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Alberto GINASTERA (1916–1983)
Panambí Op.1 (1937) [39:10]
Estancia Op.8 (1941)a [33:22]
Luis Gaeta (narrator, bass-baritone)a
London Symphony Orchestra/Gisèle Ben-Dor
rec. Abbey Road Studios, London, May 1997
NAXOS 8.557582 [72:32]

 


Apologies for giving the game away from the start, but this re-issue of a long-deleted recording of Ginastera’s ballet scores, once available on Conifer Classics, is particularly welcome. Not only do we hear the complete scores, but the performances and the recording are really first-class, defying the use of superlatives.

The suites drawn from both ballets are quite well-known by now. I suspect that many music-lovers know the suites from Eugene Goossens’ long-deleted recordings made for Everest, coincidentally with the London Symphony Orchestra. The complete scores, however, have long remained unheard and – for that matter – unrecorded. A complete Panambí has been recorded earlier by the Poznań Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Andrzej Borejko (once available on Largo 5122); but the present recorded performance undoubtedly supersedes it. That said, the Polish performance usefully filled a gap in Ginastera’s discography at the time it was recorded and released. As far as Estancia is concerned, this is the first recording of the complete score.

Panambí Op.1 was completed in 1937, and is thus Ginastera’s first acknowledged work. In fact he later rescued some earlier works such as Impresiones de la Puna for flute and string quartet and this has been recorded on several occasions (BIS CD-175 and Dorian DOR-90202). The libretto is based on a legend of love and magic drawn from the traditions of the Guaraní Indians, a tribe from northern Argentina. As such, parallels may be drawn with some works by Latin-American composers, such as Revueltas, Chavez and Villa Lobos. The music of Panambí draws on a number of influences that may be quite easily spotted. One hears echoes from Stravinsky, Debussy and Bartók but the complete score displays the young composer’s assurance in blending these influences into a highly personal whole. Moreover, there are many felicitous orchestral touches such as the beautiful writing for horns in Escena [track 5], the atmospheric introduction and the superbly evocative closing section El Amanecer (“Dawn”), as well as some brilliantly scored primitive dances. This tale of magic and mystery obviously fired the young composer’s imagination, and drew some highly accomplished music from him. A quite impressive Opus 1, and a work of which any young composer could be proud.

Composed several years later, Estancia Op.8 shows how far the composer progressed over the years. The music is more personal, less indebted to, say, Copland, although some might be tempted to compare it to Rodeo. For one, the score is much more structured than Copland’s colourful romp. It opens with beautiful dawn music and ends with more dawn music. In between come a series of songs and dances that provide welcome contrast. The whole is brilliantly capped by a general dance, the celebrated Malambo. The complete ballet includes parts narrated and sung by a bass-baritone, which may be a reason why the score has often been disregarded. Again, there are many fine orchestral touches throughout this relatively long work. I particularly like La Doma (“Rodeo”), the beautifully atmospheric and evocative Idilio crepuscular (“Twilight Idyll”) and La Noche: Nocturno (oh, those beautiful horns again!); but there is so much more to enjoy. This is undoubtedly a major score from Ginastera’s nationalistic period.

As mentioned earlier in this review, these performances are just splendid and unlikely to be surpassed. The London Symphony Orchestra play to the manner-born, and Gisèle Ben-Dor conducts vital readings of these colourful, rhythmically alert scores. At the same time she remains attentive to the more lyrical sections and she conducts these with feeling but without undue sentimentality. These scores and readings teem with life-asserting energy, but never at the expense of subtlety and refinement. This is a self-commending release restoring – hopefully for a long time – these indispensable readings of two of Ginastera’s most readily attractive scores.

Hubert Culot

see also Review by Len Mullenger

 

 


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