Alberto GINASTERA (1916-1983)
Orchestral Works - Volume 2
Panambí (1934-37) [37:02]
Piano Concerto No.2, Op.39 (1972) [31:51]
Xiayin Wang (piano)
Ladies of Manchester Chamber Choir
BBC Philharmonic/Juanjo Mena
rec. September/November 2015 (Panambí), March 2016 (Concerto), MediaCity UK, Salford
CHANDOS CHAN10923 [69:07]

Chandos’s Ginastera series advances to its second volume and throws together an early work with a late one. Panambí was composed between 1934-37 and is heard here in the premiere recording of its original version with choral ending. The concert suite evokes Argentina’s pre-Columbian civilisation in music of elemental freshness and vitality warmed by Stravinskian-Dionysiac dance rhythms and impressionist-colouristic evocations. If that seems an overload, a superabundance of prevailing influences, then a listen to the concert suite of Ginastera’s ballet will perhaps amend that view. It’s music that packs a punch.

Chandos sub-divides the suite into its eighteen separately tracked scenes – some are very brief lasting 30 seconds or so – though the whole suite or ‘Choreographic Legend’ lasts 37 minutes. There are strong Debussian Nocturnal elements as well as Round Dance evocations clearly derived from the Rite of Spring, not least in the pounding ostinati that Ginastera generates. It is perhaps this level of opposition – between the infernal and the still, the Ravelian flute lines redolent of Daphnis and Chloe and the sinewy pounding timpani – that vests the music with such attractive wholeness. He was still only 21 when the work was finished and it’s hardly worth complaining that so many of the musical inheritances are undigested. Rather it’s better to admire the sheer panoply of orchestral colour and the variety of sonic conjunctions of which he was capable by 1937. Perhaps it’s my bizarre mind that had me humming the final tableau and thinking of Ronald Binge. Not an association that would strike most people.

The companion work is a much tougher nut. The 1972 Piano Concerto No.2 is a self-confessed ‘neo-expressionist’ piece that takes its cue from the opening chord that launches the finale of Beethoven’s Choral Symphony. The first movement is a series of 32 variations on the chord, followed by the finale three movements – a Scherzo, a Quasi una fantasia (a very Beethovenianly titled movement in itself, and no idle coincidence of course), and then the cadenza and finale. There is plenty of colour and dramatic flair in the opening sequence of brief variations. The Scherzo was intended for the left hand alone but Xiayin Wang, as with most other practitioners of the work, employs both hands. Caustic, vibrant, and full of moto perpetuo vehemence this is a challenge for performers and listeners alike. Wang, Mena and the forces of the BBC Philharmonic come through brilliantly.

Especially commendable is Chandos’s recording quality, which expands to contain even the most violent upsurge from the orchestral palette and yet is detailed enough to reflect every deft colouristic element.

Jonathan Woolf

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