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September 25, 2017
Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Piano integrals of contemporaries at CETC

Malena Levin playing Gandini at the Colón’s Centre for Experimentation.
Malena Levin playing Gandini at the Colón’s Centre for Experimentation.
Malena Levin playing Gandini at the Colón’s Centre for Experimentation.
By Pablo Bardin
For the Herald

Arduous tributes to late composers Elliott Carter, Gerardo Gandini at the Colón

Last year and this season, Miguel Galperin, current director of the CETC (the Colón’ Centre for Experimentation) has programmed integrals of a certain branch of repertoire from contemporary and 20th century. Recently I attended in quick succession two specialized and arduous events: the integral piano music of Elliott Carter and the first of three sessions covering the eight piano sonatas by Gerardo Gandini. As both died this year, these performances came as fair tributes to very valuable composers.

The case of Elliott Carter has the particular distinction of being perhaps the longest-lived composer on record, for he died at 104. After early neoclassic years, he veered to atonalism and to an increased complexity. His ample Sonata (1945-6), to my mind the most attractive work of the evening, has two movements that combine slow and fast music, a forceful and tonal Maestoso followed by mercurial, virtuosic material, and afterwards strict contrapuntal passages.

Much later we meet his Night Fantasies (1980), 24 minutes long, based on contrasted blocks alternating with fast mysterious sections, by now clearly atonal; I found them too long, though interesting. The other scores were quite late in his extended career: 90+ (1994) was written at the age of 86; big jumps and quick figurations. The Two diversions are dated 1999, the first an atonal melody with abrupt interruptions, the second opposing a slow theme in the bass to fast filigrees.

The very short Retrouvailles (Reencounters) was written in the following year. The final pieces show an enviable vitality: Two thoughts about the piano is dated 2005-6 (his 97-8 years); the first, Intermittences, combines dynamic extremes with cascades of sound; the second has a strange title, Caténaires, in French, Catenaries in English, referring to a construction in chains of sound, a turbulent moto perpetuo. And finally, Tri-tribute (2007-8): apparently a family thing: Sistribute, fast and short; Fratribute, slow and reflexive; and Matribute, rather jumpy.

All this was fantastically well played by Taka Kigawa (début), a Japanese musician graduated from the prestigious Juilliard School in New York. Unfailing concentration, masterly technique and evident involvement were the tools to communicate this difficult music.

I must admit to very personal feelings concerning Gerardo Gandini: he was my teacher of contemporary music at the Catholic University and I worked with him as adviser and assistant in 1998 when he was the Colón’s Musical Director, and later when he was Principal Conductor of the Buenos Aires Philharmonic. Born in 1936, he was a protégé of Alberto Ginastera and a precocious teacher at the Instituto Di Tella. He had a kaleidoscopic career as a classical composer but also as piano player for Piazzolla and as arranger for Fito Páez.

He wrote profusely, including four operas, one of them quite a success: La ciudad ausente. He came rather late to sonata-writing, a total of eight. The first dates from 1995-96 (when he was 57-58 years of age); the last one is from 2008. They generally last about 20 minutes. Lucas Urdampilleta was the curator of the CETC project; the sonatas were presented in three consecutive days, I could only attend the first night. Each sonata was assigned to a different pianist.

On August 8, I heard Sonatas V and VI, and to give us a concert of reasonable length we had as final piece the Sonata for cello solo. The hand programme has useful literature, for we have descriptions by the composer and by Federico Monjeau on each sonata. I have to be frank: late Gandini is very mournful; indeed, the Ricordi edition gives them the general title taken from Robert Burton, Anatomy of melancholy. In a way, probably three nights of this turned-in, total introspection are too much, although I justify the remembrance of a musician who was a fundamental reference though many decades.

The Fifth Sonata (2005), very well played by the young Fernando Palomeque, is based on the 23 mysterious letters that according to Burton organize the universe (cited by Borges in La biblioteca de Babel). As that number was cabalistic for Berg, Gandini, in his post-modern way, utilizes the serial intervals (and their retrogradation) of Berg’s Violin Concerto as building-material.

The Sixth Sonata (2006) was dedicated to my friend Julio Palacio, one of the most personal writers on music. It also is based on 23 sections but adds other elements to one central idea; No. 12 is a saraband, after which we hear the mirror sections of the first eleven. Gandini mentions “windows such as exist in some Renaissance paintings”. It was correctly played by Malena Levin. The addition of a cello in the final seconds seemed a rather eccentric idea.

I am sorry to say I disliked his Cello Sonata (2006), perhaps because it sounds a lot like Morton Feldman, to my mind a very boring composer. The moroseness and the enormous silences were extreme, and I felt very little correspondence with Gandini’s Baroque names for the two movements: Prelude, Saraband and “double” (a term that refers to the same piece sounding twice as fast generally in the same tempo but with smaller units; e.g., quaver-semiquaver). I didn’t feel that his dedicatee, Martín Devoto, did much to make it convincing, it sounded like an imperfect execution.

Earlier in his life, Gandini was much more varied and I have enjoyed many of his scores; I’m afraid the ones in this concert didn’t attract me as much. These were musings for himself and, as such, they aren’t very easy to share.

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