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Leonardo BALADA (b. 1933)
Guernica (1966)
Homage to Sarasate (1975)
Homage to Casals (1975)
Symphony No.4 Lausanne (1992)
Zapata: Images for Orchestra (1988)
Barcelona Symphony and Catalonia National Orchestra/Salvador Mas Conde
Recorded at the Teatre-Auditori Sant Cugat, Barcelona, April-May 2003
NAXOS 8.557342 [69:25]


Naxos continues to show faith in the Catalan Leonardo Balada and it’s amply rewarded here. Guernica (1966), which was inspired by Picasso’s famous 1937 painting, has been recorded before – in the notable series of rarities that the Louisville Orchestra released over a number of years (long out of print). It marked a compositional departure point from his earlier neo-classicism to a more avant-garde sense of engagement. And it certainly evokes in fairly pitiless form the terrifying brutality of the aerial bombarding of Guernica – there are the unmistakeable sounds of an aircraft’s whine – the Stuka – and the vast military percussion, foul spit of trumpet, and the blitzing bombardment that was to force the young Balada into the Barcelona underground a few years later. The aftermath is desolate, unconsoling. Picasso’s painting is on the cover of the booklet.

Balada owed allegiance to those, like Casals and Buñuel, who had the courage to leave Spain. He also paid tribute to a famous Spaniard of an earlier generation, the redoubtable Sarasate, in his 1975 Homage. He embodies the Zapateado here but this is no cosy salute - he conjures up some strikingly intense sonorities, some very fractious and divisive writing, some riven with mordant humour, all of which are neatly balanced by the same year’s tribute to Casals. This is more densely layered and introduces Casals’ famous tune Song of the Birds warmly; the mood is less pantomimic and also less confrontational as befits the subject, though it’s not without moments of combustion. Neither, lest we forget, was Casals.

The eighteen-minute Fourth Symphony (1992) is cast in a single movement and was commissioned by the orchestra in Lausanne. Appositely then it includes little swaying folk rhythms (6.20) and the sounds of hurdy gurdy and high winds delicately above. There’s a kind of minimalist rhythm generated here alongside the interjectory percussion and trumpet, slithery strings and what sounds like abrasive storm music. Balada includes march rhythms as well and a fine, strong, conclusive ending. Finally Zapata, derived from his opera. Here a Viennese waltz becomes subjected to assault, Revolutionary songs are tossed around in a collage, and Jarabe Tapatio makes an appearance with hints of marching bands and Milhaud; entertaining and colourful.

Balada writes some biographically telling notes and there are good ones on the course and curve of his music. The two orchestras sound very well rehearsed and play with spirit, fire and colour; barbarity isn’t stinted.

Jonathan Woolf

see also review by Paul Shoemaker

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