Tribuna Musical: Gelber´s return plus Respighi´s Roman evocations

Tribuna Musical:  jueves, marzo 24, 2016
Gelber´s return plus Respighi´s Roman evocations
The Buenos Aires Philharmonic´s under Enrique Arturo Diemecke offered its first concert of the fifteen that comprise the subscription series and the Colón was packed, for after many years of absence Bruno Leonardo Gelber played again in this hallowed hall. To boot, in what I believe is a first, the three Roman tone poems by Ottorino Respighi were heard together in BA.

            Gelber is one of the trilogy of illustrious septuagenarian Argentine pianists, and later in the season we will hear the other two: Martha Argerich and Daniel Barenboim. As is common knowledge, Gelber has held a lifelong battle with the consequences of the poliomielitis that struck him when he was a child, but he has shown tremendous constancy in developing his great talent despite this disadvantage. His repertoire, never very big, centered on Beethoven, Schumann, Chopin and Brahms. He had a very long international career and was widely feted for his interpretations of the Beethoven and Brahms concertos.

            His childish appearance always contrasted with the sturdy solidity of his  very orthodox playing. Decade after decade he gave both here and abroad reliable recitals and concertos with the world´s orchestras. However, in more recent years his old problems worsened, and his schedule began to be sparser. Aggravated by overweight, his playing became more effortful and less precise. But last year, even under such conditions, he gave an extensive tour of our provinces, showing an admirable fighting spirit. A recital at the San Isidro Hippodrome during Holy Week (I wrote about it) gave evidence that even  with some shortcomings Gelber still had a lot to offer.

            The same can be said about his Colón performance of Beethoven´s Fourth Concerto. He loves this score and has played it many times before in this city (and in countless other places).  However, his execution was uneven, with passages that sounded confused with others where we recognized the Gelber of yore. His sound was always better in soft passages; the “fortes” were overemphasized and had a metallic tinge. I don´t know if he played in the Colón´s newer Steinway or in the older, but the chunky feeling was there. He was at his best in the dreamy slow movement.

            The Phil wasn´t as helpful as I hoped, there were dirty horn sounds and some uneasy joins. Perhaps, faced with the heavy Respighi challenge, they needed more rehearsal. 

            A mail arrived today and informed me that Darío Lopérfido has promised Gelber a recital this year, date to be announced. Trajectory matters, and although the pianist´s best years are past, he still deserves this opportunity to be applauded by his faithful audience at our best venue.

            In Italy no one has orchestrated better than Respighi, a true disciple of Rimsky-Korsakov. It is generally agreed that in a country where most composers were inclined to write operas, although Respighi did so (his masterpiece is “La Fiamma”)  he also created the most imaged and colorful symphonic music. There is general agreement that his highest achievements are the three tone poems he dedicated to his beloved Rome:  “Fountains of Rome” (1917), ” Pines of Rome” (1924) and “Roman Festivals” (1928).

            All are divided in four tableaux, blending each one with the following. “Fountains” is the most impressionistic, as it portraits aurally from dawn to dusk Villa Giulia, Triton, Trevi and Villa Medici; it goes from the most subtle “pianissimo” to joyful washes of sound. “Pines” gives us kids playing near Villa Borghese, mournful Christian mementos near the Catacombs, poetic nature impressions (including birds) at the Gianicolo, and the marvelous crescendo of the Roman legions at the Via Appia.

            “Festivals” is by far the most noisy and popular, as befits the subject. “Circus” is the one of the cruel Roman Empire, with Christians sacrificed by lions; the music has brutal impact. “Giubileum” has several moods. “L´Ottobrata” (“Feast of October”) is dynamic and joyful. And “La Befana” is an enormous  succession of dances during Epiphany: the cumulative brilliance becomes overwhelming. Although the orchestration is varied and rich in all three, “Festivals” is stunning, with abundant percussion, full brass, mandolin, organ and piano.  In the last tableaux of “Pines” and “La Befana”, trumpets strategically placed in a central loge reinforce the excitement of the main orchestra.

            All this together amounts to 55 minutes and is very difficult to play and conduct. Diemecke and the Phil gave us a triumphant tour de force. The conductor put “Festivals” first, then “Fountains” and “Pines”, but he made no break between the latter two, which seems to me unwarranted. A detail: Respighi asks for “buccine”, a revival of ancient trumpets in the shape of a G; they sound savage and fortissimo, but the Colón doesn´t have them. No matter, the sound was tremendous anyway.

            Diemecke was born for this sort of music: sanguine, showman, with a gift for balance of very complicated mixes of instruments,  communicative extroversion and a fantastic memory, he gave us model interpretations. The Phil, with evidence of thorough rehearsal, met the challenge with cohesion, discipline and intensity, along with fine solo playing from all concerned.

            I have to end with bad news: although the Colón has made no announcement, the planned performances (with the Phil) of “Swan Lake” by the Ballet at the Luna Park won´t take place. That leaves the Phil with blank weeks until the next concert, scheduled for April 7th

For Buenos Aires Herald 

Tribuna Musical: Gelber´s return plus Respighi´s Roman evocations

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