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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 Alonson-Crespo
Rec. Sala Apolo, Seville, Spain, January-February 2005
NAXOS 8.557749 [63:29]


Naxos have already devoted several releases to works by Leonardo Balada. Their latest instalment couples older and recent works spanning some twenty years of his composing life. Balada’s earlier works were in a rather modernist vein, but much of his later output – from about 1975 on – is characterised by a more eclectic approach.

The earliest work, Quasi un Pasodoble, composed in 1981, is quite similar to Homage to Casals and Homage to Sarasate - both from 1975 and available on Naxos 8.557342 reviewed here some time ago. After a slow introduction played by the strings and punctuated by cluster-like textures, the pasodoble rhythm takes on and keeps coming in and out of the picture, often with strongly contrasting distortions. The work, as a whole, is in no way comparable to, say, Ravel’s ubiquitous Bolero; for the music often side-steps in unexpected directions, a bit à la Charles Ives, and often has darker undertones belying the popular lightheartedness that might be associated with the pasodoble. In this, as in many other works of his, Balada never entirely forgets that he once collaborated with Dalí. His music quite often acquires a surreal character. This very work is a clear example of Balada’s tendency to weave traditional elements into an unusual environment.

In striking contrast, Divertimentos for strings may well be the most stylistically consistent work here. Each of its three movements calls for a particular style of string playing: the first movement is entirely pizzicato, whereas the second is mostly played in harmonics. The third is played with normal bowing. All three movements rely heavily on ostinatos, somewhat less so in the eerie slow dance of the second movement. As far as I am concerned, Divertimentos might well be the finest work here.

The most recent pieces, both composed in 2003, are actually quite dissimilar, in form and content, although they inevitably display some common features. The Prague Sinfonietta is a compact work in a single movement. The title refers to the fact that the first performance was to be by the Czech Sinfonietta, which also prompted the composer to think of Mozart’s Prague symphony. The music, however, has Mozart rubbing shoulders with the Catalan Vicenç Bou, the latter being the composer of some well-known Sardanas. The most remarkable thing about it all is that the music never sounds as mere pastiche or parody.

On the other hand, the Symphony No.5 “American” is an altogether more ambitious proposition, and – again – a strongly contrasted piece of music. The composer describes it as “a kaleidoscope of emotions and a trip from the abstract to the ethnic”, quite appropriately I would say since the three movements’ music and intent could not be more divergent. The first movement 9/11: In Memoriam harks back to earlier works such as No-Res and Guernica. The second movement Reflection alludes to negro spirituals and gospel songs. The third Square Dance is an Ivesian riot of tunes and phrases referring to the traditional square-dance, albeit in an overtly surreal way; light years away from, say, Copland’s Rodeo or Billy the Kid.

Balada’s music may sound a bit too eclectic for some tastes, but never to the same extent as some so-called post-modern works. In fact, Balada often has disparate elements clashing in order to create tension and even unease. As already mentioned, his personal and idiosyncratic approach results from his earlier collaboration with Dalí and – probably – his own liking for surreal art.

As far as I can judge, these performances are very fine and are nicely recorded. In short, an attractive and thought-provoking release well worth investigating.

Hubert Culot


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