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Alberto GINASTERA (1916-1983)
Orchestral Works - Volume 3
Piano Concerto No. 1, Op. 28 (1961) [24:56]
Variaciones concertantes for chamber orchestra Op. 23 (1953) [23:02]
Concierto Argentino (1935) [17:50]
Xiayin Wang (piano)
BBC Philharmonic/Juanjo Mena
rec. MediaCity, Salford Quays, 2016-17
CHANDOS CHAN10949 [66:08]

Joining two earlier Ginastera discs from Chandos (review ~ review), this disc picks up on the composer's wilder moments as well as his more traditional nationalistic origins. As for the piano concerto Ginastera wrote at least one other example. The Piano Concerto No. 2 is on CHAN10923 and Jonathan Woolf's adroit turn of phrase ("caustic, vibrant, and full of moto perpetuo vehemence"), applied to that work, also fits the Piano Concerto No. 1 to a tee. It is dedicated to the memory of Serge and Natalie Koussevitzky.

Hold that thought but note that the two piano concertos on the present disc could hardly be more different. The Piano Concerto No 1 from 1961 is in four movements and dates from ten years before the Second Piano Concerto. It is stark, busily detailed, freely dissonant and strenuous. Xiayin Wang is left with little in the way of remission from the keyboard's exigent demands. The Concerto's concern is with textures, quick mercurial progression and the exhilaration of protesting drama. Its forward momentum commingles with a three-dimensional kaleidoscope of moods. Episodes come breathless and thick. The rate of fire has a rapidity that on occasion leaves you wishing Ginastera had spent more time exploring his ideas. The Adagissimo third movement is memorably doom-laden with hard but delicate writing for harp, xylophone and celesta. The rhythmic zest and sheer velocity of the Toccata Concertanta finale does little to soften the work's propulsive Bartókian ways. This is a very different Ginastera from Estancia and Panambi.

That we can hear the much earlier Concierto Argentino (effectively piano Concerto No. 0) is down to Ginastera specialist Barbara Nissman's delving through manuscripts at Philadelphia's Fleisher Free Library. She gave the work its first performance in modern times in 2011. Her recording of it together with the other two Ginastera piano concertos is on Pierian Recording Society PIR0048. There she is joined by the Michigan University Symphony Orchestra conducted by Kenneth Kiesler. Concierto Argentino's exultant South-Americanisms are a delight. This is a very accessible work, full of rhythmic vitality and the sort of raucous street Latino atmosphere you find in some of the Milhaud scores. It's all swaying dance, disturbing carnival masks and stalking pride. The short middle movement - an Adagio Patetico - is very romantic.

Between the two concertos comes the 23 minute Variaciones concertantes for chamber orchestra. This is in twelve sections, separately tracked. Each of these sections has a particular instrument taking prominence. This is a score of great tenderness, delicacy and joyously whirling energy. In that sense it is as accessible as the Concierto Argentino and the composer's two signature ballets. The title implies dryness but the listening experience defies the implication. The music's melodic vulnerability (trs 5-6) nicely contrasts with a fleshy fruitful chatter elsewhere (trs. 8, 12, 16). At a skin-deep level there are parallels with Stravinsky's Pulcinella but here Ginastera's music has a closer access to the emotions and to yielding humanity.

I hope that the record labels have not yet done with Ginastera. It has been a while since the Violin Concerto (championed by Hyman Bress and Salvatore Accardo) has been done. There are said to be two spectacular orchestral suites based on his two most controversial operas Bomarzo (the full opera is on a fairly recent Sony reissue) and Don Rodrigo. Add to these the peppery Concerto for Strings taken up by Leonard Slatkin with the Chicago Symphony, the Cantata para América Mágica (Neos) and a major work for soloists, choir and orchestra Turbai ad Passionem Gregorianum.

Keen Ginastera hunters will note that, predating the present series, Chandos had and still have an orchestral collection (CHAN 10152) that included Obertura para el 'Fausto' criollo; Pampeana, No. 3; 'Estancia' Dances and Glosses sobre temes de Pau Casals. This was from the Berliner Symphoniker conducted by Gabriel Castagna.

The more than capable liner-essay for the present disc is by Gerald Larner and there is also a generously full note by the conductor. Playing feels completely idiomatic; indeed masterly. Chandos' superb sound can be relied on to glow when brilliance is demanded (as in the concertos) and when it is isn't, as in the lustrous viola solo (tr. 15) of the Variaciones Concertantes.
Rob Barnett


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