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Ginastera: Popol Vuh, Ollantay, Estancia, Panambi / Ben-Dor

Ginastera / Lso / Ben-dor
Release Date: 06/29/2010 
Label:  Naxos   Catalog #: 8570999   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Alberto Ginastera
Conductor:  Gisèle Ben-Dor
Orchestra/Ensemble:  BBC National Orchestra of WalesLondon Symphony OrchestraJerusalem Symphony Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 1 Hours 13 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

Here’s a terrific Ginastera collection. The Estancia and Panambi suites are drawn from Ben-Dor’s complete recording, also now on Naxos, and they are somewhat different from the composer’s own. So if you don’t have the complete versions but do have other recordings of these two suites, you really aren’t duplicating by getting this disc as well. The remaining works are all equally well-played, with the Suite de Danzas Criollas being very idiomatically orchestrated by Shimon Cohen. This performance of Popul Vuh may not be quite as savage as Slatkin’s premiere recording on RCA, but that was far less interestingly coupled, and it’s difficult to take issue with any particular aspect of the performance generally. In this context the music seems Read more all of a piece, and as a single-disc survey of Ginastera’s orchestral music it would be difficult to imagine a more attractive program than this one. Given the different orchestras, venues, and recording dates, the engineering is remarkably consistent.

-- David Hurwitz, ClassicsToday.com

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GINASTERA Popol Vuh: The Mayan Creation 1. Ollantay 1. Suite de Danzas Criollas. 2 Suites: Panambí; 3 Estancia 3 Gisèle Ben-Dor, cond; 1 BBC NO of Wales; 2 Jerusalem SO; 3 London SO NAXOS 8.570999 (72:51)


To the best of my knowledge, this is the second recording of Ginastera’s final and unfinished orchestral essay, Popol Vuh: The Mayan Creation, op. 44, originally commissioned by Eugene Ormandy for his Philadelphia Orchestra. The composer worked on it piecemeal over the last eight years of his life, leaving eight of its proposed nine sections complete and fully orchestrated when he died. Unfortunately, the unwritten ninth section was to represent the end of the process of the world’s creation, as outlined in ancient Mayan mythology. (The mythological tale was recorded by an unknown Dominican missionary in the 1550s. That text, the Popol Vuh or Council Book, is now the most detailed source material we have concerning the Mayan civilization.) Nevertheless, the eight extant sections form a satisfying work in their own right, as Leonard Slatkin realized when he received the score and premiered it in 1989, six years after the composer’s death. Slatkin went on to record the work with the St. Louis Symphony.


I do not have Slatkin’s disc at hand for comparison, but Gisèle Ben-Dor and the well-regarded BBC Orchestra of Wales give a tremendous performance in this new recording. As you might imagine, there is a certain amount of subterranean brooding in the early sections (such as the first movement, “The Everlasting Night”), broken by shattering fortissimo explosions of sound and energy. The second and third movements, titled “The Birth of the Earth” and “Nature Awakes” respectively, recall earlier musical depictions of prehistoric activity, most notably Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring and Max Steiner’s score for the 1933 movie King Kong . When human beings appear in the form of native Indians, from the sixth movement on (“The Magic Ceremony of Indian Corn”), the composer revisits his early ballet music, employing accented dance rhythms. The final movement, “The Dawn of Humankind,” is a brass chorale surrounded by swirling woodwind figuration. While not very long, it is decisive enough to act as an appropriate conclusion, so the work does not feel incomplete. Ginastera’s orchestral imagination and expertise are evident throughout, and the textures are superbly captured in the vivid Naxos recording.


The symphonic triptych Ollantay (1946) is a precursor to the later work, inspired by Inca mythology. Opening with diatonic fanfares, the music builds to a vigorous war dance before reaching a peaceful conclusion. Like the other works on this disc, it is written in the composer’s nationalistic style: strongly rhythmic in the fast moments, coolly impressionistic elsewhere.


The two ballet scores that made Ginastera’s reputation were Panambí and Estancia , both set around the plains of Argentina. The orchestral suites Ginastera subtracted from these scores are well known and, in the case of Estancia , oft-recorded. However, that is not what we have here. Ben-Dor and the London Symphony Orchestra made a recording of the complete ballets, originally released on the Conifer label in 1998 and subsequently reissued by Naxos. (See James Miller’s review in Fanfare 30:5.) Here she gives us what are termed extended suites from the two works. They might more accurately be called selections, as they seem to be extracts from the complete ballet recordings. (The session dates are the same.)


New to me—and I think to disc—is the orchestral version of a piano work, the Suite de Danzas Criollas , op. 15. The arrangement by Shimon Cohen, commissioned by Ben-Dor to perform with the Jerusalem orchestra, is sometimes splashy in a way that the composer’s own orchestrations are not. Note, for instance, the doubling of xylophone and violins in the final presto . Nonetheless, it is exciting and vibrant on its own terms.


Recording quality is full and clear, despite the fact that this program was recorded in different venues and at different times. The London performances, as I said, have been issued before, but I can find no evidence of a previous incarnation of the Danzas Criollas, Ollantay, or Popol Vuh , which were recorded in 2006 and 2001 respectively. Once again, we owe Naxos a debt for making these colorful performances available.


FANFARE: Phillip Scott


Let it be said straight away: there are no such things as these so-called extended suites from Panambí and Estancia. These have been - so to say - assembled from the existing recordings of the complete ballets once released on Koch and re-issued on Naxos 8.557582 that I reviewed here some time ago. They somewhat differ from the existing suites made by the composer and are said to follow the chronology of events in the ballet scores more closely.

Originally composed for piano and first performed by Rudolf Firkus?y in Buenos Aires in 1947, the Suite de Danzas Criollas Op.15 is heard here in an orchestration by Shimon Cohen made at the request of Gisèle Ben-Dor. Cohen did a fine job although I find that his scoring makes these short dances larger than life. I for one will stick with the original version available on Naxos 8.557911-2 that has been reviewed here too.

Although it has been recorded before the symphonic triptych Ollantay Op.17 is still too little known, unjustly so, I think; this is one of Ginastera’s most appealing works. It is based on the myth of Ollantay, son of the Earth, who opposes Inca, son of the Sun. The latter declares war on Ollantay who resists for a long time in his fortress but is eventually killed. The first panel Paisaje de Ollantaytambo (“The Ollantaytambo Landscape”) is a beautiful, though troubled nocturne. There follows Los Guerreros (“The Warriors”), a powerful war dance. The triptych ends with La Muerte de Ollantay in which Ollantay forecasts the destruction of the Empire and the disappearance of the Sons of the Sun.

Popol Vuh Op.44 - Ginastera’s last major orchestral work - was commissioned by the Philadelphia Orchestra who had just first performed his large-scale choral orchestral Turbae ad Passionem Gregorianam Op.43. Ginastera started sketching the piece almost immediately but for whatever reasons laid his sketches aside resuming work in 1982. The bulk of it was thus completed some time before the composer’s death but was actually left unfinished at the time of Ginastera’s death. When Ormandy died in 1985 the score was all but forgotten till the pianist Barbara Nissman drew Leonard Slatkin’s attention to it. Both deemed it perfectly performable as such so that Slatkin and the Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra gave the first performance in 1989 and recorded it soon afterwards on RCA 09026 60993 2 (possibly still available). The Popol Vuh or Council Book contains the mythological Mayan narrative of creation. The various movements of the work thus trace the creation of the world according to the Mayas from the original chaos to the birth of man, subject of the missing final movement that should have been scored for percussion only. It is perfectly viable as it stands. The music is vintage Ginastera with its mix of primal brutality and of more reflective or atmospheric stances.

The opening movement La Noche de los Tiempos grows from the depths of the orchestra with dark growling from bass instruments. The impression of inchoate chaos is maintained throughout except for a short violent outburst when the Divine Council decides to create the world. The following movements El Nacimiento de la Tierra (“The Birth of the Earth”) and El Despertar de la Naturaleza (“The Awakening of Nature”) evoke the process of creation, at first from simple beginnings. These progressively become engulfed in more dynamic elements, the whole leading into the short violent El Gritto de la Creación (“The Cry of the Creation”). But the gods are not satisfied with what they have created and La Gran Lluvia (“The Great Rain”) sweeps everything away so that the Gods may start again. This allows for the creation of mankind in the form of La Ceremonia Magíca del Maiz (“The Magic Ceremony of Corn”), another powerful dance. The final movement evokes the creation of the sun, the moon and the stars in a slow crescendo culminating in heroic fanfares (El Amanecer de la Humanidad - “The Dawn of Mankind”). The incomplete Popol Vuh remains an impressive score in its own right. It will not fail to make its mark on the attentive and sympathetic listener. Incidentally there is still another recording of Popol Vuh available on Neos 10918, a most desirable release for all lovers of Ginastera’s music because it is coupled with the impressive and very little known Cantata para América Mágica Op.27 for soprano and percussion.

Gisèle Ben-Dor is clearly on familiar ground here and she conducts vital, committed and convincing readings of all the works. All three orchestras respond superbly with playing of the highest quality. The recorded sound is excellent throughout.

There is actually very little to complain about with this generous release. There is one small caveat which I touched on when beginning this review. I still believe that the so-called extended suites from Panambí and Estancia might have been dispensed with to allow for the inclusion of some hitherto unrecorded works such as Estudios Sinfónicos Op.35 and Iubilum Op.51, but I hope that these will appear in some forthcoming release.

-- Hubert Culot, MusicWeb International
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Works on This Recording

1. Popol vuh, Op. 44 by Alberto Ginastera
Conductor:  Gisèle Ben-Dor
Orchestra/Ensemble:  BBC National Orchestra of Wales
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1975/1983; Argentina 
2. Estancia, Op. 8: Los trabajadores agricolas by Alberto Ginastera
Conductor:  Gisèle Ben-Dor
Orchestra/Ensemble:  London Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1941; Argentina 
3. Estancia, Op. 8: Danza del trigo by Alberto Ginastera
Conductor:  Gisèle Ben-Dor
Orchestra/Ensemble:  London Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1941; Argentina 
4. Estancia, Op. 8: La doma by Alberto Ginastera
Conductor:  Gisèle Ben-Dor
Orchestra/Ensemble:  London Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1941; Argentina 
5. Estancia, Op. 8: no 5, Idilio Crepuscular by Alberto Ginastera
Conductor:  Gisèle Ben-Dor
Orchestra/Ensemble:  London Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1941; Argentina 
6. Estancia, Op. 8: Malambo "Danza final" by Alberto Ginastera
Conductor:  Gisèle Ben-Dor
Orchestra/Ensemble:  London Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1941; Argentina 
7. Creole Dance Suite, Op. 15 ( by Alberto Ginastera
Conductor:  Gisèle Ben-Dor
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra
8. Panambí Suite, Op. 1a by Alberto Ginastera
Conductor:  Gisèle Ben-Dor
Orchestra/Ensemble:  London Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: Argentina 
9. Ollantay, Op. 17 by Alberto Ginastera
Conductor:  Gisèle Ben-Dor
Orchestra/Ensemble:  BBC National Orchestra of Wales
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1947; Argentina 

Sound Samples

Estancia, Op. 8: Scene 2: Los Trabajadores Agricolas
Estancia, Op. 8: Scene 2: Danza del Trigo
Estancia, Op. 8: Scene 3: La Doma
Estancia, Op. 8: Scene 3: Idilio Crepuscular
Estancia, Op. 8: Scene 5: Danza Final: Malambo
Suite de danzas criollas, Op. 15 (arr. S. Cohen for orchestra): I. Adagietto pianissimo
Suite de danzas criollas, Op. 15 (arr. S. Cohen for orchestra): II. Allegro rustico
Suite de danzas criollas, Op. 15 (arr. S. Cohen for orchestra): III. Allegretto cantabile
Suite de danzas criollas, Op. 15 (arr. S. Cohen for orchestra): IV. Calmo e poetico
Suite de danzas criollas, Op. 15 (arr. S. Cohen for orchestra): V. Scherzando - Coda: Presto ed energico
Panambi, Op. 1: Danza de los Guerreros
Panambi, Op. 1: Juego de las Deidades del Agua
Panambi, Op. 1: Invocacion a los Espiritus Poderosos
Panambi, Op. 1: Danza del Hechicero
Panambi, Op. 1: El Amanecer
Ollantay, Op. 17*: I. Paisaje de Ollantaytambo
Ollantay, Op. 17*: II. Los Guerreros
Ollantay, Op. 17*: III. La Muerte de Ollantay
Popol vuh, Op. 44: I. La Noche de los Tiempos
Popol vuh, Op. 44: II. El Nacimiento de la Tierra
Popol vuh, Op. 44: III. El Despertar de la Naturaleza
Popol vuh, Op. 44: V. La Gran Lluvia
Popol vuh, Op. 44: VI. La Ceremonia Magica del Maiz
Popol vuh, Op. 44: VII. El Sol, la Luna y las Estrellas
Popol vuh, Op. 44: VIII. El Amanecer de la Humanidad

Customer Reviews

Average Customer Review:  1 Customer Review )
 Powerful Musical Scores From Argentina's Greatest September 25, 2012 By Henry S. (Springfield, VA) See All My Reviews "This fine disk includes 5 separate compositions covering Alberto Ginastera's entire career. Two of these (Estancia and Panambi)are suites extracted from complete ballet scores (also available on Naxos). Both are excellent examples of Ginastera's imaginative use of native Argentinian influences, and the same can be said for the short Suite of Dances. With the composition Ollantay, Ginastera musically traces an ancient Incan myth with interesting results. The final work is a powerful, even brutal, musical interpretation of the Mayan mythological account of the formation of the Earth. Thoroughly pagan in nature, Popol Vuh uses the full resources of a massive orchestra to portray the cacaphonous, primeval context of early Earth. This work may strike the listener as thoroughly avant garde, with huge orchestral outbursts, elements of dissonance and atonality, all under the umbrella of raw, unconstrained orchestral power. Keeping in mind that that this work can be considered a very specific type of tone poem may help maintain focus while dealing with an extremely challenging piece of music. The collection of works on this disk uses 3 separate orchestras, all of whom handle Ginastera's scores superbly. I recommend this recording as an effective sampler of Ginastera's remarkable compositional skill. Just be prepared for the aesthetic jolt delivered by the Popul Vuh score!" Report Abuse
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