December 10, 2013
A symphonic panorama at the Colón
For the Herald
In recent weeks there has been a great deal of novelty in our symphonic concerts. We heard some interesting and valuable music either in premieres or in long-delayed revivals. Enrique Arturo Diemecke conducted two concerts with the Buenos Aires Philharmonic at the Colón recently and both brought welcome change.
What really mattered on September 12 was the opportunity to hear again Carl Nielsen’s Flute Concerto. I was present when Gerardo Levy premièred it back in 1979 with the Phil conducted by John Carewe, and I have long treasured a vinyl record with both that piece and the same composer’s Clarinet Concerto as played by respectively Julius Baker and Stanley Drucker, first desks of the New York Philharmonic conducted by Leonard Bernstein.
Written in 1926, when Nielsen was 60, this 19-minute score in two movements is mischievous and innovative. Rather than traditional form, what we have is a mosaic of episodes that give full play to the flute’s brilliance but oppose it to the orchestra at various moments, particularly an obstreperous trombone, and all the time playing within the limits of tonality. It was very well played this time by Claudio Barile, who has a wide palette of sound at his disposal, and was accompanied with sagacity by Diemecke.
The rest of the concert was well-known, though welcome, material: the Escenas argentinas by Carlos López Buchardo, his solitary symphonic work composed in 1920, much liked by Weingartner, who even did it here with the Vienna Philharmonic; and Dvorák’s most joyful symphony, the eighth. There were some blemishes (horn fluffs and stridency) but the proper spirit was there in both cases.
I particularly welcomed the concert on September 19 for it was fully given over to South-American music. Again conducted by Diemecke with his fabulous memory and very solid technical skills, he was at his best and got astonishing results from a BA Phil in top shape in all sections, though the music was particularly demanding for the percussionists, who had a field night.
I do feel that Kalamary (a premiere) was a poor choice. We practically ignore all Colombian classical composers, and I do hope there is better stuff than this paraphrase of melodies by Lucho Bermúdez, as arranged by Wolfano Alejandro Tobar. I found it noisy and trivial.
But the revival of Alberto Ginastera’s Popol Vuh soon compensated. For this score, which had an admirable antecedent in his Cantata para la América Mágica, is surely among his major pieces. Unfortunately he wrote seven of the eight fragments in his original plan, so we missed the coronation of the scheme, which was to be The Creation of Man. But the 27 minutes we have are fantastic and reaffirm Ginastera as our greatest composer.
The score is based on the famous Mayan book collecting legends and myths of the Quiché people. It was commissioned by Eugene Ormandy for the Philadelphia Orchestra in 1975, but Ginastera postponed it until 1982, a year before his death; Ormandy’s successor, Riccardo Muti, wasn’t interested. Leonard Slatkin found the material deposited at the editors, Boosey & Hawkes, and decided to premiere it with the St Louis Symphony, for he felt that the seven parts coalesced and produced a feeling of completeness. So in 1989 it was heard for the first time and recorded. Guillermo Scarabino premiered it here with the BA Phil in 1995.
The seven parts depict The Night of Time, The Birth of the Earth, The Awakening of Nature, The scream of Creation, The Great Rain, The Magic Ceremony of Maize and The Sun, the Moon and the Stars. Using avant-garde technique (serial harmony, clusters, clouds of sound), a telluric, visceral use of extremely varied percussion and a fascinating imagination, Ginastera manages to evoke the deepest essence of old Mayan traditions in strictly contemporary terms, going beyond another great work we heard this year, La noche de los Mayas by Silvestre Revueltas.
Heitor Villa-Lobos remains the most important Brazilian composer, as well as the most exuberant and fecund. His teeming production is only partially known here, so it was good to get to know one of his last scores, Floresta do Amazonas (Amazon Jungle), written in 1958 (he died the following year). It is fact a suite taken from his film music for Green Mansions, made by Mel Ferrer with his wife Audrey Hepburn and based on a book by William (Guillermo) Hudson; Bronislau Kaper, of Lili fame, following instructions from MGM ransacked the score; Villa-Lobos got angry and decided to make this suite and obtain from MGM the funds for a recording with the Symphony of the Air (ex NBC) and famed soprano Bidú Sayao.
With some curtailment, this is what we heard, and it still lasts 47 minutes and has 14 fragments. There are several songs and a male choir intervenes with onomatopoeic “tribal” music. Virginia Correa Dupuy is that rara avis, a mezzo with a soprano range, and she was in splendid form. The Ensemble Vocal Cámara XXI prepared by Miguel Ángel Pesce did good work. The music is lush, beautiful, Brazilian to the core, with ample orchestration and great tunes.
I do hope that in the future we will also get from Diemecke a proper representation of the US repertoire, as well as big scores from Carlos Chávez, the best Mexican composer. Programming is a difficult art worthy of some extra polish.