Alberto GINASTERA (1916 - 1983)
Estancia Op.8 (extended suite) [14:20]
Suite de Danzas Criollas Op.15 (1946, orch. Shimon Cohen) [9:16]
Panambí Op.1 (extended suite) [12:33]
Ollantay Op.17 (1947) [12:31]
Popol Vuh Op.44 (1975/1983) [24:12]
London Symphony Orchestra (Estancia, Panambí); Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra (Suite de Danzas Criollas); BBC National Orchestra of Wales (Ollantay, Popol Vuh); Gisèle Ben-Dor
rec. Abbey Road Studios, London, 23-24 May 1997 (Estancia, Panambí); The Jerusalem Theatre, Henry Crown Hall, Israel, 2 November 2006 (Suite de Danzas Criollas) and BBC Broadcasting House, Llandaff, Cardiff, 26-27 June 2001 (Ollantay, Popol Vuh)
NAXOS 8.570999 [72:51]
Let it be said straight away: there are no such things as these so-called extended suites from Panambí and Estancia. These have been - so to say - assembled from the existing recordings of the complete ballets once released on Koch and re-issued on Naxos 8.557582 that I reviewed here some time ago. They somewhat differ from the existing suites made by the composer and are said to follow the chronology of events in the ballet scores more closely.
Originally composed for piano and first performed by Rudolf Firkusňy in Buenos Aires in 1947, the Suite de Danzas Criollas Op.15 is heard here in an orchestration by Shimon Cohen made at the request of Gisèle Ben-Dor. Cohen did a fine job although I find that his scoring makes these short dances larger than life. I for one will stick with the original version available on Naxos 8.557911-2 that has been reviewed here too.
Although it has been recorded before the symphonic triptych Ollantay Op.17 is still too little known, unjustly so, I think; this is one of Ginastera’s most appealing works. It is based on the myth of Ollantay, son of the Earth, who opposes Inca, son of the Sun. The latter declares war on Ollantay who resists for a long time in his fortress but is eventually killed. The first panel Paisaje de Ollantaytambo (“The Ollantaytambo Landscape”) is a beautiful, though troubled nocturne. There follows Los Guerreros (“The Warriors”), a powerful war dance. The triptych ends with La Muerte de Ollantay in which Ollantay forecasts the destruction of the Empire and the disappearance of the Sons of the Sun.
Popol Vuh Op.44 - Ginastera’s last major orchestral work - was commissioned by the Philadelphia Orchestra who had just first performed his large-scale choral orchestral Turbae ad Passionem Gregorianam Op.43. Ginastera started sketching the piece almost immediately but for whatever reasons laid his sketches aside resuming work in 1982. The bulk of it was thus completed some time before the composer’s death but was actually left unfinished at the time of Ginastera’s death. When Ormandy died in 1985 the score was all but forgotten till the pianist Barbara Nissman drew Leonard Slatkin’s attention to it. Both deemed it perfectly performable as such so that Slatkin and the Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra gave the first performance in 1989 and recorded it soon afterwards on RCA 09026 60993 2 (possibly still available). The Popol Vuh or Council Book contains the mythological Mayan narrative of creation. The various movements of the work thus trace the creation of the world according to the Mayas from the original chaos to the birth of man, subject of the missing final movement that should have been scored for percussion only. It is perfectly viable as it stands. The music is vintage Ginastera with its mix of primal brutality and of more reflective or atmospheric stances. The opening movement La Noche de los Tiempos grows from the depths of the orchestra with dark growling from bass instruments. The impression of inchoate chaos is maintained throughout except for a short violent outburst when the Divine Council decides to create the world. The following movements El Nacimiento de la Tierra (“The Birth of the Earth”) and El Despertar de la Naturaleza (“The Awakening of Nature”) evoke the process of creation, at first from simple beginnings. These progressively become engulfed in more dynamic elements, the whole leading into the short violent El Gritto de la Creación (“The Cry of the Creation”). But the gods are not satisfied with what they have created and La Gran Lluvia (“The Great Rain”) sweeps everything away so that the Gods may start again. This allows for the creation of mankind in the form of La Ceremonia Magíca del Maiz (“The Magic Ceremony of Corn”), another powerful dance. The final movement evokes the creation of the sun, the moon and the stars in a slow crescendo culminating in heroic fanfares (El Amanecer de la Humanidad - “The Dawn of Mankind”). The incomplete Popol Vuh remains an impressive score in its own right. It will not fail to make its mark on the attentive and sympathetic listener. Incidentally there is still another recording of Popol Vuh available on Neos 10918, a most desirable release for all lovers of Ginastera’s music because it is coupled with the impressive and very little known Cantata para América Mágica Op.27 for soprano and percussion.
Gisèle Ben-Dor is clearly on familiar ground here and she conducts vital, committed and convincing readings of all the works. All three orchestras respond superbly with playing of the highest quality. The recorded sound is excellent throughout.
There is actually very little to complain about with this generous release. There is one small caveat which I touched on when beginning this review. I still believe that the so-called extended suites from Panambí and Estancia might have been dispensed with to allow for the inclusion of some hitherto unrecorded works such as Estudios Sinfónicos Op.35 and Iubilum Op.51, but I hope that these will appear in some forthcoming release.
A generously filled release with fine performances
I disagree with the reviewer on the issue of the Suites. There is not, factually, and has never been, any other CD including the selections in this latest CD. The only suites available are the very short ones published from the start, and always including the same pieces. I seem to be one of the very few conductors even playing some of the unplayed selections in public concerts . ( The Panambi Suite in this release is completely different from the usual and only one, practically in its entirety.“Dawn” and “The Sprites” ,for example, are never played. In Estancia, there are “La Doma” and “Idilio Crepuscular”, which are never included in any suite). The recording he mentions (Naxos 8.557582) is my own recording of the full ballets, which Naxos reissued!