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Friday, March 11, 2016

National Symphony kicks off new season

Argentine conductor Facundo Agudín, who led the National Symphony in the opening concert of the new season.
By Pablo Bardin
For the Herald

OSN delivers brilliant performance in first appearance this year at the Stock Exchange

Most concert lovers attend the season of the Buenos Aires Philharmonic at the Colón. The Phil is respected and deservedly so, for they are playing at an international level. And they have the privilege of the Colón’s prestige and beauty.

However, there is another entity of similar quality: the National Symphony (Orquesta Sinfónica Nacional, OSN). For many years it played at a good venue: Auditorio de Belgrano. But in 2015 the Blue Whale at the CCK became its new home, and although the acoustics weren’t quite as splendid as the propaganda pretended, the hall is beautiful and bigger than the Auditorio, for it can accommodate 1750 people.

The orchestra has its own staff and they handle their own programming, but the CCK itself was run chaotically and the Blue Whale was used mostly for popular music, giving little place to classical music except for the OSN, which however played too sporadically. But there were some notable occasions, such as Mahler’s Second and Third Symphonies and Britten’s War Requiem.

As is well-known, the CCK wasn’t completed for its inauguration. And indeed, the reform of the huge Post Office building still hasn’t ended. The new official in charge of the CCK, Public Media Minister Hernán Lombardi, said that there were many irregularities in the building that needed to be solved before the CCK could function again. I talked with people that I find reliable, and basically I was told that in April the Blue Whale would be checked by technicians, that some aspects of the acoustics would hopefully be ameliorated, and that in May the OSN would resume its appearances there. Meanwhile, they would offer pre-season concerts at the Stock Exchange in March and in diverse Greater Buenos Aires venues throughout April.

All the above is the necessary prelude to the first concert of the orchestra at the Stock Exchange, which has dicey acoustics (rather too aggressive) but has been home to the OSN during March in recent years. And I’m happy to say that it was splendid both in the programming and the playing.

I won’t mince words: on this evidence, the current OSN is fully the equal of the Phil. True, it had a fine conductor — Facundo Agudín, an Argentine who has been working in Switzerland for two decades, showed his mettle last year in Britten’s War Requiem, and now presented a difficult and valuable combination of scores with first-rate preparation and understanding, and players who were fully involved and proved their high-level skill.

Also, they had the luxury of our best violinist in one of the longest and worthiest concerti of the repertoire, Edward Elgar’s fully mature creation of 1910. Xavier Inchausti has been a wonder of technique, stamina and hard work in such integrals as the Paganini Caprices and the Ysaÿe Sonatas. Now he dominated with utmost concentration the ample melodies and virtuosic passages of this 52-minute concerto. Clearly its length is daunting, so I was very happy that Inchausti decided to learn it. And by the way, late last year he became second concertino of the OSN; he will surely be a stalwart member.

And then, a belated première of an important and uncharacteristic score by Max Reger: the Four Tone poems based on Arnold Böcklin, written in 1913. The composer was the most formalist and traditional of the German composers of his generation, and is mainly known for his orchestral Variations on themes by Mozart, Hiller and Beethoven.

This incursion in the tone poem aesthetics is very interesting, for he shows a fresh imagination in portraying the moods originated by the paintings: The Hermit Playing the Violin, introspective music beautifully played by first concertino Luis Roggero; the dynamic and colorful Play of the Waves; his version of the most famous Böcklin picture, The Island of the Dead, evocative though not as intense as Rachmaninoff’s; and a frenetic Bacchanale.

Agudín has recorded it with the Basel Musique des Lumières; I have it and I find it very good. He got similar results from the OSN, which seemed fully attuned to this music of inventive orchestration and played with real punch and accuracy.

The concert was free, as everything the OSN does. That should change: charge low prices but charge something; it demeans an important orchestra to be available for nothing.

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