September 19, 2014
Gelber receives well-deserved tribute in BA
For the Herald
Argentina currently has three famous septuagenarian pianists: Martha Argerich, Daniel Barenboim and Bruno Leonardo Gelber. All three were child prodigies, so they all boast enormous careers. As you probably know, Barenboim enticed Argerich for a musical meeting last year, and this season they will be playing together in BA in August. It will undoubtedly be an hit. But previously Gelber has received a well-deserved tribute by AMIJAI, who invited him for an all-Beethoven sonata programme. So we have the rare conjunction of all three in 2014.
Gelber has always had the hindrance of the polio that attacked him in his young years, but he fought the consequences with an iron will and — as is the case of Perlman — he had a very intense career with much travelling over the decades. His repertoire has been mainly German: Beethoven, Brahms, Schumann. Maybe he has restricted himself too much, insisting on some works exaggeratedly and being reluctant to explore the 20th century, so his revelations were in the field of interpretation but not in the expanding of repertorial views. However, while he may have played the Brahms concerti too often, I can think of no other Argentine artist that has offered them so resplendently.
A reviewer’s painful duty is to say his truth — although the readers may not agree — and I must say that, in recent years, Gelber’s physical limitations have affected his playing, especially the thickening of the fingers, so that he has lost agility and clarity of articulation. Listening to him, I feel a heaviness that goes beyond the always rotund character of his playing of the great Beethoven middle-period sonatas in earlier days; they certainly must sound in many passages granite-like and powerful, but now I heard an unevenness of weight, the left hand often overpowering the right. The beautiful new Steinway of AMIJAI can take it, but the imbalance didn’t work positively for it diminished the quality of the phrasing in some passages.
Mind you, I’m writing about a great pianist receiving a well deserved tribute — a plaque was presented to him at the end, with words by Eugenio Scavo, Artistic Director of the institution. But the fact is that I found him more convincing in the slower and lighter music than in the turbulent, fast passages of Sonatas Nos. 14, Moonlight, 21, Waldstein, and 23, Appassionata. And, except for a blurred passage in the trio of the Scherzo, I enjoyed most the Sonata No. 15, Pastoral, where the sensitive phrasing and the beauty of the sound were fully those of the masterful Gelber. Many other passages of the other sonatas impressed me as well, but there were hesitations. Anyway there’s no gainsaying the vast and extraordinary trajectory of the artist, certainly one of the best musical ambassadors we’ve had through the decades.
Applause for Phil season
Ira Levin has shown his talent in recent years both in opera and in concert. In the third evening of the Buenos Aires Philharmonic’s subscription series he displayed his capacity in four different fields: conducting, piano playing, arranging and composing. He started with the world premiere of Rachmaninov-Levin’s Four Pieces for Orchestra, a misnomer in the sense that they are originally piano or vocal scores orchestrated by Levin. He chose interesting and little-known pieces: Etude is on the Etude-tableau Op.33/5; Vesper, in fact a Russian Ave Maria, comes from the Vespers Op.37; Prelude is based on Op.32/10; and Humoresque, light and brilliant, originated as the Morceau de salon Op10 No. 5. The orchestrations sound very well and the Phil was on its toes.
Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 14, K.449, isn’t played often. It’s in Mozart’s own words “one of very peculiar characteristics,” with quirky subjects and modulations. Levin both played and conducted very professionally, but I disliked some modernisms in his own cadenzas, especially considering that for the first movement we have one by Mozart. His encore was both spectacular and flabbergasting, for I can think of nothing more opposed to Mozart’s style: Liszt’s long Tarantella from Venezia e Napoli (an appendix to the series Years of Peregrination). But the man can really play virtuoso piano.
Dvorák’s Seventh Symphony is his most Brahmsian and dramatic; experts believe it’s his best score on this form. Although there was some acid on the general sound, the reading was intense, concentrated and logical.
On the following date Enrique Arturo Diemecke was back, and I welcome that he conducted a great choral-symphonic creation, for this has been a notoriously weak field in the Diemecke years. Again I was impressed by his fabulous memory, for he used no score as he traversed Brahms’ German Requiem, about 75 minutes of dense, beautiful Romantic music on texts from both Testaments in Luther’s translation. And his reading was quite traditional, obtaining from both the orchestra and the combined choirs a noble Romantic mahogany-hued sound.
The work is predominantly choral, as four fragments are purely for massed voices and the others alternate the soloist (baritone or soprano) with the choirs. On the occasion, Miguel Ángel Pesce combined the 73 voices of the Asociación Coral Lagun Onak with the 35 of Cámara XXI for a grand total of 108, really huge. They sang as one, with well-trained voices and sane phrasing. Carla Filipcic Holm was exquisite in her intervention, whilst Lucas Debevec Mayer (replacing the announced Fernando Radó) sang with great expression but not without effort.