Alberto GINASTERA (1916-1983) The Piano Works
Danzas argentinas op. 2 (1937) [7:31]
Tres piezas op. 6 (1940) [11:39]
Malambo op. 7 (1940) [2:43]
Pequeña danza op. 8a (1941) [1:37]
Piezas Infantiles (publ. 1942) [2:12]
Doce Preludios americanos op. 12 (1944) [13:53]
Suite de danzas criollas op. 15 (1946) [8:30]
Rondó sobre temas infantiles argentinos op. 19 (1947) [2:57]
Piano Sonata No. 1 op. 22 (1952) [14:33]
Toccata (1970) (transcription of Toccata (1716) for organ by Domenico Zipoli) [6:38]
Piano Sonata No. 3 op. 55 (1982) [4:34]
Michael Korstick (piano)
rec. Kammermusiksaal des Deutchlandradio, Köln, Germany, August and September 2015. CPO 555 069-2 [79:55]
There was a kind of epiphany in 2016 when it came to the music of the Argentinian Alberto Ginastera. It was centred on the celebrations on the centenary of the composer’s birth. There were recordings released as well as airings of his music on the radio, and not just his ever popular Estancia. This recording was made during the previous year for release as a celebration of his music, although it was released in March 2017, so a little late. It has stiff opposition, mainly from Mariangela Vacatello on Brilliant Classics (84736), whose recording I borrowed from a friend for comparison. Not only did she release her recording on time, but also she includes the works without opus number and the Piano Sonata No. 2. It is, then, already a winner on two counts. The fact that Vacatello’s two discs are also cheaper than Korstick’s single disc is just the icing on the cake.
Korstick opens with the three Danzas argentinas, as does Vacatello. Composed in 1937, when Ginastera was still a student, they point towards his more mature compositions. The style and rhythms of these dances will be familiar to anyone who knows his ballet scores. The three dances are entitled Dance of the Herdsman, Dance of the Beautiful Maiden and Dance of the Arrogant Gaucho. The final dance is the most furious, as well as the most dissonant. Short and bright, they exude South American spirit and verve. You can understand just why this piece opens both recordings, and in my mind it is not just because it is the earliest piano music with an opus number.
I feel that Alberto Ginastera, when it comes to his piano music, was more comfortable composing pieces derived from Argentinian dance rhythms. It certainly brings out the best of the composer, especially in his earlier works. For example, listen to Malambo, his opus 7 from 1940. It is a real tour de force of composing in this style; malambo is a dance associated with the gauchos. Korstick is also quite convincing in the Doce Preludios americanos of 1944, moving effortlessly between the changing styles and tempi of the twelve pieces. I particularly enjoyed his performance of Homenaje a Aaron Copland.
I find the composer, and for that matter the pianist, less fluent in the sonatas. For me Ginastera just lacks that little bit of a spark. These are competent and well crafted works, just, for me at least, less memorable. The opening Allegro marcato movement of Piano Sonata No. 1 is the most attractive. Its fast rhythm and percussive style make a fine opener. Sadly the other movements do not live up to it, although the final Ruvido ed ostinato makes a good stab at it. Here I find Michael Korstick’s performance a little heavy, dare I say “Germanic”. Mariangela Vacatello is more convincing here, as she also is in the Piano Sonata No. 3.
So this is a good disc which has some excellent playing, but overall I find Mariangela Vacatello a more inspired performer. That being said, I would like to see and hear Michael Korstick given the chance to complete his survey of Ginastera’s piano music. There is not much to choose between the recorded sounds of both these recordings. Both are very good. Where Korstick’s recording wins hands down is in Charles K. Tomicik’s excellent booklet essay. It gives not only a better biography of the composer, but also comprehensive and detailed notes on all the music featured.