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Leonardo BALADA (b.1933)
Symphony No.5 American (2003) [23.39]
Prague Sinfonietta (2003) [10.56]
Divertimentos (1991) [17.34]
Quasi un Pasodoble (1981) [11.20]
Seville Royal Symphony Orchestra/Eduardo Alonso-Crespo
rec. Sala Apolo, Seville, January-February 2005
NAXOS 8.557749 [63.29]
Naxos has been devoted to the music of Balada and shows no signs of reneging on its commitment. Two of the works on their latest disc were written in 2003 and the other two span the decades; Divertimentos was completed in 1991 and Quasi un Pasodoble in 1981. These are all premiere recordings.
 
My impressions of Balada so far have not been unmixed  but he’s a composer difficult to ignore. The three movement Symphony No.5 American features the vestigial use of some extreme avant-garde effects with more “ethnic” material, to use Balada’s own word. It was written In Memoriam 9/11 and moves from the darkness of the first movement to the communing light of the second. Brittle, urgent with pulsing brass and bell motifs lacing the music this first movement bears some similarity with Balada’s Guernica, which I’ve also reviewed here. The blitz and bombardment are intense and unremitting. The second movement is, by contrast, reflective and uses marimba-like sonorities and an infiltrated Negro Spiritual to induce a sense of calm – though those darker sounds are still there, only subsumed. Balada likes Spirituals and one of most recent works created a kind of - unsuccessful in my view - tapestry of them. The finale is a chugging square-dance with plenty of enthusiastic percussion work and a degree of exuberance.
 
The Prague Sinfonietta was commissioned by the Torroella International Music Festival in Catalonia. Learning that a Prague orchestra (the Czech Sinfonietta) would give the premiere Balada decided on a Mozart-meets-Sardana theme. Using some themes from Mozart’s Prague Symphony Balada also builds into his orchestral piece some of the sardanas composed by a local musician, Vincenç Bou. It’s an especially colourful work, strong naturally on rhythmic zest and powered by some spiky and pleasurable wind textures.
 
The 1991 Divertimentos – there are three – each utilise a “sonic characteristic” in the composer’s phrase: that’s to say, pizzicato, harmonics and normal bowing. These exercises in texture and colour make for enjoyable though rather superficial pleasure. The first has a real sense of direction, galvanised by the pizzicati, whilst the second’s harmonics put me in mind of some ghostly, Herzog-inspired Blue Danube. The third takes elements of the other two and is tensile to a fine degree. Finally the bucolic dancery and quasi-impressionistic shimmer that is Quasi un Pasodoble. This is a most diverting piece in which shimmer and silence take their place alongside the bump and grind of the Pasodoble and produce some folkloric panache.
 
The performances are teeming with commitment and energy and the production values are high. Those put off by Balada’s 1960s aleatorics and the like can rest assured that he is much more approachable here, indeed positively engagingly. Some elements of his avant-gardism still sit in the Symphony but constructively so. Rewarding.
 
Jonathan Woolf
 

 

 



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