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Leonardo BALADA (b. 1933)
Guernica (1966) [11.21]
Homage to Sarasate (1975) [7.38]
Homage to Casals (1975) [11.47]
Symphony #4 "Lausanne" (1992) [18.34]
Zapata: Images for Orchestra (1988) [20.05]
Barcelona Symphony and Catalonia National Orchestra/Salvador Mas Conde
Recorded in Teatre-Auditori Sant Cugat, Barcelona, Spain, 3 May 2004
Notes in English and Castellano. [no Catalá?]
NAXOS 8.557342 [69.25]


It takes a lot of nerve to write a piece called Guernica, invoking memories of one of the great tragedies of the 20th Century and inviting comparison with one of the greatest paintings of the 20th Century which is very well reproduced on the disk cover. He has learned from Varèse, Penderecki and Honegger and digested his lessons well — and produced a masterpiece. He says he based it in part on his experiences of the Spanish Civil War. Yes, he was only six at the time, but horror to a child is far more unendurable than it is to an adult, and the naïve terror is fully captured here.

The Homage to Sarasate opens with a typical Villa-Lobos section and proceeds to invoke echoes of Ginastera. From his teacher Copland he may have borrowed a little of El Salon México. Sarasate never wrote anything this good. The Homage to Casals reminds me of a comment by a friend of Casals: "The man was a volcano!" This is spooky music indeed, capturing via glissando violins the eerie tension of the morning before the eruption, and then — the eruption — and then the eerie evening after all the smoke and dust have blown away. Hovhaness’s Mt. St. Helens Symphony has nothing on this work of Balada’s.

The one movement Fourth Symphony is supposed to be based on Swiss folk motifs, but it sounds just as weird and just as Spanish — and just as interesting and colourful — as the rest of the music on this disk.

You would expect the Zapata: Images to sound rather like a suite of excerpts from the sound-track to a movie, and it does, rather in the mood of Prokofiev’s Lieutenant Kije Suite but more astringent in sound. If Tchaikovsky can write a waltz in 5/4 time, then I guess Balada can write a march in 6/8. We have more echoes of El Salon México and some from Silvestre Revueltas’s Ocho por Radio. We have some solo cello passages we might have expected to hear in the Casals piece. The final Wedding Dance is a fantasía furiosa on "Jarabe Tapatio" and is so idiomatic I expected to hear pistolas obbligato.

This disk features brilliant sound in keeping with the colour of the orchestration and the virtuosity of the performers. High and Lows and brilliant transients abound and it will decode nicely in your surround sound decoder. Look for it to appear on a Naxos DVD-Audio.

A nice bonus is the excellent reproduction of the painting Guernica on the cover of the program booklet. The tray liner advertises four other Naxos disks of music by the composer and if they’re as good as this one we can welcome a new master to the stage!

Paul Shoemaker


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