The blurb for this CD claims that Argentinean composer Alberto
Ginastera "was one of the most admired and respected musical
voices of the twentieth century" - if only! There are still
too many music-lovers who will know him at best by his 1941
ballet Estancia - more likely just the final dance -
or perhaps his Harp Concerto or the orchestral Pampeana no.3,
so little exposure does his music get in the concert hall or
on the radio. On the other hand, having taken an avant-garde
turn in the 1950s, the nationalist Ginastera of Estancia
is hardly recognisable as the composer of these cello concertos.
The South-American folk instruments and dance rhythms can still
be heard, but now making use of the experimental language of
serialism, aleatory methods and microtonality.
The twelve-tone row and quarter tone appear in the three-movement
Cello Concerto no.1, yet so does the B-A-C-H motif, as if Ginastera
were nonetheless asserting a strong sense of continuity with
the past. The work begins with some extraordinarily deep rumblings
from the orchestra, setting the tone for a movement - indeed
a whole concerto - dense with cryptic, frequently sinister-sounding
sonorities. This is a mainly slow-moving, brooding, almost ponderous
work - in places the music comes to a complete halt, as if the
orchestra was considering its next move - except for a sudden
eruption into an almost moto perpetuo frenzy at the start
of the second movement, marked Presto sfumato, and again
by way of reprise - sounding initially like a battery of digeridoos!
- after a reflective Trio notturnale.
Whether fast or slow, the cello part is extremely virtuosic,
often pushed up against its uppermost register. The orchestral
scoring is relatively light, sometimes exotic, but always dark,
ranging from the eerie to the downright violent. The first part
of the amazing final movement is like a percussive assault on
a cello that is trying to think clearly or stay rational. The
cello manages to cling to sanity for the mysterious, virtually
mystical end where, for more than a minute, it sustains the
same very high note, with the odd dramatic comment from the
orchestra, before finally vanishing.
Mark Kosower, outstanding principal cellist of the Cleveland
Orchestra, dedicates this recording to Ginastera's wife, Aurora
Nátola, who died aged 85 shortly before the recording took place.
Nátola was by all accounts an excellent cellist, and in her
heyday appeared as a guest soloist with the Bamberg Symphony.
Kosower writes that without her "encouragement and support"
the recording would not have happened. In fact, her involvement
goes far deeper, because in 1977 Ginastera actually revised
the score of the First Cello Concerto for Nátola, whom he married
in 1971, having left his first wife in 1969, the year following
his original completion of the Concerto. Nátola gave the premiere
in 1978. The back inlay gives the date of the First Concerto
simply as 1968, but presumably this recording is of the revised
Ginastera then wrote the four-movement Second Cello Concerto
for Nátola in 1980 in celebration of their tenth year together,
incorporating a 'dawn' theme for 'Aurora'; it comes as no surprise
that it is a lighter work than the First. About it Ginastera
said: "the unifying element throughout the first movement
is a famous cello theme by a great composer, whose identity
should be discovered by the listener" - this is the cello
solo from the third movement of Brahms's Second Piano Concerto
- "that the Scherzo sfuggevole must be performed
within the strictest pianissimo" - this is superbly observed
by the orchestra and soloist - "that in the third movement
one hears the coquí, that minute and musical nocturnal creature
[tree frog] from Puerto Rico; and that in the last movement
appear the Quechuan rhythms of the karnavalito, of Inca origin."
Nonetheless this Concerto is by no means easy listening, and
in several ways has much in common with the First, not only
the fact that it is almost identical in length. Both works require
great virtuosity of the cellist; both are brilliantly orchestrated,
exploiting a huge palette of tonal colour; both are more slow
than fast, more piano than forte. Like the First, the Second
has a superb finale, a poetic Cadenza that gives way to the
life-affirming and boisterous 'karnavalito'.
The Second Concerto is a live recording, but, aside from what
Ginastera provides in the scores, there is little 'atmosphere'
as such: extraneous noises have been all but eliminated and
there is very little difference in sound quality between the
two - in both cases it is very good. The hall itself is shown
in a colour photo in the booklet, which has excellent notes
on Ginastera and these works by Susan Wingrove.
This is a marvellous team performance from cellist, conductor
and orchestra alike, making a compelling case for Ginastera's
concertos. The Government must act now to make these compulsory
components of the repertoire.
Collected reviews and contact at reviews.gramma.co.uk
see also review by Nick