Theatro Municipal do Rio de Janeiro Saturday, June 18th, 2016 Gidon Kremer and the Kremerata Baltica L. v. Beethoven – String Quartet in F Major, no. 11 , op.95 (arr. G. Mahler) R. Schumann – Violin Concerto in A minor, op.129 (arr. R.Koering from the cello concerto) A. Raskatov – The Season’s Digest (from Tchaikovsky’s the Seasons, op.37) A. Piazzolla – Cuatro Estaciones Porteñas for violin and strings (arr. Leonid Desyatnikov)
I believe I have said in another article that Rio de Janeiro is hardly an international classical music hub. Nevertheless, sometimes there are great surprises. Only this month, Jean Guihen Queyras, one of the leading cellists of our day, played three Bach suites at the Cidade das Artes, a music and theatre venue which is unfortunately somewhat out of the way, so it escaped my attention and I sadly missed him. But last week I was very much aware and elated that Gidon Kremer and his Kremerata were to play at the Theatro Municipal, much more accessible and a beautiful early 20th century building the architecture of which was inspired by that of the Opéra Garnier.
Kremer is one of the pillars of the Kronberg Cello Festival, which is actually a chamber music festival centered on, but not exclusively, the cello. It is there that I heard him play trios with Martha Argerich and Mischa Maisky, and also play with the same Kremerata Baltica he brought to Rio. Not quite the same, maybe, as I had the impression the women were much more spectacular and the men more dashing, a totally frivolous observation.
Leaving frivolity aside, Saturday’s concert was no disappointment. That Kremer is one of the best contemporary violinists is open to discussion, as all subjective assessments are, but I am ready to defend my position wholeheartedly. To speak of virtuosity is beside the point, as it must be taken for granted in musicians of such caliber. But, at the risk of sounding commonplace, I will only say that virtuosity alone is totally uninteresting and that musicianship without virtuosity does not exist. One must have the technical means to express oneself, so I am wary of the so-called “sensitive” musicians who play sloppily and/or out of tune.
If the playing, both from Kremer and his exquisitely prepared Kremerata, was superlative, I have a few misgivings about the program, which consisted totally of arrangements. Only one, Raskatov’s “The Season’s Digest”, was what I would call an original arrangement, as it is rather, as the program stated, a set of vignettes based on Tchaikovsky’s piano composition. It was more fun than I expected, with a “prepared piano” and voice parts (sung by the musicians) intermingled with more traditional writing. It reminded me both of Schnittke (his Epilogue for cello, piano and tape) and of Kremer’s compatriot Peteris Vasks (Grammata Cellam, in which an eerie voice which turns out to be the cellist’s is suddenly accompanies the cello), but only because of the gimmicks. His writing has little to do with theirs.
Apart from that, I would say that the Beethoven String Quartet, although the arrangement is by Mahler, sounds much better as a string quartet. And, of course, my cellist’s heart strongly objects to the arrangement of “our” concerto, especially considering that the violin repertoire is much richer (quantitatively, not qualitatively) than the cello’s. Also, the violin somehow does not manage to convey the same power and pathos in the Schumann as the cello, but it may be argued that this is only bias. When the viola borrows from the cello, it is another matter, considering the paucity of the solo viola repertoire.
Now, at the risk of having my head bashed in by purists, I would dare say that Piazzolla’s music has one thing in common with Bach’s , and that is that it lends itself to different arrangements without ever losing its uniqueness. Whichever instruments are playing, whatever the ensemble may be, Piazzolla remains Piazzolla, with his extraordiary rhythmic variety and unmistakable timbres. Even in Desyatnikov’s arrangement which includes quotations from Vivaldi that Piazzolla never wrote in, and lacks the sound of the bandoneón, the Four Seasons are quintessential and mesmerizing Piazzolla.
Kremer and his camerata delivered a shining performance of this odd repertoire of arrangements, which would probably have suffered tremendously in less competent hands. Bliss came at the end, when they played Pizzolla’s poignant milonga “Oblivión” as an encore. It was again an arrangement, this time unattributed, of the original violin and piano composition, but I would never complain, having myself played it with an added cello part, in an arrangement for trio by Argentine cellist and composer José Bragato, a close associate of Piazzolla’s.