December 22, 2014
Rich menu at Coliseo from Nuova Harmonia
For the Herald
A couple of orchestras plus some chamber music offer varied performances in BA
This will be a survey of two recent orchestral concerts plus one of chamber music: two sessions of Nuova Harmonia at the Coliseo are the main material. The first presented L’Arte del Mondo, paradoxically a German chamber orchestra, led by its concertino and founder Werner Ehrhardt. The group exists since 2004 and has been here before. Their residence is in the Ruhr, at Leverkusen’s Bayer Arts and Culture complex.
Violinist Daniel Hope is South African-born but raised in Great Britain. Some years ago he played Berg’s Concerto with the BA Philharmonic. He was back, and his presence wasn’t limited to a single concerto; instead, he dominated the programme by playing no less than three scores.
The ensemble was made up of 10 violins, two violas, two cellos, a bass, a harpsichord, two oboes and two horns: 20 players coordinated through body gestures from his concertino seat by Ehrhardt. This works when the group is solidly professional; everyone has the feeling of a team and an expert like Ehrhardt settles technical and stylistic matters. All this was amply demonstrated in a very good performance of Mozart’s Symphony No. 29, which joins No. 25 as the most accomplished of that composer’s early period (it’s K.201 and he was only 18.)
If Mozart’s maturity amazes, the case is even more so concerning Mendelssohn’s Concerto for violin and strings, written at 13. The piece remained forgotten until 1951 when an Oxford antiquary made it known to Yehudi Menuhin. This early score is astonishingly proficient and often inspired.
Hope proved from the beginning that he is an intense player of important means; the initial movement is in D minor and was played with a sense of drama that communicated strongly. The sweetness of the Andante non troppo didn’t cloy, and the final Allegro maybe was too gypsy but certainly enjoyable. The rapport with the orchestra was excellent.
The J.S. Bach Concerto for two violins is an always welcome standard; it was played by Hope and Andrea Keller (from the orchestra) with nice give-and-take. Finally, Hope chose Mozart’s least played Violin Concerto, No. 1 K.207, maintaining the period of Symphony No. 29. Although I disliked the cadenzas (not written by Mozart and sounding too modern), it was pleasant to hear this neglected concerto, which is quite virtuosic for its time. Hope had some slips but in general played quite well, as did the orchestra excepting a couple of horns croaks.
I didn’t enjoy the encores: two movements from Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons in unacceptable modern arrangements and lengthenings, but Hope and the strings played brilliantly.
I was disappointed by the concert combining the Sestetto Stradivari (debut) with Eduardo Hubert, the Argentine pianist residing in Italy. The string sextet (two violins, two violas, two cellos) is an attractive amplification of the quartet allowing for great harmonic richness and complementary counterpoint. Nevertheless it has attracted few composers, but at least four scores are first-rate: the two Brahms Sextets, Schönberg’s Transfigured Night and Tchaikovsky’s Souvenir de Florence. Any combination of these would have been very welcome, for it is a texture rarely heard.
However — maybe because Hubert is Argentine — in this tour they began with a piano quintet, and it proved a bad thing, not because of the chosen piece, Dvorák’s wonderful Second Quintet, Op.81. The execution sounded poorly rehearsed, with plenty of technical mishaps both from the pianist and the string players, with the exception of the cello, who displayed a warm sound and good intonation. And the interpretation veered from dreaminess to hectic turbulence.
The second part was better; we heard the full sextet in Brahms’ magnificent Op. 18, to my mind the best music ever invented for this combination, and they did play better for it is obviously essential repertoire for them, but I have to report a rare circumstance: their names weren’t in the hand programme by their own will. After doing a bit of Google research, I found that all the players are members of the famous Accademia Nazionale Santa Cecilia of Rome. They exist since 2001 and they play Stradivari instruments. If I weren’t told, I wouldn’t have surmised it. I found both the first violin and the first viola substandard, and the rest were good but no more except the aforementioned first cello. I will respect their willed anonymate. Many of the counterpoints weren’t heard clearly and intonation and vibrato weren’t uniform. But the music is so wonderful that it prevailed.
The encores were two tangos written by Hubert and they were better played than all the rest.
About new chances
Some months ago I wrote about the predicament of the Orquesta Estable de RTA, facing dismemberment until saved by a court ruling. The judge ordered that the orchestra be recognized by the authorities and provided with concert programming. Two have taken place at the auditorium of Radio Nacional and I heard the second, before a sparse audience due to suspiciously mediocre publicity.
My verdict: they deserve to live. Apart from a mediocre flutist in Fauré’s Pavane, all the music was correctly played and conducted (by Marcelo Zurlo): Gianneo’s Obertura para una comedia infantil and Mozart’s Don Giovanni Overture and Symphony No. 36, Linz. Plus Piazzolla’s Libertango as a protest encore. I wish them the best of luck.