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 no.3]
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, here and here, and of his vocal music here, here, here, 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 composer.
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 Orchestra.
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.
Very accessible, with plenty of melody and sonorities.