Let me start by saying that the only thing wrong with this album is that it is only one CD. Alberto Ginastera (1916-1983) is without doubt one of the finest composers of the twentieth century. Stylistically he holds much in common with composers like his contemporaries Aaron Copland (with whom he studied), Carlos Chavez, Leonard Bernstein and others who incorporated the spirit if not always the literal music of his homeland’s folk culture into his music. In additional to these nationalist works he wrote a substantial amount of traditional concert music which touched on the edges of modernistic trends.
He wrote three operas, two ballets. two piano concertos, two cello concertos, a harp concerto, three string quartets, a bevy of piano music and sundry other items. It is simply not possible to contain a fair representation of his work on a single CD. Despite that this disc is not a bad retrospective. It is lovingly played and recorded and if it does not represent the whole of Ginastera’s oeuvre it is a nice sampling.
The disc begins with the wonderful Harp Concerto Op. 25 (1956, rev. 1968). Though originally commissioned by Edna Phillips (principal harp of the Philadelphia Orchestra) she had retired before she could perform it and it was premiered in 1965 by the amazing Spanish harpist Nicanor Zabaleta. This three movement work is certainly one of the composer’s finest works and is beautifully played by Yolanda Kondonassis with the Oberlin Orchestra under Raphael Jiménez. This piece is one of the finest modern harp concertos and is representative of the composer’s international style with perhaps just a taste of modernism.
Next up is the single movement Pampeana Op. 16 (1947) with the great Gil Shaham on violin and his sister Orli Shaham on piano. This is a sort of window on Ginastera’s earliest nationalist style full of melody and virtuosity.
The next work is the Sonata for Guitar Op. 47 (1976) played by Grammy winning virtuoso Jason Vieaux. I had not heard this work and my first hearing was indeed a revelation. This is a major work for guitar and a wonderful sonata in the classical form. I gave these four tracks a few listens in an attempt to digest some of their beauty and complexity and I will doubtless give them many more listens. This is a major piece that belongs in the repertory.
And, finally, we move to the earliest utterance here with the Danzas Argentinas Op. 2 (1937) in an exciting and dedicated performance from Orli Shaham.
The sound is wonderful and there are a geekily satisfying set of liner notes which include a useful analysis by James O’Leary, Frederick B. Selch Assistant Professor of Musicology, Oberlin Conservatory of Music. All in all a beautiful production and a great introduction to Ginastera’s work but please, don’t stop here. Make sure you get to hear his other work and perhaps the wonderful folks at Oberlin will consider a volume two?