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Alberto GINASTERA (1916-1983)
Danzas argentinas, Op.2 (1937) [8:11]
Tres piezas, Op.6 (1939-40) [12:01]
Malambo, Op.7 (1940) [2:45]
12 Preludios americanos, Op.12 (1944) [14:02]
Suite de danzas criollas, Second version, Op.15 (1946) [8:50]
Rondó sobre temas infantiles argentinos, Op.19 (1947 [3:12]
Danzas argentinas par los niños [2:28]
Piezas infantiles I (1934)[4:25]
Piezas infantiles II (1942) [4:58]
Milonga (1948?) [2:35]
Pequeña danza (1955) [1:45]
Domenico Zipoli (1688-1726)
Organ Toccata, arr. For piano by GINASTERA (1970) [7:23]
Alberto GINASTERA (1916-1983)
Piano Sonata No.1, Op.22 (1952) [15:02]
Piano Sonata No.2, Op.53 (1981) [12:53]
Piano Sonata No.3, Op.54 (1982) [4:51]
Toccata, Villancico y Fuga, Op.18 (1947)

Variazioni e Toccata sopra ‘Auroris lucis rutilat’, Op.52 (1980) [21:16]*
Fernando Viani (piano, *organ)
rec. 6-8 March, 2006, Schloss Gottesaue, Karlsruhe; * 8 June 2006, Auferstehungskirche, Offenburg
NAXOS 8.557911-12 [72:35 + 68:25]


“There is something in good music that somehow suggests dance. It has been so since the beginning of human history”. The words are those of the Brazilian composer Francisco Mignone, but I suspect that they express sentiments with which his fellow South American, the Argentinian Albert Ginastera would have been happy to endorse. Certainly the sense of the dance, and the actual rhythms of the dance, are rarely far away on this set of Ginastera’s keyboard music.

The first CD is largely given over to relatively small-scale pieces, some of them quite well known others much less so. Many are expressly versions of Argentinian traditional dances – as in the familiar set of ‘Danzas argentinas’ which opens the programme. The first, the ‘danza del viejo boyero’ (dance of the old herdsman) is a delightfully quirky piece, based on the chacera, with the left hand playing predominantly black notes, the right hand white notes. It is characteristic of Ginastera that thoroughly traditional elements should be employed – and then treated in an idiosyncratic and inventive (but perfectly ‘serious’) fashion. The second of the three dances, the ‘danza de la moza donosa’ (dance of the beautiful maiden) is limpid piece in 6/8, with a couple of attractive melodies, and based on the zamba (a relatively ‘European’ dance, in which couples circle elegantly). The third of this set, ‘danza del gaucho matrero’ (dance of the clever cowboy) is based on the malambo (a solo male dance, a virtuoso showpiece involving complex manipulation of lasso and boleadoras, and lots of rapid foot movements); Ginastera’s score includes such directions as salvaggio and furiosamente – very much in the spirit of the malambo. The music is often dissonant, but also has some melodic, tonal passages and creates an appropriate sense of energy and passion, closing with a startling glissando. As Fernando Viani says in his booklet notes, this early work “features certain clearly defined elements and compositional processes that would form the basis of later compositions”.

One needn’t perhaps argue that the Op.2 dances are the germ of all that follows, but there is certainly a striking continuity and sense of development to Ginastera’s writing for the keyboard. It is more than just a coincidence that, for example, the chord of E-A-D-G-B-E which closes the first of those three dances also occurs at the very beginning of the Malambo, Op.7, written three years later. In the early work the ‘quotations’ from Argentinian folk music are pretty direct, even if they are treated in increasingly sophisticated ways. By the time of the second version of the ‘Suite de danzas criollas’, prepared in 1946, the folk influence is a matter of spirit, as it were, rather than direct allusion and Ginastera is constructing more complex musical structures. Throughout the music on this first CD, Fernando Viani is a very persuasive advocate, even in such relatively slight pieces as the ‘Danzas argentines para los niños’ (which gets its first ever recording here) and the two sets of ‘Piezas infantiles’ – there are affinities here with some of the miniatures in Villa Lobos’s Guia Prático (Ginastera’s ’12 Preludios americanos’ include a brief ‘Homenaje a Heitor Villa-Lobos’).

The strong element of dance survives in the three piano sonatas which are at the heart of the second CD. But now the treatment of folk sources is altogether more sophisticated and challenging. Here the best analogy might be with the ways in which, in the visual arts, modernist painters and sculptors drew on ‘primitive’ sculpture – such as the clear influence of African sculpture that one finds in the work of artists such as Braque and Picasso, e.g. Les Demoiselles d’Avignon (1906-7), Negro Dancer 1907) and Fruit Dish (1908-9); or, to take another example, the way the Giacommetti’s sculptures in the 1920s drew on both African and Polynesian models and, indeed, on ancient Etruscan sculpture. In terms of musical language, Ginastera is perhaps closest to what Bartok had done with native Hungarian materials, and Stravinsky with Russian. Certainly Ginastera’s percussive writing for the piano is often reminiscent of Bartok.

The opening movement of the first sonata is full of aggressive chords and syncopated, dancing rhythms, its second movement, marked ‘presto misterioso’, full of a strange, hurried compulsions, a twelve-tone line of intense anxiety, even in its pianissimo sections. The relative peace of the adagio third movement is hard earned, its lyrical intensity falling away into a kind of dreamy melancholy. The final movement is the most directly dance-like, the most obviously ‘Argentinian’. There are fine performances of the sonata on record – e.g. by Alberto Portugheis (ASV 865) and Barbara Nissman (Pierian 005/6), but Viani loses little by comparison, in a well judged, forceful performance, with a persuasive control of rhythmic and dynamic contrasts. In the second piano sonata Ginastera drew on pre-Columbian musical traditions, very much in the manner of the visual modernists alluded to above. Ginastera himself described the sonata as evoking “the Aymara and Quechua (extra-European) music of the north of my country, with its pentatonic scales, melancholy melodies, or lively rhythms, kenas [Andean flutes] and drums, and microtonal melismas”. It’s a fascinating piece, not least for the central adagio’s version of the harawi, a pentatonic melody from Cuzco and for the employment in the final movement (’Ostinato aymará’) of the rhythm of the carnavalito dance, in music that has a kind of savage, fractured joy. The condensed, single-movement third sonata is also founded on the rhythms of Argentinian dance forms, though its unrelenting intensity (Ginastera observed that “the initial tempo marking, Impetuosamente, establishes the mood for the whole piece”) may not be to all tastes. Still, in its simultaneous use of traditional rhythms and a ‘modern’ harmonic language, it is entirely characteristic of Ginastera. Again Viani acquits himself very well, playing with real commitment and understanding.

Ginastera’s two pieces for organ are new to me. The Op.18, Toccata, Villancico y Fuga is rather less obviously indebted to the dance than Ginastera’s piano music is. There are clear debts to Bach – the closing fugue takes as its subject a theme on the letters B-A-C-H, but echoes are audible long before we get to the fugue. The Baroque influence is never far away here, not just of Bach but of Latin-American baroque too, of figures such as Domenico Zipoli (Ginastera’s piano transcription of an organ toccata by Zipoli can be heard on the first of these CDs) who, though born in Tuscany, was to spent a significant part of his musical life in South America, eventually dying in Argentina in 1726. The central villancico (a traditional Christmas carol) of Ginastera’s work is particularly lovely.

The Op.52 Variations (here recorded for the first time) are rather more technically demanding than the, Toccata, Villancico y Fuga written some thirty three years earlier. It is not perhaps especially Argentinian or even wholly characteristic of Ginastera. At a ‘blind’ hearing one might perhaps guess that it was the work of a French composer or, at any rate, of a European composer. These comments are not meant to deny the interest of the work, merely to suggest that by the time of its composition, some three years before his death, the relationship of Ginastera’s music to its composer’s geographical origins was a subtle and complex affair. It is good to have a recording of this piece. It would merit consideration by other organists, since it is a work of both substance and colour.

To say that Fernando Viani’s performances of the better-known piano works are not necessarily the very best available is not meant to damn them with faint praises.  These performances are intelligent, perceptive and technically assured. What is particularly rewarding is to follow one performer’s vision of the music through the entire repertoire. Viani benefits from a good, clear Naxos recording. This is a valuable set, for which both Viani and Naxos deserve our gratitude.

Glyn Pursglove



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