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Leonardo BALADA (b. 1933)
Symphony no.6 Symphony of Sorrows [18:43] (1)*
Concerto for 3 cellos A German Concerto [21:23] (2)*
The Steel Symphony [19:49] (3)
Hans-Jakob Eschenburg (cello); Michael Sanderling (cello); Wolfgang Emanuel Schmidt (cello)
Galicia Symphony Orchestra/Jesus Lopez-Cobos
Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra/Eivind Gullberg Jensen
Barcelona Symphony Orchestra/Jesus Lopez-Cobos
rec. live, 2007-12, Palacio de la Opera, A Coruña, Spain; Philharmonie Hall, Berlin; Auditori Hall, Barcelona (3)
world première recordings*
NAXOS 8.573298 [59:54]

By my reckoning the Naxos Balada series now runs well into the mid-teens. This latest release includes two world première recordings and The Steel Symphony, that found a worthy advocate in Lorin Maazel no less. He recorded it with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra in the nineteen-eighties on New World Records 80348. Several years ago I bought the CD containing Guernica and the Symphony No. 4 (8.557342) after reading several positive reviews. An immensely engaging listen, I wasn’t disappointed. I have never explored any others in the series until this one, released several months ago. Would it live up to my expectations?

Balada was born in Barcelona in 1933. His musical studies began with the piano at the Conservatori Superior de Música del Liceu in his home city. In 1956 he decided to emigrate to the States to pursue studies at the Juilliard School in New York, from which he graduated in 1960. His composition teachers were Vincent Persichetti, Alexandre Tansman and Aaron Copland, and conducting with Igor Markevitch. Since 1970, he has taught composition at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

The composer states in his booklet notes that he is inspired by historical events when writing his music. The Symphony No. 6 Symphony of Sorrows is a one-movement work, dedicated to the innocent victims of the Spanish Civil War. It was composed in 2005 and premièred a year later. Balada views the ‘brother-against-brother in-fighting’ as an onlooker, not from a partisan stance. Incorporated into the work are elements of two hymns; The Himno de Riegno, which was the flag song of the Republican forces, and Cara al Sol associated with the opposing Franco forces. Notable throughout are themes with a military bearing. Of the three works on the disc, I found this one the most melodic, though elements of avant-gardism lace the score. Recorded live, the Galicia Symphony Orchestra under Jesus Lopez-Cobos deliver a riveting performance. The audience is unobtrusive and applause is retained.

In Concerto for 3 cellos A German Concerto (2006), again historical events underpin the thinking behind the composition. Balada states in his notes his inspiration: ‘… the resurrection and subsequent recovery of the German people after two catastrophic world wars’. It takes the form of a single movement, divided into three sections. The score is based on the German song Die Moorsoldaten (The Peat-Bog Soldiers), attributed to an anonymous soldier in a German concentration camp. It was later adopted by the Spanish fighting against Franco in the Civil War. I found its motoric rhythms reminiscent of the composer’s Homage to Sarasate (1975). Throughout the Concerto, each of the soloists is given an opportunity to shine, both in terms of lyricism and virtuosity. Balada proves himself an extremely accomplished orchestrator. The work is dedicated to the three soloists. All concerned give a deeply committed performance.

Dedicated to the steel workers of the world, The Steel Symphony reflects the fascination the factories around Pittsburgh held for the composer. Written in 1972, it was given its première in 1973. It’s an abstract work intended to ‘reflect the drama and poetry of the sonorities of the steel foundries in a sophisticated way’. I would imagine it being great fun for orchestral players to perform, with motoric rhythms and instrumental flourishes, evoking an atmosphere of great industry, all set within a framework of polyrhythms and dissonance. The Barcelona Symphony Orchestra and Jesus Lopez-Cobos do it proud.

These are works that benefit from top of the range sound, and they are well-served here. All three venues provide spacious acoustics, allowing the composer’s masterly orchestration to be heard in all its glory. Balada has provided annotations which are both enlightening and viewed from the composer’s perspective.

For those who feel adventurous, and have a particular affinity for Varèse, Lutoslawski and Charles Ives, I strongly urge you to give this music a try.

Stephen Greenbank

Previous review: Paul Corfield Godfrey


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