led by Roberto Luvini. And he also had two first-rate singers: Soledad de la Rosa (soprano) and Florencia Machado (contralto).

            They all gave of their best: an involved and intense orchestra where even the stressful long parts for trumpets and horns were solved, a perfect offstage band heard with  the ideal degree of distance, beautiful and strong choral singing, a crystalline soprano and a suitably contrasting full noble contralto. And Diemecke at his best, where I can only cavil at some accelerated bits, but always fully in charge with his immense memory and total command.

            I was rather worried by the excessive brilliancy and even stridency of the acoustics. It needs to be damped down and urgently, perhaps with curtains.

            You may remember the controversy, months ago, when the Blue Whale was to be inaugurated with a week-long Argerich Festival. It didn´t happen due to a never cleared up controversy regarding the costs of it; Argerich felt bad about it and cancelled.

Now she was back for just one concert and it became the mediatic hit of the year, as well as the lightest ever Argerich presentation.

            Frankly much of the fault is hers, for she commissioned Luis Bacalov a Two-Piano Concerto premièred here on this occasion, but earlier at Lugano. He is a crossover composer known for his film music, especially "Il Postino", and as a result the programme was made up of that concerto as "pièce de résistance"; two old tangos played by Bacalov, in his early eighties still a fine pianist; two other Bacalov pieces, "Astoreando" (of course, in Piazzolla´s style) and the mentioned "Il Postino", with its slow melody played nicely by bandoneonist Ramiro Boero; the "Fauretango" by Eduardo Hubert, old collaborator of Argerich in her festivals; and two Piazzolla pieces: the slow and expressive "Oblivion" and the energetic and fast "Tres minutos con la realidad".

            Added at the last minute, the Schumann Quintet with Argerich and four first desks of the NS...but only the first movement! (odd man out and incomplete). In fact it was the only substantial music of the evening.

            Argerich played as she always does: with fantastic accuracy and power. But we´ll have to wait until her Colón concerts to hear her in important material. Hubert  is a very good pianist, the orchestra (conducted by Bacalov) and the chamber players were alright.

            And the Concerto? It was made up of many small fragments in contrasting fast rhythmic and slow melodic moods separated by long rests and influenced by the tango that was at the center of what was supposed to be an Argerich night. The piece didn´t interest me.

            The colossal interest in this free concert meant that many thousands couldn´t enter the hall. But screens were put in other parts of the Centro Cultural Kirchner and even outside, and it was shown in TV. Much ado about little...

For Buenos Aires Herald

sábado, julio 18, 2015

“Cavalleria-Pagliacci” at Caminito? No way!

            Two short operas were destined to be important in history and become almost obligatory partners: Pietro Mascagni´s "Cavalleria Rusticana" ("Rustic Gentlemanliness"), 1890, and Ruggero Leoncavallo´s "I Pagliacci" ("The Clowns"), 1892.  Together they founded the new style in Italian opera: "verismo".  It is the musical counterpart of the literary realism of Zola and it deals with realistic subjects from everyday life, contrasting with the mythological or historical matters that had dominated up to then (although Bizet´s "Carmen" was a precursor).

            Both reacted against the closed numbers and adopted highly dramatic heightened recitatives and continuous action. The music is impulsive and melodic nevertheless, with emotions with which we can identify. Local color is imperative: a small Sicilian village (Mascagni),  Montanto di Calabria (Leoncavallo), similarly small and folkish. And the plots are also based on triangles and quadrangles of jealousy and death.  

            Giovanni Verga was an important Sicilian author  (1840-1922), a true verista. "Cavalleria Rusticana" is one of the short stories in "Vita dei campi", 1880; but he later transformed into a play (1884), and he revised it after Mascagni´s opera in 1896. The libretto is the work of Giovanni Targioni-Tozzetti and Guido Menasci. Leoncavallo wrote his own libretto based on a true story; his father had been the judge of Giovanni D´Alessandro, who had killed his wife because she was having an affair.

            In "I Pagliacci"  there´s something special: the theatre within the theatre represented by the mini-play based on the "commedia dell´arte" degenerates into tragedy when Canio demands her lover´s name, Nedda refuses and he kills both her and Silvio, the culprit.

            Mascagni´s sincerity and melodic gift make "Cavalleria..." enjoyable, though the libretto could be bettered (Mamma Lucia, Turiddu´s mother, is colorless; and the action take a long time to get going). Leoncavallo is much richer and innovative: the start is marvelous, as the Prologue sings to the audience explaining that what they are about to see is true life. And the characters are much more complex, especially the deformed villain Tonio and Canio. 

            "Cav-Pag", as the Met always bills it, is still very famous all over the world. The Colón has staged it regularly, though  the  elapsed time now has been greater: 15 years. My mother used to reminisce about the 1917 Caruso performance, when she was a little girl; my mind goes back to 1968, when Bergonzi and Bumbry moved me in "Cavalleria..." and the magnificent Jon Vickers (recently deceased) and Cornell MacNeil left indelible memories. And in good productions by Margarita Wallmann.

            This time we have a Caminito "Cav-Pag". My reaction: no way! But others may feel differently. José Cura means it as an homage to the Italian immigrants of the 1900s, but La Boca isn´t Sicily or Calabria. And certainly tango has no place at all in those verista masterpieces, deeply Down South Italy. This is what he did and you will decide if it is a cup of tea that attracts you or not.

a)     He joins both dramas as if they were originally thought as a diptych; thus, a pregnant Santuzza, Mamma Lucia and the couple Alfio-Lola, plainly in bad terms, appear in "I Pagliacci".

b)     The tango appears from the very beginning of "Cavalleria...", with "Caminito" sung by Gardel; Cura even adds a bandoneon in the Intermezzo (plus a  couple dancing), and the intermission between both operas gives us a tango and milonga miniconcert by bandoneon player Juan Kujta. Lights are kept low and if you want to read the programme you have to go to the foyer.

            c)   He changes two key final phrases: "Hanno ammazzato compare Turiddu!"                           isn´t yelled offstage but said softly by Santuzza. And at the end of "I                               Pagliacci", incredibly, it isn´t Canio that says "La commedia è finita" but                    Mamma Lucia!

             d)  There are plenty of other arbitrary changes but space precludes going on. I                          will only mention three: Alfio, a rough carter, now drives a Ford T!                                          Silvio, Nedda´s lover, is a protégé of Mamma Lucia. And the four members                      of Canio´s comedy are now expanded to a small circus including freaks.

            If you accept all this, the show is rather handsome, with a nice unit set (Caminito plus a church) by Cura, good dramatic marking and crowd handling, and adequate costumes (again, if you accept the changes).

            The musical side had a characteristic: all the singers were Argentine. In "Cavalleria..." I was impressed by Guadalupe Barrientos, singing with a full expressive voice and acting with passionate involvement. Enrique Folger was  intense as Turiddu, Mariana Rewerski was a tempting Lola and Anabella Carnevali showed a substantial contralto voice as Mamma Lucia. Leonardo Estévez as Alfio was correct.

            Cura remains a dramatic artist, but his voice has lost much of its beauty and firmness. Fabián Veloz was an effective Prologue (not his fault if he didn´t sing in front of the drop curtain) and Tonio, with a healthy baritone though without the subtlety or punch of a MacNeil. Mónica Ferracani, as in 2.000, sang Nedda with élan and fine looks. Beppe/Arlecchino was well acted and rather poorly sung by Sergio Spina. And Silvio was dully expressed by Gustavo Ahualli.

            The experienced maestro Roberto Paternostro, well-known here, did a very good job, with natural expansion where needed and fine support of the singers. An orchestra with small smudges but otherwise good, and enthusiastic contributions of both choirs (mixed and children´s), were positive elements. 

For Buenos Aires Herald

“The Marriage of Figaro”, comedy travestied into farce

            "Le Nozze di Figaro" ("The Marriage of Figaro") is the model adaptation by Lorenzo Da Ponte of Beaumarchais´ splendid comedy, second part of the trilogy begun with "The Barber of Seville".  Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart gave us the best Classicist "commedia in musica".

            In recent decades Buenos Aires has caught up with Europe and the piece is done very regularly, though rarely well. Frankly I had good vibes about María Jaunarena´s production for Juventus Lyrica, for she had staged admirably not so long ago Britten´s "The turn of the Screw". And having grown in her profession first as costume designer and then  as producer at Juventus, founded by her mother Ana D´Anna –a Mozart fanatic- I did hope that she would respect the style of the work.

            Unfortunately it wasn´t so. From the beginning, and with very few good moments, we had comedy turned into gross farce.  I ask from any producer congruence and a comprehension of the material; I didn´t find it. First, I disliked the fact that we couldn´t hear the Overture by itself: she opened the drop curtain and we found ourselves in front of a very bare and ugly stage design by Gonzalo Córdova (the other culprit in this failed production).

            Then, Act I began, with an invisible Figaro counting if a bed destined to that room will have enough space; in its place we see a miserable seat. Soon after the signs were clear: the singers, especially Figaro and Cherubino, would be manhandled often, the "fun" would come from pratfalls and not from the subtlety of text and music. Also, one wants good rhythm and spryness in "Nozze", but not constant movement, often mixing ridiculous dancing.

             Susanna is the Countess´ maid and she is rather special –for instance, she takes singing lessons from Don Basilio (the intriguer from "The Barber", though here a tenor,  not a bass). She is astute and charming, but not here, where she is constantly vulgar. The part isn´t helped by the chosen singer, María Goso, but anyway she is poorly marked. 

            Figaro must be, and is here, alert, agile and ingenious, but not to the extreme of moving all the time like a spinning top (I admire the singer´s topnotch physical condition). Marcellina turns out to be, in the strangest episode of the libretto, Figaro´s mother, but here she looks young; they forgot the makeup?

            Cherubino is a delicious character and Cecilia Pastawski seems born to it, but she becomes a punching ball  of Figaro in his famous aria ending the First Act.  Before  that, the big comedy scene in which first Cherubino and then the Count must hide is completely absurd for the scene lacks the appropriate stage elements.

            A breath of fresh air comes with the start of Act II, when the exquisite Oriana Favaro sings the Countess´ opening air and nothing interrupts her. But later the inadequacy of the stage design again intrudes, for Cherubino hides apparently in the closet of a big room otherwise unused and with a superfluous bed. And the jump into the garden is ludicrously wrong.

            In the Third Act the Recognition scene is played for crude laughs, but the big Finale was a good moment, for the orchestra had the time to place themselves at the back of the stage, thus accompanying with greater verisimilitude the ceremony and better musical effect.

            The Fourth Act has the least credible and unpleasant garden I´ve ever seen; the "trees" are supposed to be functional to the action as hiding places; they weren´t. And it wasn´t helped by the lighting, also by Córdova (there was too much of it).

            The costumes by Jaunarena were much better than her staging, for they were in the spirit of the late XVIIth Century.

            Fortunately the musical side had several positive aspects, although with some mistakes.  As happened in recent years, the young Hernán Schvartzman was the conductor, and I suspect he was the author of the added ornaments to most arias, to my mind excessive and unnecessary but in style. His tempi were right and the orchestra played well; it was made up of a mix of local players with some (I presume) from The Hague, where Schvartzman lives. The Choir (Hernán Sánchez Arteaga) was alright. And the harpsichord recitatives were brilliantly done by Manuel de Olaso.

            The cast was dominated by the very good Figaro of Juan Salvador Trupia y Rodríguez (Asturian but a BA resident), with firm and solid voice and mercurial acting. The Count of Fernando Grassi was also solid and professional though not aristocratic. Favaro was a lovely and refined Countess, perhaps lacking the personal touches that can make the character grow. Pastawski, better handled, would have been an ideal Cherubino, but she was even instructed to start haltingly her aria "Voi che sapete".

            Of the main characters María Goso let the team down as Susanna: apart from being far from the "physique du rôle", I was constantly bothered by her sliding from note to note, the antithesis of Mozartian singing.

            Walter Schwartz doubled as Bartolo and Antonio the gardener (as happened in the Viennese première) and similarly Norberto Lara was Basilio and Don Curzio the notary; both were convincing though over the top. Two new singers did well: María Cecilia Pérez San Martín (replacing the announced Sabrina Cirera) and the charming and salacious Julieta Fernández Alfaro as Barbarina. 

For Buenos Aires Herald 

“Cinderellas” in ballet and opera: fascinating comparisons

            Charles Perrault (1628-1703) is still famous for his collection of folk fairy tales, "Contes de ma Mère l´Oye" (1697). Some of them have elicited valuable ballets and operas, or even musicals, such as "Beauty and the Beast". "Sleeping Beauty" inspired Tchaikovsky´s best ballet but also operas such as Respighi´s "La Bella addormentata nel bosco", premièred here some years ago. Ravel produced his delicious "Ma Mère l´Oye", eventually made into a ballet.

            "Cendrillon" ("Cinderella") is my subject today. Curiously enough, last year we saw the posthumous and only ballet by Johann Strauss II, "Aschenbrödel" ("Cinderella" in German) with choreography by Renato Zanella, on a plot loosely based on the original. It is charming music and agreeable choreography, but Prokofiev´s ballet is an important work on the subject, and I am very glad that the Teatro Argentino programmed it with a choreography by the Venezuelan master Vicente Nebrada as revived by Laura Fiorucci. In fact, the event happened in July 2014 but at that time I was traveling in Germany (I wrote about it in the Herald);  now they offered a new series of performances and I could catch the one of July 3rd (second cast).

            Prokofiev´s greatest ballet is, of course, "Romeo and Juliet" (it is in fact the best of the XXth Century) but "Cinderella" is certainly quite valuable. It exploits two veins of the composer´s rich inspiration: the poetic and sentimental (Cinderella and the Prince) and the grotesque (the Stepmother and Stepsisters). Beautiful dreamy waltzes for the first, sarcastic and mordant music for the second.

            Prokofiev and Stravinsky, both Russian, are the most prolific great ballet composers of the preceding century. To stick to the first, I mention two savagely effective ballets of his youth: "Ala and Lolly" is rarely done but the "Scythian Suite" extracted from it is the closest Prokofiev ever came to Stravinsky´s momentous "Rite of Spring"; and "Chout, the buffoon" is as lurid as Bartók´s "The Miraculous Mandarin". There´s also the admirable "Prodigal Son" choreographed by Balanchine, the machinistic short ballet "The Steel Trot" ("Le Pas d´Acier"), the peasant story of "On the Dnieper" and the full-length last ballet, on a folk tale, "The Stone Flower".

            Prokofiev liked to fully use his material, and he extracted from the 50 numbers of "Cinderella" no less than three orchestral suites and three series of piano pieces.The ballet was written during the war years 1941-4 (!) and premièred at Moscow´s Bolshoi on November 1945.

            Nebrada presented a long time ago at the Colón a charming Neoclassic traversal of Venezuelan waltzes written by Teresa Carreño, but I haven´t seen other works of his until this "Cinderella", also Neoclassic. As Fiorucci said, this "Cinderella" "has absolute respect for the original story though giving special importance to fantasy and magic".

             The hand programme refers to an earlier version choreographed at the old Argentino by Liliana Belfiore, but I didn´t see it. However, I remember vividly the George Skibine splendid choreography for the Colón about 40 years ago. I haven´t seen the Prokofiev "Cinderella" since then. I have long cherished the complete music conducted by Rozhdestvensky, and I still remember one of my daughters, then six, asking  for the stepdaughters´ dance and gyrating across the room untiringly...

            The dreamy and Neoclassic part is impeccably done by Nebrada, with taste and knowledge. As to the grotesque, there´s plenty of it. In fact the threesome of mother and daughters dance a lot, the mother supercilious, the daughters boorish and funny. They were very well impersonated by the tall Darío Lesnik and the much smaller  Miguel Moyano and Juan Pablo Caballero, adding stage business without music.

            The long divertimenti on the Four Seasons were done with elegance, led by Paula García Brunelli as the Fairy Godmother. The Romantic couple was pleasantly done by Julieta Paul and the elegant Miguel Ángel Klug. The agile Esteban Schenone (The Duke), the impeccable Victor Filimonov (Dance Master) and Leticia Latrónico as the Good Witch completed the cast. The Corps de Ballet did well.

            I was impressed by the quality of the production: Sabrina Streiff as Stage Directress;  imaginative and finely executed stage designs by Gastón Joubert; nice costumes by Nicolás Biolatto (and appropriately ridiculous ones for the Step- characters); beautiful lighting by Leandro Calonge; and brilliant projections by Federico Bongiorno.

            Carlos Calleja was the good conductor of an attentive orchestra, although some finer points were absent.

            I was happy to catch one of only two performances of Marta Lambertini´s chamber opera "¡Cenicientaaa!" at the Margarita Xirgú. Some years ago I had seen the première at the Teatro del Globo and last season I received a CD of it. She has an uproarious humor both in the music and the text, written in an invented "language" inimitably her own.

            Apart from a difficult Overture, the music is quite direct but refined at the same time, always impeccably attuned to the theatrical situation. The story is reasonably well told in macarronic style.

            The presentation was by the DAMus  (Department of Musical Arts Carlos López Buchardo) and the DAV (Department of Visual Arts) of the UNA (Universidad Nacional de las Artes). With ingenious cut-paper costumes, musical direction by Andrés Gerszenzon and stage direction by Bea Odoriz, the Conjunto "Américas" and the Percussion Ensemble (both of the DAMus),a group of enthusiastic students led by María Belén Fos (Cinderella) and Luz Matas (Matroshka) gave of their best.

For Buenos Aires Herald                 

Rameau´s quirky humor at his best in “Platée”

            There is no doubt that Jean-Philippe Rameau was the best Franch-born opera composer of the Eighteenth Century.  Although he came remarkably late to the genre, he was helped by longevity and he dominated lyrical creation in Paris from 1733 to 1760.

             His works for the stage covered a wide range: "tragédie lyrique", such as his first opera , "Hippolyte et Aricie", written at 50 and fortunately seen here; "pastorale"; "ballet héroïque" (in fact an alternation of ballet and singing parts), such as "Les Indes Galantes", semistaged at the Colón in 2002; "opéra"; "opéra-comique"; "comédie ballet"; "ballet bouffon", such as the "Platée" I´m reviewing; "acte de ballet"; "divertissement"; "tragédie"; "ballet"; "fête"; "opéra-ballet"; "pastorale héroïque"; "ballet allégorique".

            Rameau brought the "opéra-ballet" (that singularly French variety of stage entertainment) to its highest level. There is ballet even in the tragedies: the aforementioned "Hippolyte et Aricie" and the only Rameau opera staged twice in B.A., "Castor et Pollux" (Colón, 1936, and some years ago at a strange venue, the Planetario).

              There is a vexed question in the matter of the French Baroque revival, not just here but in Europe. When it started about forty years ago the intent was to do it as faithful as possible to the original stagings. And that meant the necessity of an exhumation of the true Baroque ballet, without points (they came in the following century). A specialised ensemble was created, Ris et Danceries, and we had the good luck of appreciating that particular style when they visited us at the Cervantes decades ago.  A valuable consequence was that the Instituto Superior de Arte of the Colón had master classes from a member of that group, Ana Yepes.

            Of course, costumes and makeup were like those of the Eighteenth Century, and at the small Versailles theatre some of the characteristic machines and special effects of the time were evoked. The musical directors of Baroque ensembles initially approved, and some integrated jewels of interpretation were obtained. But then the cancer of "aggiornamento" started to grow and stagings became more and more absurd, until there was a complete dissociation between the music and the staging. And that is the general lamentable state of the art nowadays, although there are exceptions. When there are, my European colleagues condemn them...

            "Platée" is the only Rameau opera specifically called "ballet bouffon". And indeed it is that. There are two versions: during February 23-March 31 Versailles saw the celebrations of the wedding between Louis, the Dauphin, with the infanta María Teresa Rafaela of Spain, and for it two works by Rameau were presented: "La Princesse de Navarre" and "Platée"; however, the latter wasn´t liked by some, it was deemed obscene. Nevertheless,  Louis XV named Rameau the King´s Chamber Music Composer.

             Some years later it was revised and offered at Paris´ Académie Royale de Musique (in fact, the Paris Opéra) and it was a great success. The original libretto by Adrien-Joseph Le Valois d´Orville on an idea by Jacques Autreau was modified by Ballot de Savot. Voltaire had panned the original opera,  Rousseau praised the revision.

            The story is simple: Jupiter is assailed by Juno´s jealousy; a spoof is prepared: Jupiter will seem in love with a horridly ugly nymph of the swamps, Platée; they get to the ceremony of marriage, and at the last moment Juno irately intervenes, but when she sees Platée´s face she breaks into laughter. The poor nymph is ridiculed and spews stormy invectives. 

            The music is marvelously ingenious: with  imaginative orchestration and harmony plus a variety of rhythms and melodies it pictures ideally every situation.  There are plenty of other characters, especially an unexpected one, La Folie (Madness), who takes Platée´s side.

            This was the joint presentation of Marcelo Birman´s Compañía de las Luces, the Ballet de la Bienal Arte Joven and the Orquesta Barroca Nuevo Mundo from Rancagua (Chile), and the soloists were a mix of Argentine and Chilean singers. The wildly modern and kitschy production and choreography were respectively by Pablo Maritano and Carlos Trunsky. The venue was the main hall of the Usina del Arte, there were two performances (I saw the second) and it was frantically successful.

            The high tenor Alexis Ezequiel Sánchez did a remarkably effective job as the outsized and grotesque nymph; both in his funny and ridiculous gestures and his good singing he managed a very difficult part with complete lack of inhibition. There was a brilliant cast around "her": Patricia Cifuentes as a supersonic Madness and as Clarine, Evelyn Ramírez as Juno, Norberto Marcos (Jupiter), Pablo Pollitzer (both Thespis and Mercure), Sergio Carlevaris (a lanky bass Momus), Patricio Sabaté (Cithéron/Un satyre) and Soledad Molina (Amour).   The work of the combined orchestra and the choir was wholly admirable, showing again the excellence of Birman in this repertoire. The dancers were flexible and gamely adapted to the libidinous situations.

            As to the staging, I admit it was funny, but I am of the traditional persuasion. I disliked the constant androgynous ambiguity of the choreography and the cheap "porteño" associations, but there was unbridled stage business and the spirit of "Platée" is indeed wild. Only, what I saw collided with the exquisite music all the time. It irks me but fusion and transgression are liked by current audiences; I am an old fogey and defend other values. What matters most is that "Platée" was premièred in a brave joint effort.  

For Buenos Aires Herald     

The Budapest Festival Orchestra: a four-year treat

            Every four years since 2003 the Mozarteum Argentino brings us the Budapest Festival Orchestra, probably the best in Hungary. It is an admirable and rewarding habit. Their two concerts with different programmes will surely remain as high points of this season.

            About thirty years ago this orchestra was founded by conductor Iván Fischer and pianist-turned-conductor Zoltán Kocsis. Fischer has remained  its Principal Conductor, a surprisingly long tenure in these times. He has been PC of the National Symphony, Washington; and he is currently director of the Berlin Konzerthaus and of its Orchestra.

            Fischer is a man of innovative ideas, and this was more in evidence during this visit. First, the disposition of the orchestra: I have never seen before the basses  placed on a high platform smack in the back center of the stage; nor in the second concert that the harp would be placed exactly in the middle of them, so that some relevant notes would be clearly audible.    

            Furthermore, in the first concert the clarinet first desk played close to the conductor in Prokofiev´s Overture on Hebrew melodies, for it has almost at the beginning the lead in a characteristic klezmer tune. And  all the woodwind players brought their chairs and music stands in front of the piano in Ravel´s  Concerto, as this is indeed a work with numerous meaningful solos for these instruments and they were brought into sharp relief.

            Furthermore, they tune by groups and according to a different reference tone, not with the traditional oboe A; and they sound perfectly well. The players exude solidarity among them, a rare chamber feeling in a full symphony orchestra. And they evidently love their conductor, who has had such a long and fruitful partnership with them. The organism isn´t huge, at least as they appeared in this tour: 77 artists. The level is high throughout, but I will mention four players that seemed to me absolutely top: the concertino Violetta Eckhardt, Philippe Tondre (oboe), Jeremy Sassano (English horn) and Ákos Ács (clarinet).

            Decades ago Georgian pianist Alexander Toradze came to BA and I was impressed then by the power and exactitude of his mechanism. This time I had no doubt about his marvelous dexterity but I felt quite differently about his interpretations. Whilst I liked his Ravel a lot (scintillating precision in the fast movements and great singability in the Mozartian slow one) I was flabbergasted by his enormous licenses of speed and inflexions in the one-movement Prokofiev First Concerto.

            It isn´t only that I have long been accustomed to the reference recordings of Andor Foldes and Sviatoslav Richter, but I had occasion to analyze the score deeply when it was a chosen work in one of the Argerich competitions, for I was part of the jury. I love this so-called "savage" piece of the young Prokofiev but there´s order in the apparent improvisation, and the speed and phrasing markings must be observed.

            One good thing about both concerts is that they offered a lot of music: about 95 minutes in each against the habitual 75 to 80. Two bad things: a) the encores were unacceptable: in the first concert Fischer had a lamentably demagogic idea: instead of playing, the musicians uncovered big sheets of paper and sang a capella the tango "Por una cabeza"! And I´m sorry to say, about half the audience broke into frantic applause. On the second concert, as I saw that the players did the same, I left (I was told that this time it was a Brahms song, a less irritating choice but still wrong). b) There was ill-timed clapping after the first movement of the Ravel, and Fischer applauded along, giving them reason!

            But the music was great and that´s what matters most. Prokofiev´s Overture on hebrew themes is the 1934 orchestration of a piece written originally for sextet (1920) and it is a charming score of imaginative and personal writing, rarely heard. The lovely "Pavane for a deceased infanta" is Ravel at his most refined. Both works were played before the Concerti. The latter were played, so to say, according to the soloist: the Prokofiev felt wild in the wrong way, but the Ravel was exquisite, witty and exhilarating.

            After the interval, one of the very best interpretations I have heard of Brahms´ Fourth Symphony showed that Fischer is a redoubtable conductor. Perfectly weighed tempi and amazingly subtle phrasing plus all the needed power.

            The second concert  started with a welcome performance of Bartók´s "Hungarian sketches" ("Magyar képek"), a 1931 skilled orchestration of five piano pieces from different earlier works; of course, it was impeccably done. Then, that testamental masterpiece, Richard Strauss´ "Four Last Songs",  was the vehicle for the Argentine debut of the young Swedish soprano Miah Persson, who is having a fine career as a Mozart-Strauss singer. She has a nice sweet voice that expands in high, long-held notes but is rather weak in the lows; the interpretation didn´t extract the most from the lovely Hesse and Eichendorff texts, and the timbre, whilst agreeable, doesn´t sound unmistakeable. But the music flowed beautifully from Fischer´s hands.

            The Mahler Fourth was marvelous, perhaps the best I have heard in concert, with ideal give-and-take and adaptation for its constant changes. Persson sang pleasantly the Angel´s ingenuous final song. The orchestra reigned supreme. What a heart-warming world this symphony contains! 

For Buenos Aires Herald 

At the CETC: semiopera, hybrid, concert

            The CETC (Centro de Experimentación del Teatro Colón) has been very active recently. This article covers three widely divergent offerings.

            The young Argentine composer Patricia Martínez obtained the Composition Doctorate at Stanford, Cal. She also studied  electroacoustic techniques at Quilmes University and computer music at Paris´ IRCAM. Now she presented a continuous diptych called "Breve sueño" and based on a poem by John Donne: "After a brief dream we wake up eternal" (literal translation from the hand programme).  "Más allá" is a dancing piece based on a text by Martínez herself; it is reproduced in the  programme but there´s no actor/actress reading it. The music is electroacoustic and recorded by the ensamble CEPROMUSIC of Mexico DF (director José Luis Castillo).

            My synthesis: "If my body is a bother, a silence, ...just dissolved matter...always without time, and if life is only a dream, a sphere of words exiled in the air... just an apparent limit of the wind that spreads the substance...stopped in an instant whilst it burns and destroys itself...?". A tall order indeed for choreographer Melanie Alfie. Three very different (and competent) dancers, María Aguirregomezcorta, Luciana Brugal and Ivanna Ramonino, perform difficult interlaced anguished steps. I wasn´t attracted by the sounds, but I admit not being convinced by most electroacoustic music.

            Musically I enjoyed much more "Los durmientes", second part of the diptych. Ten vocal and instrumental pieces are based on material taken from "Testi orientali inediti sopra i sette dormienti di Efeso" (Fourth Century, translated from the Coptic and the Syriac into Italian by Ignacio Giudi, 1884-5),  and Donne´s "Death, be not proud". Five singers and five players coordinated by Santiago Santero gave us the contrasted, intense and varied music, and two dancers (Brugal and Ramonino) brought a visual touch. Mariela Yeregui helped with the electronics and Sergio Iriarte with the lighting.       Some titles of the fragments indicate the general feel of this creation: "Persecution", "The dream", "Haikus/ Madrigals on Dreaming", "Resurrection", "Resurrection mirrored", "Death". The staging as such was flimsy, with little movement except for the dancers; can it be considered a semiopera, as so many works  written today that are hard to place in a category? I rather feel it is more like a concert. 

            A curious thing has happened in Buenos Aires concerning a tale by Hans Christiana Andersen: the poor match girl that dies from winter cold has inspired two current composers to write scores about it. Last year Helmut Lachenmann´s "Das Mädchen mit den Schwefelhölzern" ("The Little Match Girl"), premièred at the 1996 Salzburg Festival, reached the Colón. It lasts two hours, uses a big orchestra and is "made largely with obtrusive sounds" (Paul Grifffiths). Colleagues didn´t like it, feeling it was chaotic and unpleasant (I was traveling at that time).

            And now, the CETC has premièred "The little match girl passion", an unusual combination of the Andersen tale with the Saint Matthew Passion (!) written by the American David Lang (words and music). For it he won the Pulitzer Prize in 2008. Fifteen fragments in 40 minutes. Twelve singers in semicircle sing stark simple music based on short ascending melodies and rhythmic chords. It has a spare expressivity but it has little variety and grows monotonous.

            The vocal group Musica Inaudita did very well; the singers are truly professional, and the pure bell-like soprano of Mercedes García Blesa stood out. The conductor wasn´t identified but it probably was Pablo Piccinni, for he has an interesting career as such and is listed as one of the baritones. There were a few instrumental touches. The Brazilian group Superuber accompanied the story with black-and-white projections, generally apposite.

            An interesting concert was added to the announced season. The talented Italian pianist Giusy Caruso (debut) offered a valuable combination of Twentieth Century composers. She presented each score with useful concepts in Italian.

            The early Eight Preludes by Olivier Messiaen are already characteristic of this very personal creator. Himself a pìanist, these colorful pieces have such titles as "Ecstatic song in a sad landscape", "Defunct instants", "The impalpable sounds of a dream" or "Bells of anguish and farewell tears".

            Jacques Charpentier, born 1933, wrote an enormous cycle called "72 études karnatiques". Karnataka is a state in the deep South of India with Dravidic people very different from those in the North; their music is striking and imaginative  and they use various modes to express moods of nature. We heard from the eighth cycle "Quasi sonata", an arduous 11-minute piece that attracted me a great deal.

            Pierre Boulez is now ninety; he wrote his epigrammatic "Notations" decades ago. Twelve pieces in less than ten minutes: scintillating, extremely hard to play, uncompromising.

                George Crumb, born 1929, is a grand old man of the American avantgarde. His "Eine kleine Mitternachtsmusik" ( a pun on Mozart´s "Eine kleine Nachtmusik") has as subtitle "Ruminations on ´Round Midnight´ by Thelonious Monk" (he was one of the quirkiest and most creative jazzmen). Written for amplified piano, it is a sprawling piece (18 minutes) with some recited passages. Although I liked it, I also felt that it overstayed its welcome; some editing seems in order.

            Caruso seemed to me a most accomplished player, who has internalized all this complicated music to the point that they seem second nature for her. It was a pleasure to hear her, and she gave us a rousing encore, Ginastera´s "Danza del gaucho matrero".

For Buenos Aires Herald

The Müller/Francesconi “Quartett”: extreme degradation, brilliant presentation

            The American première of Luca Francesconi´s "Quartett" at the Colón is certainly controversial. Most people will agree that the presentation by Àlex Ollé (from La Fura dels Baus) is an asset, but many will feel that the text reaches a level of combined degradation, obscenity and blasphemy such as never before has been seen at this theatre.

            I can mention earlier operas that provoked the senses of the audience: Richard Strauss´ "Salome", Berg´s "Lulu", Prokofiev´s "The Angel of Fire" (which will be staged this season), Leo Maslíah´s  "Maldoror", Weill´s "The Ascent and Fall of the City of Mahagonny". However,  the sheer crudeness of the language (even more explicit in the translation into Spanish by Mónica Zaionz) and of the subject matter go way beyond what opera audiences have heard before.

            Some facts before I go further. Choderlos de Laclos wrote his epistolar novel "Les liaisons dangereuses" in 1782 but it was only published in 1796 : I interpret this as a signal that its portrait of the depraved cynicism of two aristocrats wasn´t tolerated by Louis XVI´s censure but after the Revolution it was welcomed. 

            Roger Vadim, the discoverer of Brigitte Bardot, was understandably interested in the subject and made a film with Gérard Philipe as Valmont. Later, Christopher Hampton wrote the script for Stephen Frears´ famous film with Malkovich, Close and Pfeiffer. And Milos Forman filmed "Valmont". 

            Heiner Müller is considered an important German playright (1929-95); his re-interpretations of Shakespeare include "Hamlet Machine", seen in our city. "Quartett" was written in 1982 and is an adaptation of Choderlos de Laclos´ novel in starkly modern terms. Luca Francesconi is author of both the libretto and the music of his curiously named "epic opera"(why? there´s nothing epic in it). And he decided to write it in English, not Italian nor German, I don´t know why, especially considering that it was commissioned by Milan´s La Scala.

            According to Müller, the action occurs at a salon prior to the French Revolution and, reflecting his black pessimism, a bunker after World War III. There are thirteen scenes in a continuous 80-minute act; the first twelve between the Marquise de Merteuil and the Viscount Valmont; the last, with no words, is only acted by Merteuil after Valmont´s death, provoked by the poisoned wine given to him by the Marquise. Here she follows words included in "Machine Hamlet", where she tears apart her prison-house, and surrealistically bloodies herself with her own heart.

            In the first five scenes the two libertines become increasingly vicious in their words; from scenes six to eight there´s an inversion of roles: she acts as Valmont seducing Madame de Tourvel (Valmont!); scene nine is an interlude that finds the two of them vacillating; in scene ten Merteuil takes the part of the virgin Volanges, possessed by Valmont; in scene eleven they are again themselves; and in twelve Valmont acts as Tourvel and Merteuil poisons him.       

            Francesconi is a resourceful composer who has written numerous operas. In "Quartett" there are only two singers playing the four roles. There is a pit chamber orchestra of seventeen players (called the "IN orchestra") plus a big one ("OUT" orchestra) accompanied by a wordless mixed choir except for a final phrase in German: "now we are alone, cancer, my love". And all this mixed with electronic music. The solo singers are amplified for they couldn´t be heard otherwise.

            The protagonists´ music is more accessible, generally in a traditional "arioso" style, and they even sing a stylised waltz. There are some spoken  words, but mostly it is straightforward singing.  Although there is a superabundance of effects, they are always skillful.

            The Müller play was offered three times in Buenos Aires, staged by Szuchmacher and Suárez Marzal, but I couldn´t see it. On the basis of the Francesconi libretto, well written in English, I find it a continuous appellation to the baser instincts, accenting all that is disgusting about our flesh and with numerous intimations of death. And there´s not a whit of elegance such as I found in Frears´ film, which means that I much prefer Choderlos de Laclos and Hampton.

            Enthusiastic kudos to the singers: I found them splendid. Mezzosoprano Allison Cook carries all before her:  magnetic presence, great acting ability and a strong dramatic voice handled with ease, except for a bit more vibrato than required. Robin Adams is a firm baritone very professional both in the singing and in his involved, powerful acting. We hate them but we admire them as well.

            Brad Lubman seemed to me a very competent conductor, coordinating the whole thing coherently and with a feeling for sound. In the performance I saw last Friday there were a few minutes of suspense, for at the start -and twice- the electronic music refused to function; but it was solved and all was well. By the way, the OUT music was pre-recorded and came from La Scala production.

            This time Ollé was in his element, after his nasty Verdi "Un ballo in maschera". The room was a cube suspended in the air  (stage designer, Alfons Flores). The producer handled his actor-singers well, avoiding too explicit sexual scenes but leaving no doubt about their perverse natures. The clothes for her (Lluc Castells) were attractive but his were nondescript. There was imaginative and beautiful lighting (Marco Filibeck) and very interesting projections by Franc Aleu (city, sea, the characters).

For Buenos Aires Herald

“Don Pasquale”, final crown of the “opera buffa”

            Although it started around 1720 as one-act "buffo intermezzi" (such is the famous Pergolesi "La Serva Padrona") intercalated in "opere serie" as a way of bringing a smile to the audience in an evening largely given to drama, as the audiences liked it, the genre soon grew to a full evening and many hundred were produced. During the later XVIIth Century, the two great names were Paisiello and Cimarosa. When the XIXth began, Rossini flourished as its best exponent. Donizetti wrote one-acters and full-evening "opere buffe", and the crown of his production is also the final flash of this sort of opera: "Don Pasquale".

            "Don Pasquale" is dated 1842 and the libretto by Giovanni Ruffini is based on "Ser Marcantonio" by Angelo Anelli, libretto for an opera by a now forgotten composer, Stefano Pavesi. As Gaetano Donizetti had written several "buffo libretti" for other operas he created, it is quite possible that he was co-author with Ruffini.

            It is a simple farce based on exaggeration: an old man (Pasquale) requires his nephew (Ernesto) to marry a girl he doesn´t want, for he is enamoured with Norina; he refuses; then,  Pasquale wants to get married himself. But his doctor, Malatesta, presents to him a supposed modest sister, "Sofronia" (Norina, whom Pasquale hasn´t met): the ingenuous bourgeois falls into the trap, and "marries" her (a false marriage).

            As soon as she is "empowered" she turns into a harrowing vixen, spends reams of money and finally slaps him. Pasquale is again fooled reading a planted letter where a lover concerts a meeting with "Sofronia": when the septuagenarian "surprises" them together, he is told that she is Norina. He relaxes when it is revealed that the marriage was a fake, he forgives and the young people will marry.

            The music  is always charming and sometimes very beautiful, as in the tenor Serenade and following duet with the soprano. And there´s the famous buffo duet of Pasquale and Malatesta. The opera has always been very successful and  there has been no shortage of good "Don Pasquales" in my experience since 1950, but this is the first time for Buenos Aires Lírica; it is their comedy of the year and I find it a reasonable choice.

            The last time the Colón offered it was in 1997, but before the theatre offered it regularly and I remember with particular admiration two revivals:  in 1958 there was a good local cast except for the best buffo of those times, Fernando Corena; and in 1965 the artists were splendid: Geraint Evans, Sesto Bruscantini, Luigi Alva and Jeanette Scovotti, plus the sure hand of conductor Fernando Previtali, and the joyous, imaginative production by Ernst Pöttgen.

            The three local singers on the present instances are among the best we have, especially Hernán Iturralde as Pasquale: the voice is rotund throughout the whole range, the musicality impeccable and the acting very convincing. Although there was a touch of incisiveness at first, Oriana Favaro remains the talented young lyric soprano we know, and her physical beauty certainly helps. She plays the comedy with élan, at times a true minx and at others a melting lover.

            Santiago Ballerini has a firm high register but his voice lacks the creaminess the part needs; however, he found his best form in the Third Act, and the aforementioned Serenade and Duet were beautifully sung. It isn´t his fault if the producer made of him a rather absurd marionette at times. Alas, there was a fly in the ointment: the Brazilian Homero Velho (debut) proved a poor import. In the first two acts the voice was harsh and the line ungainly, and it was only in the Third Act that he arrived to a passable level, even if he is an agreeable actor. The short Notary role was correctly done by Enzo Romano.

               Juan Casasbellas has long been the very good Choir Director of BAL, but  this time he also conducted the orchestra . Although the style was tasteful and he phrased nicely, at times there were some blurry orchestral moments along with others that were satisfactory. The Choir as usual was committed; in this opera they have only one star moment, in the Third Act, and they did well.  Later on they accompanied the tenor in the serenade, and this was one of the few inspired moments in the Brazilian producer André Heller- Lopes´work: each member stood in a different loge with a light in his/her hand, and as such was my seating I was surprised  by suddenly hearing a voice nicely in tune centimeters from my head.

            To be fair, there were quality stage designs by Daniela Taiana, with well executed lateral "buildings" thatr looked like Venice,  fine gowns for Norina by Sofía Di Nunzio and resourceful lighting by Gonzalo Córdova. The problem was the producer´s idea of giving us a "commedia dell´arte" "Don Pasquale", for they belong to completely different traditions. Even accepting it, it could have been done much better; the added mute characters merely interfered and cluttered the space, even in the Overture that only needs to be heard.

            Lowest moment: the ridiculous bathtub scene imposed on Ernesto. Relative best: the agreeable ambience of the lovers scene in the Third Act, even if the wood wasn´t there. Relief: it wasn´t transported to the XXIst Century. Final bad point: constant incongruous mixture of interiors and exteriors.

For Buenos Aires Herald

The Blue Whale comes into action: a new era begins

            May 22, 2015: an essential cultural tool is unveiled. Two Ministers, Julio De Vido (Planification) and Teresa Parodi, officially inaugurate the Centro Cultural Kirchner. As happened both with the reopening of the Colón and with the Usina del Arte, it was a partial inauguration: though De Vido said that 93% was finished, the feeling that I and colleagues had was that the figure was more likely to be 70%. But what was almost completely finished was the star of the enormous building: the Blue Whale, a 1750-capacity concert hall.

            The matter of having an auditorium specifically built as a concert hall has a long and frustrating history. Although the Colón has marvelous acoustics and beauty, it is essentially an opera house, but of course it has remained as the only completely satisfactory venue for the great concerts. Both the Coliseo, the Auditorio de Belgrano and AMIJAI are reasonable alternatives, but what Buenos Aires needed was something similar to London´s complex of concert halls led by the Royal Festival Hall, and that was the model of the project that was brewed in the late 1960s by Jorge D´Urbano; it came very close to being accepted, but the disastrous 1973 ruined the idea, never implemented.

            Both the Usina and the CCK are imaginative reworkings of preexistent buildings: in the first case both the symphonic and the chamber halls are functioning; at the CCK we will have to wait several months before the chamber auditorium will be finished; and the same applies to other important matters such as the rehearsal halls, especially the symphonic one. This means that the new home of the Orquesta Sinfónica Nacional (National Symphony) still lacks rehearsal facilities separate from the auditorium.

            I won´t get involved in the controversy about the Center´s name; if you are pro-Government you will probably agree, if you aren´t you will reject it. And you can also legitimately feel that the total cost has been very high and have doubts about whether the construction could have been of similar quality spending less.

             However, I certainly believe that there´s no place for manicheism in what seems to me an absurd conundrum: the argument that because we are in a crisis and lack adequate sewers, hospitals or housing, the CCK shouldn´t have been done. When WWII ended both Germany and Austria rebuilt their bombed opera houses in the worst conditions: that is because culture is essential, not a luxury.

            So both the Usina and the CCK are destined to change substantially the musical life of our city. It was of course a stupid announcement of the Macri government when years ago they announced that the Usina would be the "permanent home of the Buenos Aires Philharmonic", whose proper place is of course the Colón. But I do believe that the rightful place for the National Symphony is the CCK.

            On May 22 I witnessed a short rehearsal by the NS under its Principal Conductor Pedro Calderón for a concert which was given the following Sunday for a restricted audience invited by the Presidency. I heard Dances from Ginastera´s "Estancia" and a Piazzolla score, plus Horacio Lavandera in the final movement of Beethoven´s "Moonlight Sonata" and Mario Videla in Bach´s Toccata in D minor playing at the gigantic organ, not yet fully tuned. My aural impression was that the hall was too resonant when the music was fortissimo though the sound was clean in its projection and powerful.

            I was taken by the beauty of the auditorium, with the graded rows providing fine sightlines, and by the good taste of its features. However, even if the acoustics experts are the same ones that worked at the Colón and the Usina, I wondered whether the sound shouldn´t be more veiled, less strident.  From the outside the Blue Whale looks like one, indeed, a massive piece of skillful architecture.

            However, the real activity began on June 12. That day the NS started its season for the general public. An important programme was presented by two first-rate artists; Xavier Inchausti, our most virtuosic violinist; and the German conductor Günther Neuhold, who has worked in another seasons with the orchestra. Sibelius´ Concerto is one of the most difficult and beautiful. Its stark Romanticism needs the terse, controlled and perfectly tuned phrasing provided by this player, well accompanied by the orchestra. The encore was a piece that Inchausti plays admirably, the intricate and thoughtful Sonata-Ballade Nº 3 by Eugène Ysaÿe.

            And then, a true blockbuster, the massive Alpine Symphony by Richard Strauss, a 50-minute tone poem in 22 fragments joined together. It calls for a huge orchestra, 123-strong, including an offstage hunting fanfare, wind machine and organ. The latter fact allowed us to hear the fantastic organ in several passages. We go all the way to the glorious top of the mountain passing by cascades, and then descend through a tremendous tempest until a gloomy night ends  the work as it had started.

            It was a mighty challenge well met, with a conductor fully in command and an attentive orchestra. I premièred the score I bought last year in Munich, marveling at Strauss´ inexhaustible imagination and uncanny orchestrating ability.

            I do have to add that again I felt that the sound is overbright and resonant, this time with a full audience. Can the specialists find a way to correct it?

For Buenos Aires Herald

The enormous diversity of classical music

            Several recent concerts showed yet again the enormous diversity of classical music, perusing surprisingly varied repertoires.

            I will start with the major challenge taken up by Mario Benzecry, founder and current main conductor of the Sinfónica Juvenil Nacional San Martín. After twenty years of steady and unfunded labor, three seasons ago two national ministeries , Culture and Federal Planification and Public Finances, joined in the "Programa Igualdad Cultural" and included in it the pioneer Argentine orchestra who took as a model  the Venezuelan Abreu system.

            The Juvenil San Martín has made great leaps in these three years: it sounds big, strong and committed.  Although Benzecry and his Orchestra were instrumental in reviving the Facultad de Derecho UBA Saturday afternoon free concerts and still occupy the first Saturday of each month, I have always felt that its acoustics are mediocre, far too resonant. So I was glad when I saw that the mighty Mahler Fifth Symphony would be played not only there, but also at the far more reliable Auditorio de Belgrano.  And of course that is the one I chose.

            I was very sorry that the announced two marvelous Mahler Rückert Lieder were cancelled because our foremost lyric baritone, Víctor Torres, had just suffered the loss of his father. Sorry empathetically with him, and also because we all missed what was going to be a perfect complement to the Fifth. What seems to me "odd music out" is the inclusion of Arturo Luzzatti´s "Himno al Libertador San Martín" in  an arrangement by Oscar Gullace, apparently on the thin reason that the Orchestra is called thus. It just can´t be a prelude to Mahler.

            The huge Symphony is very difficult  and has perilous solos and ensembles; the two first movements elicit from the hearer deep emotions: an extended funeral march plus a terrible, vehement display of anguish. The third is a sardonic Scherzo; the fourth, the famous, sublime Adagietto; the last, a brilliant Rondo that ends joyously a score that had begun in sadness.

            Now in his seventies, Benzecry showed firm command and intelligent phrasing in this music of constant changes of mood and speed. He got from the orchestra very convincing results, especially from the strings, but the first horn committed some  pronounced  mistakes. However, the general result was quite commendable, and I enjoyed it even if this Fifth wasn´t as cleanly executed as those by our major orchestras.

            Week after week the Usina del Arte presents a variegated mix of events, some of them quite interesting. Such as the matinée provided by that distinguished ensemble, Capilla del Sol, the house group of the Museo Fernández Blanco, dedicated to the Latinamerican Baroque. Ramiro Albino, well-known to the Herald as a collaborator, is a specialist on the subject and knows how to investigate and mold varied and attractive programmes such as the one presented on this case.

            He called it "¡Vengan a la fiesta!" , Songs and dances of the Latinamerican Baroque celebrations. In the first section a beautiful and succinct "Misa a duo y bajo de la Escoleta de Bethlehem" by the Mexican composer Mariano Soberanis; before and after, organ verses by Marcos Vega and Anonymous.

            All the rest was profane "cantos y bailes": anonymous dances from the manuscript "Huerto ameno de varias flores de música", 1709; "Toca la flauta" by the Colombian Alonso Torices; several "villancicos" by José de Cascante, Antonio de Salazar and Francisco de Vidales; from the mentioned "Huerto ameno...", a joyful "Gayta" with great display of instruments and an organ Pavane; the Peruvian Eustaquio Franco Rebollo, in a piece written in Lima in 1775, still in Baroque style; and finally three scores by the best Peruvian composer of the time, Juan de Araujo, the last a famous "villancico de negros", "Los coflades de la estleya": all of it a true cornucopia of fine music, presented with an ample variety of textures and instruments.

            Five fine singers fully understand the style: sopranos Silvana Sadoly, Adriana Sansone and Flora Gril; Verónica Cánaves, contralto; and Matías Tomasetto, tenor. And five equally proficient players gave much pleasure: Albino himself in flutes, Gustavo Gargiulo in that difficult instrument, the cornetto, Evar Cativiela in vihuela, Eduardo Rodríguez in bajón (the antecedent of the bassoon) and Federico Ciancio in organ. The singers also played percussion. The whole thing was led with masterful precision by Albino, and coordinated by Leila Makarius and the Museum´s Director Jorge Cometti.  

            Finally, a lovely Schubert concert with an array of talented players on the Midday Concerts of the Mozarteum at the Gran Rex. The Trio Williams is made up of Antonio Formaro, piano; Nicolás Favero, violin; and Siro Bellisomi, cello. In this instance they were joined by Pablo Saraví in a rare and fully successful appearance as a violist and by  Oscar Carnero, bass.

             It isn´t everyday that I get to know a Schubert score after fifty years doing criticism: I had never met the Adagio and Rondo concertante for piano and strings in F major, D.487, a very pleasant work written at 19; not major Schubert, but certainly it bears the marks of his personality. Formaro added a bass part to the original, enriching the harmony.

            And then, the delectable and evergreen "Trout Quintet". Both scores were beautifully played, although I was especially impressed by Formaro and felt Favero was a bit undernourished in tone. However,  they jelled together admirably.

For Buenos Aires Herald