Samples & Downloads
Leonardo BALADA (b.1933)
Caprichos no.2 for solo violin, string quintet and harp (2004) [15:06]
Caprichos no.4 for double bass, clarinet, piano and strings "Quasi
Jazz" (2007) [24:06]
Caprichos no.3 for solo violin and chamber orchestra "Homage
to the International Brigades" (2005) [25:06]
Andrés Cárdenes (solo violin); Gretchen van Hoesen (harp); Thomas
Thompson (clarinet); Jeffrey Turner (double-bass); ad hoc
string quintet [Capricho no.2] (Jeremy Black, Louis Lev (violins),
Marylène Gingras-Roy (viola), David Premo (cello), Jeffrey Turner
(double-bass)); Pittsburgh Sinfonietta [Capricho no.3 and no.4];
Andrés Cárdenes [Capricho no.2 and no.4]; Lawrence Loh [Capricho
rec. Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, May 2008; September
2009 [Capricho no.2]. DDD
NAXOS 8.572176 [64:18]
Regular readers of MusicWeb International's review pages will
probably recognise Leonardo Balada's name - reviews of his orchestral
music can be found here,
and of his vocal music here,
and most recently here!
All these CDs are from Naxos, who, according to the Spanish-language
notes in this latest release - curiously omitted from the English
- are recording the complete works of Balada. Some of the previous
reviewers have had misgivings, but on the evidence of the works
on this disc, Naxos have once again done music-lovers a good
turn by giving them access to fine, memorable music by a gifted
Balada is Catalan by birth, but has been living and working
in the USA for the last fifty years; he has been Professor of
Composition at the Carnegie-Mellon University in Pittsburgh
since 1975, and it is there that the Caprichos were recorded.
Various aspects of sound quality have been an issue in some
of these previous reviews, but most of those discs were recorded
in Spain, where technical quality has traditionally been variable.
The sound on this disc is immaculate.
Balada's earlier works belonged to the avant-garde, but from
1975 he turned to a more listener-friendly melodic style, often
of a nationalistic (Spanish/Catalan more than American) colour,
and the Caprichos continue in this vein. The booklet
notes include an interesting short essay by Balada himself on
both the Caprichos and his compositions in general. In
the notes, he says that a "symbiosis of the avant-garde
with the folk-traditional" has "become my stamp",
but anyone anxious with regard to the extent of any expressionist
element in the Caprichos need not fret - these are very
accessible works, with plenty of melody and sonorities not that
far removed from, say, Prokofiev.
Each work on this release is properly entitled Caprichos,
not Capricho: the title refers in each case to a suite-like
collection of 'capricious' movements. The Caprichos no.2
is - or are - written for solo violin, string quintet and harp.
This is a set of three Latin-American dances - a samba, tango
and jarabe - given a persuasive 20th century make-over. The
playing is excellent, as it is throughout the disc - hardly
surprising, given the experience and credentials of the soloists,
many of whom are leading members of the Pittsburgh Symphony
As is evident from its subtitle, Caprichos no.3 'Homage to
the International Brigades' is a more sober, serious work.
Dedicated to the memory of the volunteers who fought in the
Spanish Civil War, the plaintive second movement, 'In Memoriam',
and the fourth, a haunting 'Lament', are particularly moving.
If 'Lament' sounds rather Gaelic, that is because it comes from
an old Irish folksong - in fact, all five movements are based
on folk material, a reference to the songs the multinational
Brigades sang to keep up morale. The work is written for chamber
orchestra and solo violin, ably performed by the Cuban-born
Andrés Cárdenes - who, as dedicatee, gave its première under
Lawrence Loh in 2005.
The subtitle of Caprichos no.4, 'Quasi Jazz', is apt.
It’s splendidly written for double-bass and strings, with a
further prominent role for clarinet and a minor one for piano.
This work is an amazingly imaginative, almost uproarious, twenty-four
minutes of pumped-up, jazz-dunked fun and games. That holds
good even in the third movement, 'Entierro' ('Burial')! According
to Balada, "aleatoric devices" and "avant-garde
harmonies" are employed in this work, but wherever they
lurk, they are generally well disguised among the deep, pulsing
rhythms of the double-bass and the extrovert bursts of high-pitched
melody from the clarinet. Stravinsky certainly comes to mind,
particularly in the finale, but this is no pale imitation. As
with the 3rd Caprichos, the superb soloist, Jeffrey Turner,
is the dedicatee and gave the première performance under Andrés
Cárdenes in 2008 in Pittsburgh.