Naxos have slowly but surely built a catalogue of music by the
Argentinean composer Alberto Ginastera. Their recordings have
a strong claim to be definitive. Ever since a youth orchestra
encounter with his dances from Estancia I have been a
great fan. He is the only composer whose music has made it into
both of my last two ‘discs of the year’ selections.
This is why I was delighted to have the chance to make a first
acquaintance with these two major orchestral scores. Each runs
to over thirty-four minutes and makes full use of the large,
percussion-rich,Read more orchestra that Ginastera often favours.
Cellist Mark Kosower was the player on the well-received Naxos
disc of the complete Ginastera chamber works for cello (8.570569
- not reviewed here). I have not heard that disc but on the
strength of his performances here he is a powerful and compelling
advocate of Ginastera’s art. Central to the importance
of these relatively late works is that Ginastera married a cellist,
Aurora Nátola-Ginastera in 1971, dedicated the second
concerto to her as a tenth wedding anniversary gift, and revised
the first concerto for publication with her playing in mind.
Ginastera’s compositional career is often broken down
into three phases; as I wrote before in my review of the magnificent
three string quartets:
"Objective Nationalism" (1934-1948), "Subjective Nationalism"
(1948-1958), and "Neo-Expressionism" (1958-1983). These phases
chart a gradual move away from an overtly Nationalistic/folk-based
style to something more personal although with clearly Latin-American
roots. As with many composers there is a clear sense of a refining
of the musical palette, removing the extraneous and glib and
simply leaving the very essence of the music’s fibre.
Not that these are austere scores as such. At one level Ginastera
uses the orchestra with an almost profligate confidence, but
at another there is a clear intellectual rigour here that requires
repeated listenings even to begin to get a sense of the riches
on offer. These are not the archetypal cello concertos with
the rich baritone voice of the soloist singing away in the midst
of an admiring orchestra. Very often I got the sense that the
soloist was an intruder in an often unsettling or at least unforgiving
Naxos have chosen to place the first concerto second on the
disc but I will deal with the pieces in compositional order.
The Cello Concerto No.1 Op.36 [notice how small Ginastera’s
catalogue of acknowledged works is] was commissioned in 1968
but was revised for publication in 1977 and first performed
in the new definitive revision by the composer’s wife.
To what degree the work changed between composition and revision
the otherwise excellent note by Susan Wingrove does not make
clear. However, she does explain that the work was written in
the aftermath of Ginastera’s notorious opera Bomarzo.
The opera dealt in quite graphic terms and at length with the
violent and lascivious life the 16th Century Duke
Pier Francesco Orsini. Violence is an abiding impression of
the concerto too. Sometimes the cello seems to plead for some
form of reconciliation between warring factions; at other times
he seems only too eager to lead the affray. As so often in Ginastera
sequences of ‘night music’ proliferate but even
here, when marked to be played with extreme quietness, the impression
is one of latent fear-streaked darkness with a thuggee lurking
in the shadows. This is deeply unsettling music - not at all
what one might expect coming from a senior composer in his twilight
years having recently found his new great love. Wingrove points
out that Ginastera makes use of motivic cells in both works
- for example B.A.C.H. is used in the first concerto’s
first movement. I have to say without the benefit of a score
this has yet to leap out at me by dint of the music alone. As
a whole these are some of the knottier works by Ginastera that
I have heard. On the kind of superficial acquaintance that a
first-hearing review like this must represent the music is stronger
on its use of instrumental colour, texture and motivic development
than on melody per se.
As mentioned before the Concerto No.2 was written expressly
for Aurora Nátola-Ginastera and one imagines the piece
embodies both her playing and their relationship. Night in all
its facets dominates again. Although, in the first movement
Ginastera makes play of his wife’s first name Aurora to
write music that represents the transition from night to day
- the concept of metamorphosing darkness to light is given musical
form. Again Ginastera uses pre-existing themes as a backbone
of the work. In this instance the cello solo from the third
movement of the Brahms Piano Concerto No.2 but once again
it would be hard to say that in any way this dominates the score.
Again, the abiding initial impression is one of instrumental
organisation and orchestral colour over memorable instant melodic
invention. Wingrove in her notes makes the point that Ginastera
worked as a composer of film scores for some years in the 1950s
when he was out of favour with the Peron regime. Certainly,
from this experience it is not impossible to extrapolate forwards
to this work where mood and atmosphere are so key to its overall
effect. I did find myself wondering once or twice how rewarding
it is (or isn’t!) for a soloist to have to perfect such
complex writing which ultimately makes its impact through effect
rather than engaging the listener’s heart. The concluding
Finale Rustico is near to one of his earlier exciting
toccatas. As often in the past he uses obsessive percussion-led
ostinati to create a sound-world of riotous celebration.
The writing for the soloist in both concertos sounds terrifyingly
hard so ever more credit to Kosower for total command of instrument
and idiom that he displays. A particular skill is the way in
which he is able to link sequences of notes together which range
across the entire cello seamlessly. At a technical level this
is extremely hard but is vital to allow the listener to perceive
such seemingly disjointed lines as melodic. The effect of this
style of writing is to give the music a striving expressionistic
quality. Because this is not music of instant easy beauty it
requires from all the players a style of playing that is almost
super-lyrical. It might sound counter-intuitive but music like
this requires a fusion of steely precision in terms of rhythm
and technical accuracy but hyper-romanticism in regard to its
expressivity. Kosower has this aesthetic balance off to a tee.
He plays on the borrowed Starker Nebula - Janos Starker is one
of his teachers. It is an instrument ideally suited to this
music and his playing. The tones are guttural and dark from
the lower strings yet are able to cut through the complex textures
during the extended passages in alt. To play these pieces
with such conviction is the result of many hours of concentrated
and dedicated work.
Praise too here for the engineering and production of the disc.
Ace producer Michael Fine and his engineer Wolf-Dieter Karwatky
have created a disc of demonstration quality. There is a wealth
of orchestral detail - including extended ‘ethnic’
percussion and a vast dynamic range all of which has been captured
without excessive spotlighting of instruments. Add to that the
need to integrate the solo line believably into the sound picture
and the fact that the second concerto was recorded live
- not that one is aware of any extraneous sounds or fallible
playing for an instant - and you can see that the scale of what
they have achieved is very impressive indeed. The same can be
said of the playing of the Bamberg Symphony Orchestra under
Lothar Zagrosek. It says something about the stature of Naxos
as a label that established performers of such stature appear
here as a matter of course.
This is one of those slightly curious discs that one admires
very much indeed without necessarily liking it a lot. That I
put down to my current superficial understanding of the music.
Ginastera was too fastidious and sophisticated a composer for
his music not to deserve extended study. There is a full-price
version on Pierian of Aurora Nátola-Ginastera playing
these works which I have not heard. This disc must bow to that
by dint of its authority alone but I cannot imagine it being
better played by soloist or orchestra or better engineered.
The Naxos disc in any event enjoys a huge price advantage. Indeed,
I would go as far as saying that this is one of the finest concerto
discs from Naxos that I have heard. On the strength of his performance
here I will look forward to hearing more from cellist Mark Kosower.
Cello Concerto No. 1, Op. 36 (1978 version): III. Assai mosso ed esaltato - Largo amoroso
Average Customer Review: ( 1 Customer Review )
Powerful, modern concertos!September 25, 2012By Henry S. (Springfield, VA)See All My Reviews"Alberto Ginastera's two magnificent cello concertos are complex works, displaying in truly virtuosic manner the elements of effective modern (or even post-modern) orchestral compositions- raw orchestral power, exquisitely delicate solo passages, lots of percussion for emphasis, and an unpredictable mix of dissonance and atonality with refreshing interludes of tonal passages. On top of all this the listener must also face up to the great challenge of deciphering the composer's intricate thematic development. The playing of both the soloist Mark Kosower and the excellent Bamberg Symphony Orchestra is superb throughout, and the technical engineering of Naxos results in a recording of audiophile demonstration quality (in my opinion, of course). This is demanding music, but if one is ready for a real musical adventure, give this excellent disk a try. I don't think you will be disappointed."Report Abuse