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Dilemmas for the BA Phil and the NSO

The BA Philaharmonic under the direction of Enrique Arturo Diemecke.
By Pablo Bardin
For the Herald

City’s two leading orchestras face questions over their futures and that of their directors

The Buenos Aires Philharmonic is going through a happy period at the moment, with mouthwatering programmes lined up and the consistently fine work of their Musical Director Enrique Arturo Diemecke.

I do have some objections: the conductor dominates the season too much, leaving too little time for other artists (except Ira Levin, strongly promoted by the Colón’s Director Pedro Pablo García Caffi); the Phil should offer more concerts, at least 24 (this probably is a restriction imposed by García Caffi, not by Diemecke); and, although we get plenty of symphonic late Romantic-era blockbusters, there are whole other areas of orchestral repertoire that are left untouched, especially the Schönberg-Berg-Webern school; some programmes have paired very unlikely partners; many interesting conductors aren’t invited; premières are quite insufficient, second performances too; and prices are too high.

Diemecke’s tenure has been long (nine years, I believe) and there are two indisputable facts — both the orchestra and the public like him.

There are old adages that alude that if things are going well, there’s no need to change them. This rule has been applied in the United States for many decades, and orchestras have become identified with their conductors (Philadelphia/Ormandy, Boston/Koussevitzky, Cleveland/Szell). Karajan was the conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic all his life.

But there is another point of view here: Buenos Aires has, with Diemecke, the possibility to reach similar highs but it needs to expand its repertoire with different concepts, giving us Berg and Hindemith, along with Berio or Ligeti. A repertoire that shows more interest in Mozart and Haydn, that will seek out the premières we need (we still don’t know essential works from the likes of Delius, Ives, Vaughan Williams, Prokofiev well enough).

Diemecke has admitted that he wants to do more choral-symphonic work (the Phil’s record on this has been very mediocre in recent years) although, as he cannot count on the Colón Choir (there’s no way to align their rehearsal hours), he will have to work with either private groups or with the fine voices from the excellent Coro Polifónico Nacional or the Teatro Argentino. Or course if a new musical director were to take over, the Colón’s Direction should intervene so that Diemecke would continue to come as guest, as he deserves.

Indeed, as long as we tolerate his clownish aspects, indicated when he salutes the audience, the truth is that Diemecke merits being treated as a very talented and complete musician, with a clear strategy (he is a master of long lines and structure) and tactical ability (perfect ensemble, good eye fordetails) as well as absolutely phenomenal memory. His most recent concert again showed off his best qualities with Bruckner’s monumental Eighth Symphony, perhaps the most accomplished from this very personal composer. I have lasting reminiscences of its BA première, led by Franz-Paul Decker (who was so admired by the Phil’s audience) who performed it with the Radio del Estado Orchestra in 1963, and I also asked Gerd Albrecht to include it when he made his debut with the Colón Orchestra in April 1973.

Along with these references and some sterling performances I heard in Europe (Klemperer, Blomstedt) I will treasure this Diemecke Eighth, which followed the Novak score, except for two small cuts in the Finale. The concentration on show, fine playing by all concerned, the coherence, intelligent tempi and spine-tingling climaxes were spectacular, and there were beautiful solos in the numerous chamber group-like fragments.

Before the interval, we had the rare and welcome chance to hear Richard Strauss’ very late and delicious Duo-Concertino for clarinet, bassoon and strings. Beautifully played by Mariano Rey and Gabriel La Rocca and lovingly accompanied by the conductor, it showed the sunny side of the great composer in its best light.

On the other hand, the National Symphony Orchestra’s version of Beethoven’s Choral Symphony was an alarming disappointment. Ending a run of the complete symphonies under the NSO Musical Director Pedro Calderón, the sound was harsh, unbalanced, and there were plenty of wrong entries or mistakes. Some parts were better than others, but neither conductor nor orchestra were on a good day (or week). The Coro Polifónico Nacional under Roberto Luvini did well; the female soloists (soprano Paula Alnerares, mezzo Guadaluype Barrientos) were quite good, but the men were below their usual level (tenor Enrique Folger, bass-baritone Lucas Debevec Mayer).

The NSO’s dilemma is this: is Calderón approaching the end of his enormous career, which he started at just 20 years old (he is now 80)? He doesn’t look physically fit, and considering that we owe him so much from his work over the decades, I wonder if the time has come to pronounce him Conductor Emeritus and to start looking for a successor. But perhaps it is just a bad patch and he will recover.

Anyway, it is a fact that the NSO played very well in the following concert, dedicated to great 20th-century authors: Béla Bartók’s long and pithy Violin Concerto (44 minutes) and Paul Hindemith’s magnificent Symphony Mathis the painter (on the famous Grünewald triptych at Colmar). The young conductor Darío Domínguez gave a good, sane reading, was fully in command, and the orchestra was transformed. Plus, I should mention the amazing Xavier Inchausti, who played with absolute control and had an intellectual grasp of the very difficult music, with an objective type of sound that suits Bartók. In the ample encore, Saÿe’s Third Sonata-Ballade, he showed off a much juicier sound according to the Late Romantic aesthetics of the admirable piece — it was a masterly peformance.

As for the NSO’s future, it was recently confirmed that in May 2015 the new centre at the ex-post Office (Correo) will be finished, with its 2,000-capacity auditorium, the definitive home for the orchestra.

Let’s cross our fingers...

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