January 19, 2018
Friday, July 14, 2017

A wealth of symphonic and chamber music for all tastes

The marvellous BA début of the Boston Philharmonic Youth Orchestra at the Blue Whale.
The marvellous BA début of the Boston Philharmonic Youth Orchestra at the Blue Whale.
The marvellous BA début of the Boston Philharmonic Youth Orchestra at the Blue Whale.
By Pablo Bardin
For the Herald

Enticing concerts in Buenos Aires, including débuts by the Istanbul State Symphony and a stellar turn by the Boston Philharmonic Youth Orchestra

Foreign or local, the menu of symphonic and chamber music has been enticing in recent weeks. Let’s start with the symphonic.

The fourth item of Nuova Harmonia’s season was originally announced as the visit of the Prague Philharmonia, but that was later changed and instead we had the début of the Istanbul State Symphony, although the programmed conductor (Milan Turkovic), violinist (Vadim Repin) and repertoire were retained. We have never had a Turkish orchestra visit before. This one has a long history: in 1827 the Ottoman Sultan Mahmut II invited Giuseppe Donizetti (the brother of Gaetano) to found the Muzika-i-Humayun, the Ottoman Imperial Orchestra. Much later, during World War I, the orchestra did a tour of such cities as Vienna, Berlin, Munich, Budapest and Sofia. By 1945, at the end of World War II, it was the Istanbul Municipal Symphony, and finally, it got its current “name” in 1972.

We are not familiar with Turkish composers or interpreters. I couldn’t find any recordings of the orchestra in my CD catalogue, so I had no clear expectations, for ethnic Turkish music has little to do with Occidental tradition (I have some folk songs and Janissary pieces) and I know no classical pieces of that origin. Curiously the conductor’s name seems Turkish but it isn’t, his family is Austro-Croatian; he was, for several decades, one of the best bassoonists in the world (200 CDs recorded with Harnoncourt’s Concentus Musicus!). During the last 20 years his career veered towards conducting; this was his Buenos Aires début.

He started the concert with the very brief suite Telli Turna by Nevit Kodalli (1924-2009), of course a première. Having graduated in 1947 from the Ankara Conservatory (founded in 1936 and the oldest in Turkey), Turkovic also studied in Paris with Honegger and Nadia Boulanger. Among his works, the opera Van Gogh and the oratorio Atatürk. The title of the suite is that of the so-called “damsel crane” and it was written in 1967 for the Presidential Symphony. The music is folk-inspired, melodic and rhythmical.

Then, the return of Vadim Repin, born in Siberia in 1971, an artist who is much appreciated here, playing on his 1733 “Rode” Stradivari the overplayed Bruch Violin Concerto No. 1 — which he did with admirable technique and much elegance, though a bit too contained for this fiercely Romantic music. The encore was pure virtuoso display: Paganini’s version of The Carnival of Venice.

Finally, the wonderful Eighth Symphony by Dvorák, fully the equal of the famed Ninth, “From the New World.” The orchestra isn’t big as it comes, only 59-strong, but they seemed more because they played with such dynamism and full-bodied sound. Its members are all Turkish, and most of the violinists are women. Turkovic may be a little stiff in his gestures but he is very musical and I listened with much pleasure, for the whole orchestra is of a good standard. Two encores: a clean Overture to Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro, and a funny Scherzo by Ferit Tüzün (première), the third of his Esintiler (“Inspirations”), played with plenty of spirit. In what had been a rather weak Nuova Harmonia season, this was the best so far.

Grade A surprise

And now, a grade A surprise: the marvellous BA début of the Boston Philharmonic Youth Orchestra under its venerable founder Benjamin Zander at the Blue Whale. They came in full force, 101 players between 12 and 21 years-old, and their playing was tremendously assured and beautiful throughout. A stirring Sibelius Finlandia was followed by his Violin Concerto, played with astounding precision by the 21-year-old Korean In Mo Yang, a major talent confirmed in his encore, a Paganini piece.

But what capped my feeling of exhilaration was a fantastic performance of Prokofiev’s Fifth Symphony, a masterpiece; I have strong memories of high-calibre interpretations (Mitropoulos-New York Phil; Szell with the same orchestra; Ormandy-Philadelphia) and I have no doubt that this one belongs in such distinguished company. Discipline, capacity and hard work guided by the sure hand of a wise conductor. Zander communicated with the packed house with enthusiastic speeches showing his other side (he has often given lectures at Davos on leadership), a life committed to peace and artistic accomplishment.

Three encores: a perfect Stars and Stripes Forever (Sousa), queen of marches; Piazzolla’s Oblivion with solo flute; and Elgar’s noble Nimrod from the Enigma variations.

Decades ago the Zagreb Soloists under Antonio Janigro were the great rivals of I Musici and both ensembles visited us often. Now we had the début of the Zagreb Philharmonic conducted by Alexander Rudin (also début) at the Usina del Arte, but in fact it was a chamber orchestra of only 32 players. In its full garb it has a long trajectory, for it was born in 1871 and has had guest conductors such as Stokowski, Stravinsky and Maazel. Rudin is Russian and has made recordings with Musica Viva of scores by Sviridov, Tcherepnin and C.Ph.E.Bach; he is also a cellist of prestige.

The special interest was the possibility of hearing the premières of two Croatian composers: the agreeable and succinct Third Symphony by Luca Sorkocevic (1734-89) and the charming Idyll by Blagoje Bersa (1873-1934), reminiscent of Delius in its understated refinement. Beethoven’s Fourth Piano Concerto showed our Carmen Piazzini, a distinguished artist of long German career as player and teacher, especially in Darmstadt, with unexpected technical hesitations blemishing the result, notwithstanding some passages expressed with real style.

The orchestra had played well under Rudin, but they demonstrated their true ability in the final marvellous score, Mozart’s Symphony No. 41, “Jupiter.” The disastrous hand programme gave no information on Rudin or the Croatian composers and didn’t specify the movements, but of course music-lovers have long incorporated No. 41 into their hearts and intellect. This was a very honest and well-rehearsed performance by responsible musicians, though a bit short on impulse.

Chamber performances

And now, some chamber music. Pride of place to a concert at the Usina’s chamber hall , part of the Boulez focus planned by the Colón’s CETC: lectures, dialogues and installations, plus three concerts. I caught the second one, in which a Boulez première, Messagesquisse (“Messagesketch”) was sandwiched between two Schönberg scores. I have never heard in concert the latter’s Trio for strings, op. 45, and may be it was a première. Mosco Carner defines this late work thus: it “was written in 1946 after an almost fatal illness. Anxiety, agony and existential sadness, prompted by the utter solitude of a man in extremis, mingle with a retrospect into a happy past.” He also mentions “extreme registers and dynamics” and “an exploitation of special effects.” I found it both harsh and lyric, an uncompromising creation.

Boulez can sound too cerebral, long and experimental, but his Messagesquisse was brief (nine minutes) and convincing in its combination of a cello soloist with six accompanying cellos in music that was vital and made the most of the mahogany textures. And of course Schönberg’s Verklärte Nacht (“Transfigured Nigh”),written in 1899 before his atonal and 12-tone phases, is a marvel of postromanticism with a strong expressionist touch; in fact, a rarity, a tone poem for string sextet.

We were treated to admirable interpretations based on the Marmer Quartet (British, debut) with the addition of high-level foreign and local musicians, combining fine technique and savvy style.

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