Notes and Editorial Reviews
Pampeana No. 2. 5 canciones populares argentinas
Puneña No. 2,
“Homage à Paul Sacher.”
Mark Kosower (vc); Jee-Won Oh (pn)
NAXOS 8.570569 (52:10)
Ginastera was one of those composers who, in continually evolving and experimenting, could not easily be pinned down stylistically. His famous Harp Concerto, written for Osian Ellis, is as
different from his stark, atonal opera
(still one of the neglected masterpieces of the 20th century) as night is from day. Yet despite his evolution, he did break his music into three styles: objective nationalism, subjective nationalism, and neo-Expressionism. Cellist Mark Kosower presents all three styles here by transcribing the
Cinco canciones populares
(“Five Popular Songs”), music of objective nationalism, from their original voice setting to the cello. The CD, however, starts with a subjective work, the
Pampeana No. 2
, in which folk music is never actually quoted but suggested in his original themes. Compressing four sections into one continuous piece lasting only nine minutes, Ginastera tried to capture the alternating feelings of ebullience, awe, and melancholy that crossing the pampas evoked in him. It is a marvelous piece, played with tremendous élan by Kosower and Oh.
I found this transcription of the five popular Argentine songs to be effective but not entirely convincing as cello music. It’s the sort of piece that I’m sure I would enjoy in a live concert setting, but listening on record, I found myself becoming restless. Some of this, however, stems from Oh’s piano accompaniment, which I found carefully crafted but emotionally cold. Kosower plays with warmth of tone and generous spirit, but these are still songs. I want to hear a voice, I want to hear words. Falla’s
Popular Spanish Songs
works for the violin; these do not translate quite as well, at least not for me.
Ginatsera’s neo-Expressionist period, his last and longest (1958–1983), is the one that includes both the unaccompanied
Puneña No. 2
and the Cello Sonata. The first work is intended to capture the feelings of the mysterious world of the Inca Empire, and is divided into two movements, a melancholy love song (“Harawi”) and a wild carnival dance (“Wayno karnavalito”). I personally found Kosower’s performance of the first movement to be lacking in atmosphere. Whether this is due to the actual music or merely his interpretation of it is difficult to determine. In the second movement, Kosower has great energy for the Argentinean rhythms, and the highly imaginative writing (including octave glisses into the stratosphere and rapid finger triplets) brings out some wonderful effects on the cello. This was, for me, one of the highlights of the entire recital, and I was sorry when it was over.
The Cello Sonata is a real masterpiece in every respect. From its opening jagged rhythms to the sizzling finale, this is a work that constantly entertains as it challenges the listener. Despite an almost constant use of bitonality and tone clusters, there is an almost modal feeling to the first movement—at least, until the music melts down into the
section. The music still hovers around tone clusters, but its range is tightly circumscribed. The second movement, an Adagio passionato, is extremely odd. To begin with, the music moves at a snail’s pace, more of a Lento than an Adagio. For another, there is no forward propulsion at all. In a way, this sounds like subconscious music, very close to the effects created by “automatic composers.” Every phrase sounds as if it were being improvised into being—at least, until the piano begins a more energetic rumbling, followed later on by dramatic singing, flourishes, and suspenseful silences in the cadenza. The third movement, Presto mormoroso, is a murmuring piece that begins with a note here and there, the instruments alternating as if in dialogue. Both instruments climb into the upper registers as piano flourishes suspend time at the movement’s midpoint. The change in pitch begins the musical inversion; at the cello’s reentry, the two instruments play in retrograde back to the beginning, disappearing into nothingness. The final movement is an uninhibited romp, starting in
clusters before moving into wild passages combining sonata form with a toccata and complex interplay between the two instruments. As Kosower puts it in the liner notes, “The explosive nature of the music is fueled by syncopated dance rhythms including the
obsessive running sixteenth notes, sudden shifts in material, and a boldness of character.”
Overall, the performance of the Sonata is quite good; even pianist Oh plays with more boldness than on the other pieces. It is certainly finer than the poorly recorded version by Carter Brey and Christopher O’Riley (Helicon) and, in the recording by the Sonata’s dedicatee, Aurora Natola (Pierian), her superb work is undercut by the rhythmically driving but lead-footed playing of pianist Barbara Nissman. I feel that the other performances could be improved on somewhat, but this is still an interesting disc and a good place to start in these works.
FANFARE: Lynn René Bayley
Works on This Recording
Puneña no 2, Op. 45: Harawi by Alberto Ginastera
Jee-Won Oh (Piano),
Mark Kosower (Cello)
Period: 20th Century
Written: 1976; Switzerland
Length: 6 Minutes 28 Secs.
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