Alberto GINASTERA (1916-1983)
Cello Concerto no.1, op.36 (1968) [34:18]
Cello Concerto no.2, op.50 (1980) [34:32]
Mark Kosower (cello)
Bamberg Symphony Orchestra/Lothar Zagrosek
rec. Bamberg Congress Hall, Bavaria, 21-25 April 2009; 17-18 March 2010 (2) (live). DDD
NAXOS 8.572372 [68:58]

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 version.

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

see also review by Nick Barnard

A marvellous team performance making a compelling case for these concertos. The Government must act now to make these compulsory components of the repertoire.