GINASTERA:  Estancia, Op. 8a.  Panambi, Op. 1a.   Concerto for Harp.  Glosses sobre temes de Pau Casals.
Isabelle Moretti, harp/Lyon National Orch/David Robertson, cond.

NAIVE  V 4860 (F) (DDD) TT:  68:54

This is the second naive release that's come my way this year, and what I don't understand is why Auvidis, the parent company, would choose a feminine adjective meaning "artless, ingenuous, unaffected; simple, green" (according to my edition of Cassell’'s New French Dictionary). Artless? Ingenuous? That's oxymoronic, although hardly as moronic as the packaging of this CD, once the cellophane has been removed. It is simply cardboard folded over, with a slot inside the front cover for the program book, but cut so low that the program book falls out. On the inside back cover, a thin white plastic tray holds the disc without protection against curious children, dust, or abrasives that can scratch the surface (yes, people, CDs do scratch).

Even before I played what turns out to be an estimable undertaking by the hottest young conductor in the Western world, I cut off the front cover, pulled the tray off the back cover, peeled away a paper-layer on which the tray was attached, and scissored what remained to fit in a jewel case for the disc and program book—which is what naive should have done in the first place. Then I listened to this second release (according to the program book) by American-born David Robertson and the Lyon National Orchestra, of which he became music director last year after eight seasons in Paris as musical director of l'Ensemble InterContemporaine (founded by Pierre Boulez and headquartered in an underground bunker).

Nothing in this tribute to Ginastera (1916-83), South America's greatest composer of any century, is new to North American catalogs. Schwann/Opus lists five other versions of the 1956 Harp Concerto, a work that retains elements of the composer's Argentinian national style, dominant in the suites from his two early ballets, Panambí (Op. 1a) and Estancia (Op. 8a), composed in 1937 and 1941 respectively. Both of those suites have multiple listings (Eugene Goossens from the '50s on a vividly remastered Everest CD, and A. Borejko with the Poznan Orchestra, on a Largo release of German origin).  In 1994-95, a Koch International disc included the 1953 Variaciones concertantes, conducted by Gisela Ben-Dor, along with both versions of Glosses sobre temes de Pau Casals—the 1973 original for string orchestra plus a quintet in lontano, and the 1976-77 full-orchestra version requested by Mstislav Rostropovich (a pricey disc, by the way, for only 58' 38" of music).

The Concertos I've kept are those by Rachel Masters with Richard Hickox and the City of London Sinfonia (coupled agreeably if irrelevantly on Chandos with concertos for harp as well as coloratura by Glière, gorgeously recorded), but more spicily played by Nancy Allen with Enrique Bátiz and the Mexico City Philharmonic on a British ASV disc, out-of-print stateside. ASV coupled the Estancia Suite and the First Piano Concerto (played by Oscar Tarrago), and deserves to be reissued. It was considerably bolder than Isabelle Moretti's newest one with David Robertson on naive, which is subtler and more French-sounding, with some fastidious detailing by Lyon's solo players although this is not a first-tier orchestra (yet). But neither was the Mexico City Philharmonic of 1988, which made up in panache and idiomatic grasp what it lacked in finesse. Their Estancia Suite, too, was rawer, in-your-face, suitably visceral for my taste. Robertson doesn't quite let loose in the concluding "Malambo," a competitive solo dance for gauchos that tests both their staying-power and machismo. The difference in timing is only 24 seconds, but Bátiz's 3' 20" makes his más macho and thereby the winner.

The five Glosses are where Robertson and his new orchestra glow. He takes 20' 31" to play what Ben-Dor brushed off in 17' 42". The extra time lets him illuminate poetry she seemed oblivious to. If not one of Ginastera's masterworks, Glosses is an affectionate memorial to the Catalan master-cellist, who exiled himself from the Falangist Spain of "El Caudillo"—a.k.a. Francisco Franco—until his death in 1973, at the age of 98.

Two matters remain: naive's sound, which is bass-solid (hear those timpani thwacks!) but thinner and duller on top than one expects in Y2K+1, without much horizontal spread. If only the insular French could be persuaded to import British, Japanese or American engineers as well as American-born conductors. Just as urgent, though, is the need for a trustworthy program book. On the sleeve as well as on the contents-page, Glosses is misidentified as "Op. 4." The 1976-77 orchestral version (not "pour orchestre de chambre" as misstated) is Op. 48. Furthermore, the second section is misspelled "Romane." It should be "RomanÁ" (with a soft French “c,” as in franÁais, minus the terminal “e”). In her translation of Pierre Moulinier's tolerable notes, Mary Criswick miswrites that "the original was for a string quintet in lontano." Moulinier"s original French is correct: "La version originale est pour orchestre ŕ cordes et quintette ŕ cordes in lontano." Plus, the printed opus numbers for both ballet suites are wrong (see above). Maybe that's why the label is called naive.

Finally, do you want to buy this disc? If you already have the Harp Concerto and/or ballet suites in multicolored performances, these are redundant—but not Robertson's superb Glosses, the full orchestra version. How much (i.e., at what cost) do want this? If it's any help, I'm keeping the disc—but then I didn't have to buy it—because I'm a Ginastera-junkie, up to Popol Vuh, which he didn't live long enough to complete.

R.D. (June 2001)