lunes, julio 27, 2015

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

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