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
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!