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  Founder: Len Mullenger
Classical Editor: Rob Barnett



Alberto GINASTERA (1916 - 1983)

Concerto for Harp op. 25 (1956)
Variaciones Concertantes op. 23 (1953)
Concerto for Strings op. 33 (1966)
Marie-Pierre Langlamet (harp)
Orchestre de Picardie/Edmon Colmer
Recorded June 2001, January 2002, Théâtre Impérial, Compiègne
Distributed in UK by Discovery Records
ASSAI 222282 [62.00]



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Is Ginastera as popular as he ought to be? He is reasonably represented in the record catalogue (though his operas are noticeably absent) but I can't help feeling that his music ought to be more popular than it is. Perhaps he has the misfortune to be still regarded as a Nationalist composer, at best a sort of Argentinian Bartók. His music has gone through distinct phases, starting with works in a purely nationalistic folk-idiom he gradually absorbed and sublimated the folk material. Experimenting with serialism in the 1950s, his style developed into something unique which, whilst still owing something to his Argentinian roots, is worlds apart from kitsch folkloric extravaganzas.

The Harp Concerto was written in 1956 but only received its first performance in 1965 when Nicanor Zabaleta performed it with the Philadelphia Orchestra under Eugene Ormandy. An attractive work which flirts with dissonance whilst remaining attractively melodic, it is well scored so that the harp is never overwhelmed by the orchestra. In the first movement, highly rhythmic sections on the full orchestra alternate with rather more rhapsodic episodes which allow the harp to shine. It concludes with a surprisingly quiet finale. This leads in to the rather Bartókian slow movement. The rather angular melodic material, hauntingly played, creates an atmospheric movement. This leads, via a surprisingly low key cadenza, into the finale which is driven along by the underlying syncopated rhythms. The Orchestra de Picardie respond very well to Ginastera's taut rhythms and harpist Marie-Pierre Langlamet relishes the opportunities that Ginastera gives her. It is not a bravura work, but the solo parts contains much that is subtle and attractive.

In the Variaciones Concertantes, written in 1953, we reach one of Ginastera's most well known and attractive orchestral works. In the composer's own take on concerto grosso form, a series of 12 variations on an original theme provide solo opportunities for most of the section principals in the orchestra. The harp and cello introduce the theme in a prelude suffused with warm Latin light, the composer then carefully shapes the different variations so that the resulting work has a satisfactory shape, concluding with a rousing rondo, a sort of South American fiesta. All the principals play well and the different variations show the orchestra off well, though there was the odd moment of uncertain tuning. The most virtuoso variations are probably the giocoso flute one and the clarinet scherzo, but the horns have a striking pastorale moment and the trumpet and trombone a rather rhythmic one.

The Concerto for Strings was written for Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra and was premiered in 1966. Ginastera's style had developed, during the late 1950s and 1960s he had been writing music in his own, distinctive brand of serialism. The composer himself described the 'Concerto for Strings' as belonging to his neo-expressionist period. Like the Variaciones Concertantes the concerto calls for a solo quintet (2 violins, viola, cello and double-bass) to contrast with the main body of the strings. This is tougher music than the other two pieces on this disc. And lacking woodwind and brass, it does not have the attractive gloss which Ginastera's brilliant orchestration gives. But it is a strong piece and given a fine performance here. It begins with a series of variations for each of the members of the solo quintet. The cadenza-like theme is stated first by the first violin and incorporates quarter tones. The second movement is the suitably titled Scherzo Fantastico. The slow movement is a beautifully anguished Adagio which leads to a hard-driven, fast and furious finale. This is strong music and at times the strings of the Orchestre de Picardie seemed a little stretched, but they give a tremendous performance and their lean tone suits this masterly work. I Musici di Montreal on Chandos have the benefit of a somewhat clearer recording and give a technically brilliant performance. But their disc is devoted simply to string music from a variety of composers, rather than the current disc’s rather illuminating survey of Ginastera’s music.

The Orchestre de Picardie is composed of 35 musicians and gives around two dozen concert a year both in Picardie and in the larger towns in France. Their musical director, Edmon Colomer, is a Spaniard. He seems entirely in sympathy with Ginastera's music and the orchestra respond well to his direction. You could imagine performances given with lusher string tone perhaps, but I rather think that the Orchestre de Picardie's lean tone serve this music well. They have also recorded discs of music by Honegger and Milhaud, so it is enterprising of them to commit a whole disc to the South American, Ginastera.

You can gain some insight into the reasons for the critical reaction to Ginastera in Europe when you consider the sort of music being produced by the European avant-garde at this time. No matter how much he experimented with serialism, Ginastera's brand of well crafted, approachable music must have seem enormously old fashioned. But in today's rather more forgiving, pluralistic society there is no reason why this attractive music should not get the success it deserves.

Robert Hugill



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