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Alberto GINASTERA (1916-1983)
Popol Vuh Op. 44 (1975-1983) [25:16]
Cantata para América Mágica Op. 27 (1960) [24:18]
Rayanne Dupuis (soprano)
Bugallo-Williams Piano Duo
Schlagzeugensemble der Musikhochschule Köln
WDR Sinfonieorchester Köln/Stefan Asbury
rec. 7 May 2007, Musikhochschule Köln (cantata); 9 June 2007, Kölner Philharmonie (Popol Vuh). Hybrid SACD, stereo & multichannel. Reviewed in SACD stereo
Sung texts included
NEOS 10918 [49:46]

I first encountered Popol Vuh on a Naxos CD from Gisèle Ben-Dor and the BBC National Orchestra of Wales, which was warmly received by Hubert Culot (review). That well-filled disc includes Ginastera’s ballet Estancia, the Danza final of which is the most exhilarating music I know; played with idiomatic vitality and verve by the London Symphony Orchestra it’s a pick-me-up that will also give your woofers a workout. The latter applies to parts of Popol Vuh, an account of the Mayan creation transcribed by a 16th-century Dominican missionary; which is one reason why I was so looking forward to this Neos SACD.
Conductor Stefan Asbury is new to me, although his online profile confirms he has appeared with some of the world’s major orchestras. He’s also known for innovative programming, as this pairing of Popol Vuh and the otherwise unrecorded Cantata para América Mágica demonstrates. I suspect Popol Vuh, described as Ginastera’s Rite of Spring, will have the broadest appeal, given its exotic scoring and raw primitivism. Unfinished when the composer died in 1983 it remains a solid and compelling piece, very different from the easy exuberance of his earlier works, the ballets Estancia and Panambi in particular.
The Everlasting Night is characterised by dark strings and slow, primordial stirrings in the rest of the orchestra, all of which is superbly caught by the Neos engineers. The growling brass - not so prominent on the Naxos recording - are especially impressive, and the weird timp figures in The Birth of the Earth are thoroughly unsettling too. That said it’s the explosive, atavistic rhythms that are most reminiscent of Le sacre, although Ginastera uses his bass drum and percussion sparingly.
There’s some evocative writing in Nature Awakes which, along with The Grand Rain, manages to avoid the usual colouristic clichés.
Indeed, there’s an economy and originality of utterance here that’s most attractive, and the detailed, well-balanced sonics - individual instruments are convincingly arrayed on a wide, deep soundstage - underlines that. One senses also that Asbury isn’t one to surrender control, even in the powerful, punctuating rhythms of The Magic Ceremony of the Indian Corn and the orchestral supernovae of The Sun, the Moon, the Stars. As much as I enjoy Ben-Dor’s excellent performance - it’s a decent recording and the disc offers a number of other well-played Ginastera pieces - Asbury’s Popol Vuh is now my first choice; as a bonus the Neos sound is first rate on both the RBCD and stereo Super Audio layers.
For all its felicities, the cantata - a collection of poems by Mercedes de Toro, based on pre-Colombian manuscripts - is compromised by the distractingly wide vibrato of soprano Rayanne Dupuis. She struggles to stay on the note and is audibly taxed by the fast, impassioned writing of the Song for the Warriors’ Departure. The piano duo and various percussion groups are excellent though, and as before they are well recorded. The gurgle and shimmer of the instrumental Fantastic Interlude is a sonic delight, and although Dupuis is more ingratiating in the quieter moments of the Song of Agony and Desolation she seems a little too distant in the concluding Song of Prophecy.
This disc is worth acquiring for Popol Vuh, but the variable soloist in the cantata and the very short playing time might deter some listeners. In terms of bang for your buck Ben-Dor’s collection is still very desirable, not least for her intoxicating accounts of Panambi, Estancia and Ollantay. What a pity that Neos blot their copybook with a double-gatefold Digipak; after just a couple of hours it’s already looking creased and scuffed.
Popol Vuh gets a first-rate performance; the cantata isn’t so fortunate. 

Dan Morgan  

Track listing
Popol Vuh
La noche de los tiempos - The Everlasting Night [6:35]
El nacimiento de la tierra - The Birth of the Earth [4:30]
El despertar de la naturaleza - Nature Wakes [4:55]
El grito de la creación The Cry of Creation [00:40]
La gran lluvia - The Grand Rain [2:43]
La ceremonia mágica del maíz - The Magic Ceremony of Indian Corn [2:39]
El sol, la luna, las estrellas - The Sun, the Moon, the Stars [3:14]

Cantata para América Mágica

Preludio y canto a la aurora - Prelude and Song of Dawn [4:56]
Nocturno y canto de amor - Nocturne and Love Song [3:59]
Canto para la partida de los guerreros - Song for the Warriors’ Departure [2:08]
Interludio fantástico - Fantastic Interlude [3:51]
Canto de agonía y desolación - Song of Agony and Desolation [5:36]
Canto de la profecía - Song of Prophecy [3:49]