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Leonardo BALADA (b.1933)
Cello Concerto No.2 New Orleans (2001)a
Concerto for Four Guitars and Orchestra (1976)b
Celebració (1992)
Passacaglia (2002)
Michael Sanderling (cello)a; Versailles Guitar Quartetb
Barcelona Symphony and Catalonia National Orchestra/Colman Pearce
Recorded: L’Auditori, Barcelona, June 2002
NAXOS 8.557049 [68:08]


An earlier NAXOS disc with music by Balada (8.557090 reviewed here some time ago) left me somewhat puzzled and unconvinced. In fact, I felt then that his expressionistic idiom was not particularly well suited to these tragic-comic cartoon chamber operas (Hangman, Hangman! and The Town of Greed). I thus welcome the opportunity to revise my lukewarm opinion of his music.

On the whole Balada’s recent music is rather more eclectic than some of his earlier works, such as the very fine Concerto for Four Guitars and Orchestra heard here and dating from 1975. Balada’s earlier music is more consistently expressionistic and, to a certain extent, more radical, though never intractably so. The concerto is full of imagination, invention, with many arresting instrumental touches. I particularly like the second movement sounding as a "gigantic music box". This is rather demanding stuff but well worth investigating. The Versailles Guitar Quartet possess both the virtuosity and the musicality to bring it off in the best possible way. They have also done much to foster new works for their medium and I suggest that you look for another disc (DE PLEIN VENT DPV 9895) with three concertos for guitar quartet and orchestra by Georges Delerue, Franz Constant and Frederico Moreno-Torroba.

Balada’s Second Cello Concerto "New Orleans" sets out to pay some tribute to the Afro-American folk culture present in jazz and blues, among other. Its two movements Lament and Swinging are musically clear enough. The first movement has a prominent singing quality, at times sorrowful and dramatic, based, or so it sounds to me, on a tune close to Amazing Grace (or am I wrong?). The second movement is a long dance-like romp. Again Balada’s style is rather eclectic, though quite effective and colourful, but I believe that Ohana’s magnificent Second Cello Concerto In dark and blue goes much deeper into the Afro-American soul.

The two recent orchestral works Celebració of 1992 and Passacaglia of 2002 were both written on commission, the former from the Generalitat of Catalonia and the Banco Bilbao-Vizcaya for the millenium of Catalonia and the latter from the Fifth Cadaqués International Conducting Competition (the ‘official’ first performance was conducted by Sir Neville Marriner). In Celebració, the music, as it were, travels through the ages opening with a somewhat medieval, plainsong theme and running through Catalan folk-tunes and modern harmonies. Passacaglia rather reverses the process in that it begins as a classical passacaglia and ends with echoes of its ancestor, the Spanish pasacalle. Both works may be occasional ones, but are quite attractive and entertaining.

Excellent performances by all concerned, and very fine recording throughout. Well worth having and will help redressing the balance, if – like me – you had been somewhat dissatisfied by Balada’s chamber operas on Naxos.

Hubert Culot

see also

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)

Leonardo BALADA (b.1933) Music for Oboe and Orchestra: Lament from the Cradle of the Earth (1993) [20.42]



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