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Alberto GINASTERA (1916-1983)
Glosses sobre temes de Pau Casals (for orchestra), Op. 48 [17:34]
Variaciones concertantes, Op. 23 [23:47]
Glosses sobre temes de Pau Casals (for string quintet and string orchestra), Op. 46 [16:06]
London Symphony Orchestra, Israel Chamber Orchestra/Gisele Ben-Dor
rec. July 1994, Mann Auditorium, Tel Aviv, Israel (Variaciones); January 1995, Abbey Road Studios, London (Glosses)
Experience Classicsonline

Alberto Ginastera’s Variaciones Concertantes are a series of variations scored primarily for very small groups of instruments, with the full orchestra only entering for a brilliant malambo folk-dance finale. As a result the piece sounds like a richly varied chamber epic, and the different textures and colours never grow old. I found the Variaciones very easy to enjoy, and you will too: the lovely thematic material is presented first by the solo cello and harp, then in a sequence of delectable solos for flute, clarinet, viola and horn with spare orchestral accompaniment, plus a surprising appearance by the double bass. This colorful but exceedingly simple orchestration demands a clear, intimate sound picture and superb first-chair playing, both of which are manifest here. The various soloists of the Israel Chamber Orchestra are not intimidated by the spotlight, and Uruguayan-born conductor Gisele Ben-Dor keeps the music flowing well. This is a work which adventurous (and virtuosic) ensembles ought to consider programming into their concerts, and the present performance has me quite excited for a live performance of the Variaciones scheduled for my hometown next spring.

There are three recordings of the Variaciones Concertantes readily available. This Naxos release is in fact a reissue of an old Koch recording; another, featuring the Richmond Sinfonia from Virginia, is available in America on the Elan label. The Richmond group certainly plays well, but its sound is not as idiomatic, lacking a certain Latin-ness; moreover, a few of the solos (particularly the cello’s) are less than appealing. I have not heard the third recording, featuring the Europa Symphony on Arte Nova, but cannot see how it would preclude a recommendation for this excellent, and very modestly priced, reissue.

The rest of the music on this album is not as immediately appealing, but makes for interesting close listening. The program begins with the orchestral version of the Glosses sobre temes de Pau Casals and, after the Variaciones, concludes with the original instrumentation of those Glosses, for string quintet and string orchestra. The full version is genuinely creepy music, often sounding as if it arrived from another planet. There are ruggedly atonal sections here, whirlwinds of fierce and bizarre orchestral colors, and snatches of the lyrical tunes Pau (better known as Pablo) Casals originally wrote. The opening moments are the first and almost the last passages of lyrical repose; the “Sardane” is particularly hair-raising. The final movement, marked “Conclusio delirant,” is a wild ride, but rather fun. This orchestral version was, interestingly, premiered in 1978 under the baton of Mstislav Rostropovich.

Originally, however, these Glosses were scored for string quintet and string orchestra. If you are not one for repeat listening to the same work, rest assured that these two renditions make for rewarding comparison. They sound like two different pieces (and were published under two different opus numbers.) If anything, the original, pared-down version is even more engaging, with the soloists presenting the Casals material while the orchestra buzzes about them like a swarm of wasps. Even in the delirious final movement, I never really missed the greater color and variety of the full orchestra.

In sum, the repetition in this program will be cause for hesitation for some buyers, who might be intrigued by the more substantial coupling on the Elan disc (a phenomenal performance by Santiago Rodriguez of Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s First Piano Concerto). Even so, I did enjoy playing this album straight through. Moreover, since this is an MP3 download, programming is basically a non-concern. The Variaciones Concertantes are an immense pleasure; consider the Glosses a welcome bonus.

As a part of the Naxos Digital imprint, this album is currently only available for download at the website Classicsonline, where it sells for rather less than the price of a physical compact disc.

Brian Reinhart



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