domingo, agosto 23, 2015

The spectral music of Gérard Grisey and the sensitive world of Luis Mucillo

            Buenos Aires has heard music of Gérard Grisey in earlier seasons, but the complete audition of his "Espaces acoustiques" at the Colón Contemporáneo series is an important event that allows our musical milieu a chance to evaluate his work.

            The astonishing fact is that Grisey died in 1998, only 52, and that this creation was a work in progress from 1974 to 1985. So this music is at the start 4l-years-old, and at the end, 30. Not the last cry of the avantgarde... But spectral music is supposed to be just that! But in fact it arrived in BA very late in the game.

             Which brings me to the conclusion that  little both truly new and lasting has happened during the last half century and that no composer of really first rank has left his mark as such people as Bartók, Schönberg and Stravinsky in the older generation and Ligeti, Messiaen or  Lutoslawski in the following  certainly did. And as the same (with different names, of course) could be written about art  or literature, I can only conclude that this cibernetic world of nowadays is  one where artistic creation has steadily declined.

            As I have written before, "contemporary" is a moot word, for if you are thirty you haven´t lived in Grisey´s time; and of course as we are thinking about what matters in a composer -obviously his production- anyone between roughly 1966 and 1998 was his contemporary; and after his death, we are still that as concerns the real kernel, his scores. 

            And here comes the rub: quite contrary to what we see, e.g., at the Mozarteum, Nuova Harmonia or the Buenos Aires Philharmonic, the audience in these Colón Contemporáneo concerts is young and some were kids when Grisey´s life stopped.  They seem to be those that liked his music the most.

            After these rather grim reflexions, let´s get down to business. What is "spectral music"?  Grisey said: "music made with sounds, not with notes". From the hand programme: "using the tools of laboratories of electronic music, the composer studied the materials of texture,  harmony and form condensed on each milisecond of an individual sound. The application of such parameters to instrumental music gave rise to what was called spectral music."

            Grisey wrote: "The cycle ´Acoustic spaces´ consists of six instrumental pieces that may be interpreted in order, so that each one extends the acoustic space of the previous one: from the Prologue for solo viola until the Epilogue for four horn soloists and big orchestra. The unity is obtained by formal similitudes and by two acoustic phenomenons: harmonic spectre and periodicity." Curiously he started with "Periods" (1974) for 7 instruments and only  later added "Partials" for 18 instruments (1975) and "Prologue" (1976, for solo viola).

            Grisey: "I analyzed the sound spectre of the low E of the trombone. I took its basic components (fundamental note and its harmonics) and the 7 instruments played them. The language of ´Acoustic spaces´ can be defined with  some decisions: to compose with the differences that separate sounds; to control the evolution of sound and its speed;   the creation of new tonic colors permits the apparition of new structures of form and duration".

            The three pieces I mentioned above were heard in the First Part; after the interval we heard "Modulations" (1977, for 33 instruments); "Transitories", 1981, for orchestra); and "Epilogue" (1985, four horns and orchestra).

            The whole thing lasted 82 minutes in this performance; Garth Knox, well-known here, was the excellent violist; Tito Ceccherini, a first-rank specialist, got what seemed to me very good performances out of an Ensemble of 15 players (including a rarity, the contrabass clarinet) and the Orquesta Estable of the Colón. I don´t understand the import of two Franch horn players (Philippe Bord and Joël Lasry) for their parts could have been taken by local artists (the other two were Argentine-born or -resident: Margarete Mengel and Pablo Nalli: why not all four from the Estable?).        

            My reaction: interesting but not convincing. Some details: extreme density at times, big silences, little variety, pianissimi after paroxysms, harsh textures, turbulent ensembles, excessive alternation between two notes,  lows opposed to highs, unison horns, and at the end, big drum fortissimo.  A strange repeated joke: the player makes the gesture of striking the cymbals but he doesn´t. Something I didn´t understand: why a viola interlude between "Transitories" and "Epilogue"? (and to which piece it belongs?).

             Brief reference to a rewarding concert: music of Luis Mucillo and his disciples at the Casa Fernández Blanco,  small venue (70) with warm acoustics. Mucillo is an introvert, sensitive composer of enormous culture; his music mixes tonal and atonal and always searches for beauty and purity. "A true lover´s knot" (in English) is an evocation of Barbara Allen, admirably played by the composer. His "4 Miniaturas de Arnaldo Calveyra", sumptuously sung by Adriana Mastrángelo with Mucillo accompanying, were perceptive and refined.

            His pupils showed good qualities: Ezequiel Castro in three of his "5 poems by Edgar Poe"; three of "Eight Preludes" for piano by Sebastián Boeris (played by Mucillo) with valid ideas; two works by Federico López: "Two poems by Chesterton" and a rather complex piece for six voices, flutes and harp, "Ven, Luz de Luz"; and fragments of "Diario de abril" by Alex Nante, enigmatic and intriguing, finely played by pianist Victoria Gianera. 

The yearly Colón International Ballet Gala mixes renewal and standards

            During Lidia Segni´s tenure as Directress of the Colón Ballet she presented generally in August International Galas. Following that yearly custom she concocted this season´s mix before leaving, and the new Director, Maximiliano Guerra, has respected the idea, although I´m not quite sure if all numbers included are the same as those Segni programmed (the Colón gives no detailed information).

            I do feel that the theatre should prepare something special for such events, and not merely revive recent productions. Those that go to these galas have almost certainly seen those pieces because they regularly go to the Colón ballet programmes.

            This said, the chosen pieces are pleasant and show the good condition of the "corps de ballet", though it can be further improved. (Of course I give no importance to a slip of a member just at the beginning).

            Three facts: all the music was recorded, even those danced by the Colón groups ;  no information was given as to costume and stage designers, and there were no programme notes on the music and the choreographies (quite unhelpful this).  There was a further characteristic: no less than four of the eight principal soloists are Argentine, so that the international side was rather meager, althought three of the four Argentines are working abroad.  

            The two  pieces provided by the Colón team were, opening and closing the afternoon: the third movement of "Diamond" , choreography (C) by Eric Frédéric on music (M) by Prokofiev (the last movement of the Third Piano Concerto); and the complete "Rhapsody", C by Mauricio Wainrot, M by Rachmaninov (the same "Rhapsody on a theme by Paganini" that I reviewed days ago).

            "Diamond" responds to the title, it is a fast-moving Neoclassic creation quite pleasant to see; four girl soloists are complemented by six couples, although I feel some dissonance between the brilliant moves and the sometimes coruscating music.

             Wajnrot´s opus is quite typical of his personality, fluid and professional in his combinations of couples and groups, with a language that is Neoclassic but with a leavening of typical modernistic dancing. Sometimes the character of the choreography agrees with that of the music, but a few dramatic moments weren´t expressive enough; however, the main slow melody gave him a chance to create a persuasive duet well danced by Natalia Pelayo and Emanuel Abruzzo; and the final minutes were exciting. The ensemble numbered fourteen dancers (seven male, seven female).

            Undoubtedly the big success of the evening was the "rentrée" of the "porteña" Marianela Núñez; she is Principal Dancer of London´s Royal Ballet since 2002. She chose two hoary standards: the Grand Pas of "Don Quixote" (C, Marius Petipa; M, Leon Minkus) and the Pas de Deux from the Second Act of "Giselle" (C, Petipa; M, Adolphe Adam). She had as partner Alejandro Parente, admirable artist who paradoxically isn´t Principal Dancer of the theatre nowadays, although fully capable of going on with his important trajectory. She showed an affectionate regard for him.

            The "Grand Pas" of "Don Quixote" isn´t  the usual extracted Pas de Deux but it is done as in the complete ballet: eight female friends of Kitri start the proceeding, then the couple (Kitri and Basil) do the big and noble Adagio; follow the variations of First Friend, Basil, Kitri, Second Friend; and the final virtuosic duet. Macarena Giménez and Pelayo did well as the Two Friends, but of course Núñez and Parente were the magnet that attracted all eyes. He showed that he keeps being alert and in fine shape. And she was wonderful: the purest classical Petipa technique united to perfect taste and easy charm as in her solo with fan. By the way, the recording had bad, saturated sound.

            In "Giselle" both showed similar qualities but in a dramatic context: she gave the character  an immaterial feeling and Parente was a true "danseur noble": and as they danced the Petipa version they stayed within Classicism instead of the earlier Romantic style of Perrot and Coralli.

            The Third Act Pas de deux from "Coppelia" (C, Enrique Martínez; M, Delibes arranged by Lanchbery) was nicely danced by María Noel Riccetto (Argentine, at the SODRE Ballet, Uruguay) and a bit heavily by Gustavo Carvalho (Brazilian, at the same Company, led by Julio Bocca).       

            And now to the moderns. The Hamburg Ballet has been John Neumeier´s home company for decades; Hélène Bouchet (French) and Carsten Jung (German) were the strong partners in a minimalist scene from "Othello" called "Mirror in the mirror" on music by Arvo Pärt for violin and piano (perhaps from "Fratres"): slow movements, bodily contact, sense of impending tragedy.

            The same artists gave us with much intensity "Tatiana", another Neumeier choreography, this time based on good tonal music by Lera Auerbach and telling us the last encounter of Tatiana and Onegin, where she refuses him. The choreographer´s style is completely different here, stressing fast and disquieting movement according to the characters´ sentiments. 

            Finally, two dancers from the Flanders Royal Ballet, Sofía Menteguiaga (Argentine) and Alain Honorez (Belgian) offered "Symbiosis" (C, Altea Núñez, M by Philip Glass, for cellos, more expressive than usual in this composer) and "The return of Ulysses", C by Christian Spuck on unidentified Purcell music.  I found them good artists but not especially interesting. The choreographies: better the one by Núñez; Spuck´s style seemed to me quite inimical to Purcell´s music.

For Buenos Aires Herald

The Buenos Aires Philharmonic in challenging repertoire

            The Barenboim tsunami forced a rare fact: two subscription concerts of the Buenos Aires Philharmonic in the same week, Tuesday and Thursday, both led by its Principal Conductor, Enrique Arturo Diemecke, naturally at the Colón.

            The first concert had a mishap that fortunately was solved: the Phil´s regular piano tuner, Ricardo Quintieri, fell ill at the last moment, but a replacement could be found. However, the two parts were inverted (announced by Diemecke): initially we heard Rimsky-Korsakov´s "Schéhérezade", and after the interval, Brahms´ Piano Concerto Nº 2, with the debut of the Korean Kun Woo-Paik.

            Rimsky´s opus is, quite simply, his very best. It dates from 1888, and as the Brahms Concerto was written in 1881, we had two amazingly different and famous scores from the same period. The Russian composer´s inspiration was always kindled by fantasy and romance, and his double skill in harmonisation and orchestration found in the  "Thousand and One Nights" the ideal source. Yes, I know, Rimsky´s music is adapted in the current TV Turkish hit of the same name. But it has never lost its popularity.

            This is a very difficult and brilliant score with many soloists; fortunately the Phil is up to the requirements and except for some horn fluffs the playing was very satisfactory both  in the climactic orchestral moments and in the abundant solos. Kudos to the following artists: concertino Pablo Saraví (the melodies correspond to Schéhérezade), Claudio Barile (lovely tone from his flute), Mariano Rey (clarinet), Natalia Silipo (oboe), Gabriel La Rocca (flute), Fernando Ciancio (trumpet), Carlos Nozzi (cello) and the second trombone (curiously it is the second, not the first, that plays the cruel theme of the Sultan).

            And of course this is ideal material for the extroversion and professionalism of Diemecke. Just one cavil: he distorts the melody of "The Young Prince and the Young Princess" by phrasing very slowly the two initial notes.

            On this evidence, Kun Woo-Paik, who looks in his fifties, is a very accomplished artist. The Brahms Second is, of course, a towering masterpiece, and unless you are a world-class pianist, don´t attempt it. Massive chords, swift passages, an unassailably solid construction that needs absolute clarity of mind from the interpreter, and a total control of the constant irregular values (four notes in the  right hand against three in the left, e.g.)  are some of the hurdles that must be overcome.

            Child prodigy, afterwards a product of the Juilliard School, a disciple of the great Kempff, Paik has recorded the complete concerti of Rachmaninov, Chopin and Prokofiev and is now engraving the integral Beethoven Sonatas. A redoubtable career indeed. Paik played with sure command at all times. Nevertheless communication wasn´t total; was it because he wasn´t quite comfortable with the piano, although to my ears it sounded well?  Or because the orchestra was no more than good? Somehow the sacred fire was missing. But make no mistake, Paik is quite a pianist and I would welcome him back.

            Both Jan Sibelius and Carl Nielsen were born in 1865, so Diemecke, following his habitual programming policy, is paying homage to both in their sesquicentennial. As I  deeply admire these great composers (Finnish and Danish) I was  happy to attend this concert that started with Sibelius´  "Karelia Suite" and ended with Nielsen´s Fourth Symphony, "The Inextinguishable". In the middle, what  is the most accomplished score by Rachmaninov, the "Rhapsody on a theme by Paganini", with pianist Sergio Tiempo.

            "Karelia" is an early work (1893), and it comes from the ten numbers of the incidental music for "a festival and lottery to help education in the province of Viipuri (Karelia)". That region was in danger of being absorbed by Russia and Sibelius was living there; hence the positive and patriotic stance of both the first and third movements. And the ruminative Ballad interlaces two subjects with strange counterpoints. Diemecke and the orchestra did a very effective job.

            Rachmaninov´s "Rhapsody" is in fact a theme (Caprice Nº 24) with, yes, 24 variations! With extraordinary imagination it goes from coruscating brilliance to unabashed singability and manages to somehow quote the Dies Irae no less than three times. As I expected, Sergio Tiempo was fantastic in all the fast fragments; his facility is unbelievable. But he was completely arbitrary in his neglect of note values during the famous Variation Nº 18, very gooey in his hands. Diemecke and the Phil collaborated valiantly in this  arduous piece.

            I wasn´t happy with Tiempo´s encore, "Capulets and Montagus", from Prokofiev´s "Romeo and Juliet": his version was rough and with some mistakes, which surprised me from such a virtuoso player.

            Gradually Buenos Aires is knowing better the genius of Carl Nielsen, Denmark´s foremost composer, but we still lack the premières of Symphonies Nos. 1 and 6. Diemecke opted for the Fourth (1915), maybe his most important, although the Third and the Fifth are very close in quality. The Fourth, like Vaughan Williams´ , is a war symphony  of great impact. "Music is life, and as life, inextinguishable", so said the composer.

            Based on the concept of "progressive tonality", very chromatic, there´s in it both a battle of tonalities and in the last movement, of two pairs of tympani placed at the back on opposite sides. It is intense music, full of incident and contrast. Diemecke understood it fully and a collaborative orchestra allowed him to obtain a  persuasive interpretation.

For Buenos Aires Herald

sábado, agosto 22, 2015

An admirable Mahler Third and other worthwhile events

            Of all the repertoire symphonies Mahler´s Third is the longest though not the most complex (the same composer´s Eighth, "Of the Thousand", holds that laurel). One hour and forty minutes, six movements, written between 1895-6 for a huge orchestra.       My favorite Mahler symphonies are (in order) the Ninth, the Second, the Fifth, the First, the Sixth and the Forth. The two that I like less (not counting the incomplete Tenth) are the Third and the Seventh, but in fact I deeply love all of them and they are certainly the most important corpus of symphonies of Late Romanticism  after Brahms and ahead of Tchaikovsky, Dvorák, Sibelius and Bruckner, the other unassailable contestants of the period.

            In fact, the recognition of Mahler came quite late and is an after-WWII phenomenon, probably because of their disproportionate length (that also affected Bruckner). And it is closely tied to LP recording. Of course we now have several integrals in CD.

            Still, the Third is rarely played for it is a major challenge. Apart from the normal full symphony orchestra, it adds four horns to the habitual four, there are five clarinets, the percussion is ample, there´s an unusual soloist in the fourth movement (the Posthorn). And you also need a contralto or mezzosoprano plus a female choir and a children choir.  There are long and exposed trumpet and trombone solos, and the eight horns start the whole thing fortissimo with a long melody similar to the famous one of the final movement of Brahms´ First. It needs tremendous concentration and stamina from players and conductor, it is played without interval.

            It would have been even longer, but fortunately the seventh movement was "passed" to the Fourth Symphony, a soprano singing an angelic song. As happens in all his symphonies, Mahler creates a world of his own, made up of inexhaustible orchestral imagination, folk elements, metaphysical sublimations, advanced harmonic language and constant contrasts. And of course, a funeral march, his obsession with death (there´s one in every symphony he wrote).

            David Johnson summarizes the Third thus: "beginning with inanimate Nature, the movements later depict vegetal and animal life, man, angels, and finally the transfiguration of life through the love of God". The fourth movement has a typically repetitive Nietzsche poem, and the fifth combines a text from "Des Knaben Wunderhorn" sung by mezzo or contralto plus female choir, accompanied by the "Bim-bam" of Heaven´s bells in children´s voices. The final minutes provide a catharsis almost as strong as the end of the Second Symphony, "Resurrection".

            Francisco Rettig is probably the best South American conductor, and I´m glad that he undertook the enormous task of conducting the Third at the Blue Whale with the National Symphony (Orquesta Sinfónica Nacional), mezzosoprano Alejandra Malvino, the female section of the Coro Polifónico Nacional (Darío Marchese) and the Coro Nacional de Niños (María Isabel Sanz). This score has, to my knowledge, been done only thrice in BA: in the Thirties by Gregor Fitelberg at the Colón, in 1973 by Pedro Calderón and later by Franz-Paul Decker, both with the Buenos Aires Philharmonic.

            There were mistakes, especially from the first trumpet, but by and large the playing coped with the difficulties, and Rettig was a splendid conductor, unfailing in his tempi, attentive to every detail and always clearly in command. Although the player of the Posthorn part was a bit hesitant initially, he later was firmer in Mahler´s curious inclusion of the "Carnival of Venice" tune. And by the way, although it seemed a rather special trumpet sound, I can´t vouchsafe that he played a real Posthorn (a stagecoach trumpet). It certainly is a rarity nowadays.

            An interesting footnote to the Barenboim Festival was the recital by Elena Bashkirova for the Mozarteum Midday Concerts at the Gran Rex. She is Mrs. Barenboim but also a talented pianist on her own, heard in other recent visits with the Jerusalem Festival Chamber Ensemble (which she founded) and as soloist with orchestra.  

            She started with an ideal combination that to my mind is the very best we have of Mozart as a pianistic composer: the Fantasy K.475 and the Sonata Nº 14, K.457, both in D minor and tremendously prophetic of what will come with Beethoven (in fact, some chords in the Fantasy seem out of the "Appassionata"!) . This is a Mozart of harmonic audacity and strong contrasts, and Bashkirova accordingly played it, with fine technique (crisp articulation and dramatic accents).

            The Isaac Albéniz of "Cantos de España" Op. 232, may be less advanced than that of "Iberia" (influenced by Impressionism), but it is fine music. Her marksmanship in the very difficult Prelude left something to be desired, but on the other pieces she was quite Spanish and in full command (lovely phrasing in "Córdoba" and brilliant in "Seguidillas"). She gave as encore the delightful "December" from Tchaikovsky´s "The Seasons" (more accurately it should be called "The Months").

            Vedrana Kovac is a young Croat pianist who gave a good debut recital at the Museo Fernández Blanco.  After an added Croat composer whose name I couldn´t catch, she played very neatly Bach´s Toccata in C minor, the dense and fascinating Franck "Prelude, Chorale and Fugue", and three Liszt pieces that corroborated her sureness and command: "Isolda´s love death" (transcription from Wagner), the ultra-famous Hungarian Rhapsody Nº 2, and the concert paraphrase on Verdi´s "Rigoletto" Quartet.

For Buenos Aires Herald 

Mozarteum: strange programming from Barenboim

            As you probably know, it was the Mozarteum Argentino that brought Daniel Barenboim back to his home country decades ago, leading the Orchestre de Paris. As the years went by, it developed into a strong lien that eventually interested the Colón as an institution and the Festivals began.  They are separate from  the Mozarteum, but Barenboim keeps the relationship alive and he gives WEDO (West-Eastern Divan Orchestra) concerts with them.

            As happened last year, the Mozarteum programming didn´t quite convince me. In 2014 he brought two premières of young Israeli and Palestinian composers and I found them rather weak. This season he gave us two unlikely partners: 50 minutes of Pierre Boulez in the First Part and 40 of pristine Mozart in the second.  And we had groups from the WEDO, not the whole orchestra. Of course this flexibility can have its good points, but as he did something similar in a Colón Festival concert, I believe Barenboim overdoes it.

            In fact the conductor had premièred "Dérive II" by Boulez five years ago at an incredible free Midday Concert at the chockfull Gran Rex: three thousand people listening to the most complex avantgarde French composer! At the time he preceded it by the much shorter "Dérive I". The importance of a misplaced accent: this year in press releases and in the hand programme we read "Dérivé "  instead of the true title, "Dérive II".  It happens that "dérivé" means derivative, but "dérive" connotes drift. Yes, the terms have their relationship but they aren´t quite the same.

            Anyway, "Dérive II" is a colossal piece of which there are two versions (yes, two "Derive II"): one lasts 25 minutes and the other doubles it. It is written for 11 instrumebts: marimba and vibraphone in opposite sides, piano, three strings (violin, viola and cello), three woodwinds (English horn, clarinet in A, bassoon), one brass (horn in F) and harp. It makes for a rich and varied texture that allows the composer to show his timbric virtuosity.

            The basis of it are six notes that correspònd to the surname Sacher (great conductor) in German: Eb, A, C, B natural, E and D. He expands chords based on these notes "dividing, dispersing and multiplying"  (Norman Ryan) in ever changing drifting. An "exuberant active music" marked "très rapide" with very little breathing spaces. Although theoretically there´s no limit to "continuous expansion", it´s a piece of music, not the universe, and I do think the composer would have been wiser to keep it to 25 minutes: he doesn´t imitate others, he is always himself, but there´s too much of it for he doesn´t have the infinite variety of Mahler, e.g.  He doesn´t bore (Feldman or Sciarrino do) but he exhausts people.

             I  can´t quite agree with Barenboim when he calls Boulez  "one of the most important and revolutionary composers of the XXth and the XXIst Centuries", but he is a vital "chef de file" of total serialism. He is now 90 and a great friend of Barenboim; but as a homage it would have been enough to première "Sur incises",as he did a week ago.

            As happened in 2011, the young and committed players of the WEDO responded with great professionalism to the strong conducting of Barenboim, especially the marimba player Lev Loftus, identified here but not when he played his part in Bartók Sonata for two pianos and percussion. And the oboist in the second part was also identified but not the members of the whole orchestra; is the security of twelve players less important than that of the others? Of course not. When will this absurdity end?

            The Second Part provided continuous pleasure. Mozart´s only Oboe Concerto, K.314, at Salzburg when he was 21 for a young Italian player of the Camerata, Giuseppe Ferlendis. This lovely creation was later transcribed for flute as the composer´s Second Concerto for that instrument. I personally prefer the oboe´s touching color.  It was very beautifully played by Cristina Gómez Godoy, whom I surmise to be Colombian or Venezuelan, not Israeli or Palestinian as most of her colleagues. She has  very precise articularion, fine dynamic control and exquisite taste in her phrasing. The three cadenzas were in style.

             The Orchestra provided a gossamer tapestry perfectly in tune, conducted by a Barenboim that passed from the violent movements on Boulez to simple and sensitive gestures for Mozart. We heard strings, curiously two oboes (just accompanying) and two horns.

            And then a surprise: Barenboim said "We are playing the encore before the final piece", and so it was: a charming Schumann Romanza for oboe and piano (Gómez Godoy and himself); one of the three in Op.94.

            It is rather an anomaly to hear the famous Mozart Serenade Nº 13, "A little Night Music", at the end of a symphonic concert (we expect to hear the complete orchestra), and also to have the sound of the full string section for it is generally played with smaller groups, but all went well: the strings were fully committed, with a firm and tasteful color, and  in tune, playing with total homogeneity. Barenboim´s reading was of the best orthodoxy. Indeed, although some players seemed to be searching for scores, there was no orchestral encore. But they had given us about 94 minutes of music during the night.

            Blessedly, prudently, and contradicting initial announcements, Boulez was played first, and then Mozart...

For Buenos Aires Herald 

Ivan Skrt

Información valiosa:
El pianista esloveno Ivan Skrt hará su debut en Buenos Aires inaugurando el abono de Chopiniana en el Palacio Paz (Av. Santa Fe 750) el 2 de septiembre a las 19,30.También actuará el 4 de septiembre en el Teatro Solís de Montevideo y el 10 de septiembre a las 19,30 en la Sala Piazzolla del Teatro Argentino de La Plata.
Se formó en el Conservatorio Tchaikovsky de Moscú. Según la información recibida  "su técnica no tiene límites" y busca el sentido filosófico del "pianismo vital".
Hará un atrayente programa: tres preludios de Chopìn, tres preludios de Rachmaninov. Tres danzas españolas de Granados y tres danzas argentinas de Ginastera. Una obra eslovena: Tres bagatelas de M. Kogoj. Tres bagatelas de Bartók. Y una transcripción  del pianista de "La Valse" de Ravel. 
Pablo Bardin

jueves, agosto 06, 2015

Argerich and Barenboim in conventional repertoire

            Twice on July 29 and 30 Martha Argerich played and Daniel Barenboim conducted the WEDO (West-Eastern Divan Orchestra) at the Colón in an identical programme made up of two standards: Beethoven´s Second Piano Concerto and Tchaikovsky´s Fourth Symphony. The first was subscription ("Abono Estelar") and the second non-subscription ("extraordinaria"). The second, in an important technological innovation, was seen on Internet.

            In fact, as often happens in these festivals, there was a major change: it was to be an all-Tchaikovsky programme, with the First Piano Concerto occupying the initial leg of the night. For some reason, Argerich declined this choice and substituted it with a favorite of hers, Beethoven´s Nº2. A pity, for the Tchaikovsky evergreen is a great virtuosic challenge and it made sense to combine it with the Fourth Symphony.

            Argerich´s tastes and fears are sometimes quirky. As is well-known, she doesn´t play the most mature Beethoven concerti (Nos. 4 and 5) and she approached Nº 3 rarely, whilst she interprets regularly the first two. She recorded Nº 2 twice (so did Barenboim as pianist, and he also conducted the orchestra for Rubinstein´s version).

            By the way, it may interest you to know that there are two unnumbered piano concerti by Beethoven: one written at 14 and the other a piano transcription of the Violin Concerto (recorded by Barenboim). Of the teenager´s effort we have the piano part and orchestral cues; on the basis of the latter Willy Hess orchestrated it and made it viable; the style is of course completely Classicist.

            I don´t admit the theory about the marked influence of Mozart or Haydn in the first two numbered concerti; for me, as happens in the sonatas of Beethoven´s first period, there are clear signs of the composer´s unmistakable personality. Although there are sketches of Nº 2 in 1787, he finished it in 1795 when he was 25 (première at the Viennese Burgtheater, the composer at the piano, Antonio Salieri conducting) but in 1797 he revised it.

             The big question is about the cadenza; the one we have (for the first movement) is very long and its dramatic writing seems typical of his second period; it may be part of the revision, for Sonata Nº 5 is of the same year and is quite prophetic of what happened in 1798 (the marvelous sonatas Nos. 7 and 8, "Pathetic"). Anyway, it may be this cadenza that attracts Argerich specially, for thus you have both the first and the second periods in the same work, and the strong temperament of this artist has the opportunity to manifest itself.

            Frankly, the orchestral statements at the beginning of the first movement disappointed me; they were veiled and a bit mushy, not clean, crisp and neat, as the music demands. But after the pianistic entrance the orchestra was better, and from then on the ensemble was reasonably good, whilst Argerich showed yet again that she has lost none of her magical tone and perfect articulation, each phrase finished roundly and magisterially. The cadenza was predictably exciting though a mite dishevelled. The lioness showed her claws.

            The slow movement was sustained and beautiful throughout its long course. The final Rondo was wildly attacked by pianist and orchestra but after a minute they settled down and up to the final chords all went well.

            The encore was a homage to the recently deceased Pía Sebastiani: the two-piano arrangement of Carlos Guastavino´s Bailecito, a favorite piece of hers. Martha and Daniel played it very nicely and at the request of Barenboim there was no applause. In other words, the second piano was there for only this definite purpose: two great artists playing in loving memory of another great one. Before, Barenboim explained his purpose to the audience.

            The conductor isn´t particularly associated with Tchaikovsky, a very emotional composer. So I was curious about how he would handle the Fourth Symphony, undoubtedly an important work but one that can be quite blatant under the wrong hands. However, there is a 1997 CD by Barenboim with the Chicago Symphony (he  was their Chief Conductor at the time) ; it will be remembered that this combination came to BA in a memorable visit. I haven´t heard the mentioned recording, but the knowledge of its existence was a good omen.

            And indeed it was a very good version. The WEDO isn´t the equal of the Chicago (one of the Top Five of the world) but it is committed, professional and disciplined. Barenboim´s reading rose to the big moments, but what impressed me the most was the dynamic subtlety, the "pianos" and "pianissimi" and the well-graded "crescendi".  Tempi were right in every instance (I don´t relish an excess of speed in the last movement, e.g.). And the "destiny fanfare" was brought home relentlessly, as it must be.

            The first encore was completelty convincing: a refined version of that Sibelius small jewel, the "Valse triste". The second was quite a surprise: Barenboim presented a young conductor, Lajav Shani if I understood rightly, and it was him that gave us that wonderful Glinka Overture to "Ruslan and Ludmilla". Again I was happy that it wasn´t rushed; Shani, very energetic, maybe should moderate his gestures, but he is on the right track.

            This was the only concert in the whole series that had no repertoire surprises; all the others have  audacious choices.

For Buenos Aires Herald

Orchestras and choirs, two magnificent textures

            The worlds of orchestras and choirs sometimes can be complementary, but in both cases they are textures that stand on their own as completely satisfying: one purely instrumental, the other  vocal. The late Eighteenth Century gave us the symphony orchestra, made up of several categories: strings, woodwinds, brass, percussion. The Nineteenth enriched them with some variants. Up to about 1910 the Postromantic orchestra grew and grew. After WWI, all sorts of percussion were added. 

            Choirs have a much longer history and in fact the Renaissance was its richest period. But during Romanticism part-songs were extremely popular. Although Baroque, Classicist and Romantic oratorios are a mix of vocal and instrumental, a lot of music remained purely vocal. And the same thing happened in the XXth Century and nowadays.

            The seventh subscription concert of the B.A.Phil was  led, as so many others, by Enrique Arturo Diemecke, this time with the debut of Russian pianist Alexandre Moutouzkine in a substantial programme made up of two valid scores rarely performed: Alexander Scriabin´s only Piano Concerto, and Anton Bruckner´s Sixth Symphony. Moutouzkine replaced the formerly announced Alexander Markovich (whenever there are changes the Colón gives no explanation...).

            Although Scriabin´s youthful Concerto, written at 26, has some influence of Chopin, it remains a work of much personality, with rich harmony, lovely melodies and required virtuosity. We are yet far from the originality and strangeness of the late piano Sonatas or of the Poem of Fire (Prometheus) but this is rewarding music. The pianist was a find: intense, powerful and firmly in command. By the way, why are his name and surname written the French way? It should be Alexander Mutuzkin. The orchestra accompanied well.  And the pianist gave us a gratifying encore splendidly done: the Prelude from the Bach Violin Partita Nº 3 cunningly arranged by Rachmaninov.

            Bruckner´s Symphony Nº 5 is the less extensive of the last five but it still lasts 53 minutes. Less inspired than the other late ones,  it nevertheless is an impressive monument  unmistakably brucknerian in its style. Diemecke again showed his superb professionalism and comprehension of these ample conceptions, and the orchestra responded with great solidity.

            Unfortunately we have no tradition of light symphonic concerts; there´s plenty of good stuff that deserves to be played, and the ideal time for it is in late Summer and early Autumn, before the main season. Meanwhile, we´ll have to settle for the pleasant B.A.Phil concert of waltzes and polkas by Johann Strauss II and his father´s "Radetzky March" given at the Usina del Arte.    

            The conductor was Fabrizio Danei, recently named Interim Assistant Musical Director of the Phil, after a short appearance as such of Darío Domínguez Xodo. Danei replaces Carlos Bertazza, whose unexpected and shocking suicide happened last year. Born at General Roca, Río Negro, Danei studied conducting at the B.A. Catholic University (UCA). He has worked with such distinguished conductors as Russo and Calderón, and completed his preparation with courses  in London.

            On the basis of this specific repertoire I found Danei competent, though without that special cadence we find in those famous Vienna Philharmonic New Year Concerts, especially those led by Willi Boskovsky. Of course, the Viennese players have that music in their bones, the Phil doesn´t. But the results were pleasant although the pieces were  hackneyed (the aforementioned concerts  bring novelties along with the old standards).

            For the record, they played these waltzes: "Vienna Blood",  "Voices of Spring", "Roses from the South" and of course "Blue Danube". These polkas: "Tritsch-Tratsch", "Thunder and lightning", and as sole surprise, the "New Pizzicato" instead of the habitual "Pizzicato" (wrongly identified in the hand programme). And the "Radetzky March".

            The Coro Universitario de Mendoza has long been one of the very best provincial choirs, having as special distinction that it has kept its high level through many decades. To be exact, half a century since its foundation by Felipe Vallesi; his daughter, Silvana Vallesi, leads it since 1997. Forty-two highly trained voices respond with admirable discipline to the intelligent indications of the directress. Their Sunday morning free concert at the Colón was a high point of that cycle.

            The repertoire was varied, difficult and innovative. Ginastera´s Lamentations of the Prophet Jeremiah are certainly among the best pieces written in Argentina. I found the Clytus Gottwald adaptation of Mahler´s Lied "Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen" quite unnecessary; the original is of profound metaphysical import, the arrangement diminishes it. On the other hand, the long, intense "Das Alte Lied" by Knut Nystedt, with piano accompaniment (the excellent Silvia Dabul), was a revelation.

            I had never heard pieces by Giedrus Svilainis: "O quam tristis" has strong contrasts, with passages spoken rhythmically. Two beautiful tonal Nocturnes by Morten Lauridsen followed, with pianist Franco Páez. Then, a sensitive setting of a Shakespeare text by Ward Swingle: "It was a lover and his lass", with contralto and baritone soloists. I wasn´t impressed by a première by Oscar Escalada ("Gloria para un tiempo de paz") but I liked "El hacedor y la niña" by Elifio Rosáenz (women´s choir).

            The "Requiem Osun" by Calixto Álvarez had resort to frankly popular voicing; we heard the "Confutatis" and the "Lacrymosa". The "Magnificat" and "Gloria" by Alberto Grau had  snapping, clapping and lateral movements; there were four soloists. The encore was an attractive Piazzolla score, the Cantata Buenos Aires (I think), with piano and bandoneon.

For Buenos Aires Herald

Barenboim-Argerich, the starriest two-pìano combination

            The greatest hit of 2014 was the combination of Daniel Barenboim and Martha Argerich playing scores by Mozart, Schubert and Stravinsky, months after their momentous come-together in Berlin, after decades of going their separate ways. One year later, the surprising mix of the mercurial Martha and the master builder Daniel again produced marvelous results, this time interpreting Schumann, Debussy and Bartók.

            It was a Sunday afternoon and the Colón was packed at every level; I have very seldom seen the Paraíso with so many people. And on the stage  were not only the interpreters but members of the WEDO (West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, Barenboim´s orchestra).  They were privileged spectators not only of the two great Argentine pianists but also of the two percussionists of the WEDO that played in Bartók.  Again I felt that it is grossly unfair not to identify the players of the orchestra, and especially when they are soloists.

            There was an interesting matter: he played the so-called Barenboim piano, made according to specifications typical of those built before 1875. It sounded transparent and smooth in Romantic music but was also up to the strong projection of rhythm and volume demanded by Bartók. As Martha was playing in a very good Steinway, to my mind they blended very well.

            There was magic from the very beginning: Robert Schumann´s "Six canonic etudes", Op. 56, originally written for four-hand piano but arranged by Claude Debussy for two pianos.  It is rarely played; I can vouchsafe that the arrangement sounds admirably and seems by Schumann. In fact the Romantic German composer wrote just one two-piano score, the "Andante and Variations" Op. 46. However,  his four-hand production is abundant: counting the "Canonic etudes", no less than seven scores.

            One doesn´t associate Schumann with contrapunctic forms, but in these etudes he smoothly assimilates the canonic treatment with no rigidity and a lot of Mendelssohnian feeling. Curiously, it was written for a now obsolete instrument, the pedal-piano. Writes Willi Apel: "a pianoforte equipped with a pedal board, similar to that of the organ, so that the bass can be played with the feet. The ´Pedalflügel´ , which had but passing success, is  known chiefly through the series of ´Studien´ and ´Skizzen´ which Schumann wrote for it (opp. 56. 58)".  Nowadays it is played in a normal piano.

            The players gave shape to the music though always with great beauty of touch and fluidity; this was not only a display of masterful technique but also of sensitive empathy.

            "En blanc et noir" by Debussy is a title chosen as an allusion to the white and black keys of the piano (s). And it is a late work written in 1915, the period in which he wrote the Etudes and the sonatas. Apart from the short "Lindaraja", it is his only score for two pianos. The evanescent impressionism has been left behind in this music of strong contrasts and asperities, very difficult to play, with polyrhythms and polytonalities. World War I had a heavy effect on Debussy´s soul, and the dark second movement is a tribute to a casualty of it, Jacques Charlot, nephew of Debussy´s editor Jacques Durand. The virtuosic third movement is dedicated to Igor Stravinsky.

            Argerich has long known this creation and she recorded it with Stephen Kovacevich. She and Barenboim responded to the particular character of the music and didn´t soften its hard edges. And if any proof was needed that their technique has lost none of its brilliance, this Debussy testified to the fine condition of Martha (74) and Daniel (73). I could scarcely believe that a half-century ago I interviewed her.

            Béla Bartók´s 1937  "Sonata for two pianos and percussion" is one of his late masterpieces. In itself the texture is innovative. The percussion includes a xylophone that is often a soloist plus bass drums, kettledrums, cimbals, tam-tam, triangle and small drum. Although the composer later orchestrated the percussion parts, thus transforming the Sonata into a Concerto for two pianos and orchestra, the original is much better, a score of tremendous power and total coherence.

            Argerich recorded it twice, with Kovacevich and  Nelson Freire, and played it here with the astonishing octogenarian György Sándor. She has always been the most energetic of female pianists, and now she met with another inexhaustible source of stamina, Daniel Barenboim. In the outer movements the joint strength of attack was exciting and true to the text, but they knew how to be subtle in the slow movement. The percussion players were admirable at all times, giving the necessary context for the sound Bartók imagined.

            They played just one encore, an arrangement of the exquisite "Dance of the Sugar-Plum Fairy" from Tchaikovsky´s  "The Nutcracker" Suite. And I was amazed by the feat of giving the effect of hearing celestas (as in the original) through grand pianos; the delicacy of both artists was unbelievable. Moot point: did I detect in a transition a moment of hesitancy? I wouldn´t swear to it.

            The day before Barenboim and Argerich played the pieces of Schumann and Debussy, and the rest of the programme was given over to groups from the WEDO playing Schönberg´s "First Chamber Symphony" and "Sur incises" by Pierre Boulez. I wrote about these scores already as they were played also on Friday.

             Daniel and Martha have been before the public for almost 65 years and are still completely relevant.

For Buenos Aires Herald