Reviews and occasional notes on classical music

Reviews and occasional notes on classical music

"Music, both vocall and instrumental, so good, so delectable, so rare, so admirable, so super excellent, that it did even ravish and stupifie all those strangers that never heard the like." - Thomas Coryat, after hearing 3 hours of music at the Scuola di San Rocco in Venice, 1608.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Music from Ginastera's Neo-Expressionist period

The Funkhaus Nalepastraße, or alten Funkhaus, is a former plywood factory that in 1951 was turned into the centre for broadcasting for East Germany. It's a natural place to record music from Alberto Ginastera's third "Neo-Expressionist" phase which began in 1958, influenced as it was by post-war European avant-garde music, with its use of atonality and serial techniques.

The new album from Capriccio, with Arturo Tamayo conducting the Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin, includes four works from the 1960s and 70s, and includes more advanced music of Ginastera's than you're likely to hear anywhere else, even in his Centennial year. It's true that 2016 brought some welcome new discs, but orchestral music on disc and in concert in 2016 focusses, as one would expect, on the his Nationalist works written before 1958. This is for the most part uncompromising music, but beautifully crafted and played with precision and passion by this fine orchestra. 

It's interesting to compare the arc of Ginastera's career with that of Villa-Lobos. Villa's modernist phase came relatively early, following his exposure to the music of Stravinsky and Debussy. His most avant-garde works, especially the Choros series of the 1920s, were followed in the 30s and 40s by a more popular Nationalist phase, which resulted in the Bachianas Brasileiras. Ginastera, on the contrary, moved nearly entirely from folkloric inspiration towards abstraction and systematic explorations in the post-war international style.

That's the theory, in any case. Occasionally the rhythms of Argentina come through in this late music, as in, for example, the finale of the very fine Concerto for Strings, written for Eugene Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra in 1965.  Going a bit against the grain, again, is the Glosses on Themes of Pablo Casals for String Orchestra and String Quintet, Op. 46, which was written, oddly enough, for the 1976 American Bicentennial. This is a moving celebration of Casals and his Catalan homeland (which was shared with Ginastera's forebears), and there are folkloric connections galore here, along with quotations from Bach (how Villa-Lobosian!), though with plenty of more modern interpolations as well. The other works aren't always austere and doctrinaire, either. Iubilum, written as a Louisville commission in 1979, is brooding but not always that adventurous in terms of tonality or structure. I expect, though, that it's hard to write a 12-tone Fanfare. The new recording easily outclasses the original Louisville one, conducted by Akira Endo.

The most evolved music on the disc is in the Estudios sinfonicos from 1967, which seems to be a recording premiere. I've only seen one reference to any other recording: a limited edition tape made for the Recording Guarantee Project, American International Music Fund, of the Koussevitzky Music Foundation. This was a broadcast of the Boston Symphony under Julius Redel, from Symphony Hall on Apr. 12-13, 1968, the American premiere. Here is a portion of the score (from the Boosey & Hawkes site), which indicates the relative complexity of this music.  It will take me a few more listens before I know exactly what I think of this piece, but I suspect it may be a masterpiece. In any case, this is a valuable issue, and it will be a reference recording for this music, I expect, for a long time to come.

While we're talking about Ginastera's orchestral music, we have less than a month to listen to yesterday's Prom 24 from the Royal Albert Hall. Juanjo Mena conducts the BBC Symphony Orchestra in Ollantay, from 1947. This is fabulous music, and a bit easier on the ears!

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