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Leonardo BALADA (b 1933)
Concerto for Cello and Orchestra No 2 "New Orleans" (2001)
Concerto for Four Guitars and Orchestra (1976)
Celebració for Orchestra (1992)
Passacaglia for Orchestra (2002)
Michael Sanderling (cello)
Versailles Guitar Quartet
Barcelona Symphony Orchestra and Catalonia National Orchestra/Colman Pearce
Recorded L’Auditori, Barcelona, June 2002
NAXOS 8.557049 [68.08]

Naxos has promoted Balada recently in a well-received series devoted to his orchestral and operatic work. This is my first encounter with the Barcelona-born composer and it’s been a stimulating one enlivened by his advanced technique and range of musical and geographic sympathies, roaming on this disc from his native Catalonia to New Orleans. He has been known for his blending of avant-garde technique and native musical material but that’s not a facet of development limited only to Balada and his ambition must be measured by its success.

The Cello Concerto, written for and dedicated to the performer here, Michael Sanderling, is a two-movement work some twenty-three minutes in length. The cellistic line is bent and sinuously pleading occasionally bursting, very briefly, into a piano supported vamp with drum backbeat – giving it an effect that acts as an almost phantasmagoric glimpse into a parallel work. I don’t find the tone clusters and the striking technical difficulties at all frivolous but in truth I don’t find the synthesis between musics absolutely sustained either, at least in the first movement. There is some swoony orchestration in the Lament opening movement as well as more abrasive material and a theme that sounds like a cross between I was Born Under A Wand’ring Star and a Gospel tune insinuates itself repeatedly into the fabric of the music. The second movement – "Swinging" – has a lot of sliding and slithering but a back beat and bass pizzicato establishes the jazz ethos soon enough along with some truly mordant wind interjections. The cellist even plays a bass style solo. There is a moment of sorrowing introversion at the end that strives to elevate the work to an exterior emotive level. In the end I found a gulf between means and effect in the Concerto; its very title, "New Orleans" sets up expectations that the work fails to evoke and the result is a stylised and imprecise series of gestural approximations.

The 1976 Concerto for Four Guitars is a rather more piquant and aurally provocative affair that affords moments of stunning sonority. The amazing canonic colour of the opening movement – utilitarianly called 1 by the composer – and the hypnotic repetitions and shifting patterns are all most exciting. The increasingly abrasive orchestration only adds to the tensile strength of the ensemble. In the second movement Balada evokes Music Box sonorities, the guitars playing harmonics; delicate, static, compelling. And, rightly, in the finale we have a lively off beat agitation and drama and a perfect close to a Concerto of improbable attainments given the forces and real imagination. Celebració was written to celebrate the Catalonian millennium in 1992. Here there is vibrant metamorphosis, chugging rhythm, orchestral colour and melody including plenty of driving motoric modernism. The string slither as they were later to do in the Cello Concerto and the brass can be brutal. It ends with the earlier material now transformed and coalescence, an absorption of sorts. The Passacaglia (2002) is also tinged with provocative aggression; the percussion can be acerbic but the trajectory remains one of concentration and security, and increasingly absorbed stillness.

Plenty then to stimulate the mind and the ear. Balada’s proves a strong and imaginative voice, strictures about aspects of the Cello Concerto notwithstanding. I’d particularly recommend the Four Guitar Concerto to the uninitiated as a means by which best to appreciate his colouristic palette and acute ear for sonority.

Jonathan Woolf

see also review by Hubert Culot

Leonardo BALADA (b.1933) Concerto for piano and orchestra No 3 (1999)
Concerto Magico for Guitar and orchestra (1997) Music for Flute and
Orchestra (2000) Barcelona Symphony Orchestra and the Catalonia National
Orchestra conducted by Jose Serebrier Rosa Torres-Pardo Piano Eliot Fisk,
Magdalena Martinez, Flute Recorded Sala Simfonica Barcelona July 2000 NAXOS
8.555039 [70.11]

Leonardo BALADA (born 1933) Hangman, Hangman! (1982) The Town of Greed
(1997) James Longmire (tenor), Johnny; Natalya Kraevsky (soprano),
Sweetheart; Elizabeth Sederburg (contralto), the Mother; Robert Fire (bass),
the Father; Patrick Jacobs (baritone), the Sheriff; Stephen Neely (bass),
Hangman; Pittsburgh Camerata; Carnegie Mellon Contemporary Ensemble;
Coleman Pearce Recorded: Kresge Recital Hall, Carnegie Mellon University,
Pennsylvania, April 2001 NAXOS 8.557090 [76:59]

Benjamin LEES (b.1924) Horn Concerto (1991) [24.12] Leonardo BALADA
(b.1933) Music for Oboe and Orchestra: Lament from the Cradle of the Earth
(1993) [20.42] Ellen Taaffe ZWILICH (b.1939) Bassoon Concerto (1993) [16.54]
William Caballero (horn) Cynthia Koledo DeAlmeida (oboe) Nancy Goeres
(bassoon) Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra/Lorin Maazel rec. 10-12 May 1996,
Heinz Hall for the Performing Arts, Pittsburgh, PA, USA NEW WORLD RECORDS
80503-2 [61.48]

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