jueves, noviembre 12, 2015

All in a week: four rewarding orchestral concerts


            All in a week, indeed, I attended four interesting orchestral concerts, data that confirms our strong musical life. Two were visitors from the Province of Buenos Aires and Ireland, and one (the latter) is a chamber orchestra. For reasons of space, the B.A. Philharmonic will have to wait.

            This time I will follow the chronology. On Friday 16, at the Bolsa (Stock Exchange),  the Orquesta Estudiantil de Buenos Aires led by Guillermo Zalcman offered a splendid programme which included two choral-symphonic scores and, as usual with this orchestra, two premières.

            I have written this before but it´s worth repeating: Zalcman holds the record of orchestral premières during the last two decades. An enthusiastic man, he founded this Student Orchestra back in 1982 on the basis of the school where he was professor, the Mariano Acosta, and has conducted it since then, which makes this organism the most long-lived of youth orchestras in our midst.  True, the orchestra is rather special for it includes six saxophones, which can only happen if there´s a degree of arrangement of the original scores (I don´t agree).

            Consider this programme, and be sure that you won´t find anything like it in the seasons of the B.A.Phil and the National Symphony: Gustav Holst´s "A Somerset Rhapsody" (1907); the première of Sergei Taneiev´s "John of Damascus" (1884), cantata on poems by Alexei Tolstoi; "The Muse and the Poet", 1910, concertante poem for violin, cello and orchestra by Saint-Saëns, première; and Tchaikovsky´s cantata "Moscow", 1883, on texts by Apolo Maikov, for the Coronation of Czar Alexander III. What´s more, all are worth knowing, especially the cantatas.

            The playing and conducting were mostly right, except the opaque soloists in Saint-Saëns, and the big Choir En Voz Alta (Hernán Sánchez Arteaga) was sonorous and adequate (it has the curious characteristic of being made up by choristers and professors attached to schools of the city). Good contributions in Tchaikovsky from mezzosoprano Rocío Arbizu and baritone Alfredo Martínez.

            About a dozen years ago, I heard the Orquesta Sinfónica de la Ciudad de Mar del Plata at that city´s Teatro Colón in a positive concert conducted by Carlos Vieu, so I was intrigued by their current level as they visited La Ballena Azul with their current leader since 2011, Emir  Saúl, an Argentine that has had a long career in Italy. The roster in the hand programme lists 53 players, though I counted 55, which makes it a small orchestra, unless some members were left home.

            The programme was changed: instead of the "Rapsodia en tiempo de tango" by Washington Castro, which would have been a proper homage to a distinguished artist that was their longtime Principal Conductor, they offered beginning the Second Part a badly chosen Piazzolla, for the "Balada para un loco" is very special and doesn´t accommodate an arrangement for symphony orchestra, and Debussy-Büsser´s "Petite suite" (arranged by the latter –not informed in the programme- from the original for  piano duet), charming early score.

            After a correct version of Mozart´s Overture to "The Marriage of Figaro", we had a  disappointing reading of Schumann´s Cello Concerto with the debut of Anna Banas, a young Pole of acceptable technique but little sound, and this score needs all the help it can get. A rather harsh orchestra didn´t  add. As to the "Balada....", it was done in good style by Karina Levine but with microphone, proof that it was for a different sort of concert; when she spoke she was hard to hear. The "Petite Suite" and the First Suite from Grieg´s "Peer Gynt" showed that the orchestra plays agreeably and Saúl knows his business. The encores were more Piazzolla,"because he is marplatense": a noisy piece I didn´t recognize, and "Libertango": of course, big success for this crossover music.

            Barry Douglas has often visited us as a talented pianist, but this is the first time he comes with his Camerata Ireland, founded by him in 1999. It is a flexible ensemble: it came to us as a string group 19-strong plus a featured soloist, Eimear McGeown in orchestral flute and Irish flute, plus a lady tympani player; but the "biography" of the group in the hand programme indicates that they have recorded the Beethoven Piano Concerti and that needs more players.

            McGeown is a personable and efficient player, and she knows the Irish inflexions,  so she was equally convincing in Johann Quantz´s Concerto in G, QV (Quantz Verzeichnis) 5:174 (yes, he wrote more than 200 flute concerti for Frederick the Great of Prussia!)  and in the Celtic Folk Songs that closed the programme. The Camerata accompanied in fine style the Quantz, with Douglas doing the harpsichord continuo. But Douglas´ own "Chant for Columbanus" , a Sixth Century Irish Saint, and the five-part Folk Songs (in fact, folk inspired in some cases) had rather pat arrangements, nowhere near the imagination of, say, Percy Grainger (the encores were more of the same).

            Both the Camerata and Douglas were on congenial ground -save one exception- playing Mozart. Concerto Nº 14, played legitimately in the version orchestrated for just strings (the other adds oboes and horns), was beautifully phrased by the pianist with his habitual strong technique. In the Serenade Nº6, "Nocturnal", the gimmick is the separation into two small ensembles, one of them feauturing tympani. What I disliked was the very unstylistic short cadenzas intercalated in the third movement. Otherwise, all was well.

For Buenos Aires Herald 

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