December 6, 2013
A potpourri of diverging concerts
For the Herald
Three recent concerts were as divergent as possible. The first in fact combined a staged version of Pergolesi’s La Serva Padrona with an interpretation of Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons complemented by projections; hardly your normal concert.
The others were closer to standard but again very different: a panorama of Baroque instrumental music and a symphonic concert featuring yet again Mahler’s Fifth Symphony but adding a concerto by Schulhoff with a strange combination: string quartet and wind orchestra.
Let’s tackle the Pergolesi/Vivaldi. With it the Ensemble da Camera Umberto Giordano led by Gianna Fratta made their debut at the Coliseo for Nuova Harmonia. The group has an incongruous name for Giordano is the ‘verista‘ composer of the famous opera Andrea Chénier, hardly appropriate for a Baroque outfit.
They are very few: at least in this tour, they are made up of a harpsichodist/director, Gianna Fratta; a solo violin, Dino De Palma; two ensemble violinists, viola, cello, bass, plus a soprano and a bass-baritone.
La Serva Padrona is one of only two famous Pergolesi scores, the other being the Stabat Mater. Dated 1733, it was an Intermezzo between acts of an “opera seria,” Il prigionier superbo, by the same composer (who died at only 26-years-old). It had an immense success all over Europe and in Paris in 1752 it caused the ‘Querelle des Bouffons,‘ in which Diderot and Rousseau defended it against the very different French opera. The title says it all: in about 40 minutes, in secco recitatives (with harpsichord), arias and duets, we will be told how the serva (maid) Serpina becomes padrona (mistress of the house) and convinces bachelor Uberto to marry her with the help of a mute character, Vespone (a servo), who disguises himself as a Captain Tempesta, presumed suitor of Serpina.
The music is light, charming and humorous, quite catchy. The piece has been done with some frequency in BA but not recently, so it was welcome. The spare staging (just tables and seats) was uncredited and acceptable, and the costumes (including the rather extravagant initial one for Uberto) and wig respected the 18th Century setting. Matteo D’Apolito has a substantial bass-baritone voice with some agility and the right buffo manners. Ida Fratta showed a slim vocal equipment with strong vibrato but was faithful to the character of her Serpina. The Vespone was uncredited. The small instrumental group was discreet and musical.
I have written in preceding months about that tremedous hit, Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons. In half-light due to the projections, Dino de Palma showed himself a redoubtable soloist, fully up to the difficulties, and the minimal group (five string players and harpsichord) played with fine style and sweet sound.
The added ornaments were quite acceptable. Alas, the projections were just an Italian travelogue without appositeness; a pity, because the idea could have been worthwhile if the images had followed the programme attached to the score and sanctioned by Vivaldi.
The Academia Bach gave us a splendid session of instrumental Baroque based on composers attached to the Dresden court. An admirable group of artists coincided at the Iglesia Metodista Central: Pablo Saraví, violin; Andrés Spiller, oboe; Gabriel Pérsico, flute; José Luis Etcheverry, recorder; Edgardo Zollhofer, cello; Manuel Adduci, viola da gamba; and Mario Videla, harpsichord and organ. The five works selected were all quite interesting and showed the richness of technique and inspiration of those times.
Two were premières: the Sonata in E minor for violin and continuo by Johann Georg Pisendel, the greatest German violinist of the 1720s; and Sonata I in G for flute and continuo by Johann Adolf Hasse. The other works were: Vivaldi’s Triosonata in G minor for recorder, oboe and continuo; the Trio Sonata in C for recorder, flute and continuo (organ and gamba) by Quantz; and Zelenka’s big Triosonata in B flat major for oboe, violin and continuo. A couple of Telemann pieces as encores added to the great pleasure of this session.
It’s been some time since I was able to attend a National Symphony (Orquesta Sinfónica Nacional) concert (at the Auditorio de Belgrano).
Their Principal Conductor, Pedro Calderón, is 79 and age is beginning to show, although his complete professionalism and qualities of master builder are there as always.
I have a long memory and I have followed almost his complete career, so I quite vividly remember his splendid Fifth in 1970 at the Colón with the Buenos Aires Phil. And let’s not forget that he was the first and only conductor to do the integral Mahler symphonies in Argentina.
However, this time the National Symphony was below par: both the first trumpet and first horn made grave mistakes, and the collective sound lacked precision and energy in various points. Calderón’s phrasing, however, was much truer to the original than Diemecke’s with the Phil (this was the third Fifth in two weeks!) Of course, neither team could compete with the Israel Phil and Mehta at their very best.
In fact, the main interest of this concert was the première of Erwin Schulhoff’s Concerto for string quartet and wind orchestra (1930), a very uncommon texture cunningly exploited by this valuable Neoclassic composer who was to die during WWII at the hands of the Nazis. Quite well-played by the Cuarteto Buenos Aires and with the orchestral winds in good form, this was useful, because too little of Schulhoff is known here.