GINASTERA: Pampeana No. 3. Ollantay. Jubilum.
Louisville Orch/Robert S. Whitney, cond.
FIRST EDITION CD 0015 (F) (ADD) TT: 41:44
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VILLA-LOBOS: Erosao "The Origin of the Amazon River." Bachianas
Brasileiras No. 4. Dawn in a Tropical Forest. Three African
Louisville Orch/Robert S. Whitney & Jorge Mester, cond.
FIRST EDITION CD 0016 (F) (ADD) TT: 59:50
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GINASTERA: Estancia, Op. 8a. Concerto for Harp and
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VILLA-LOBOS: Symphony No. 10 "Amerindia."
Francisco Vas, tenor; Enrique Baquerizo, baritone; Santos Ariño, baritone;
Coral Universitat de Illes Balears; Coral Reyes Bartlet; Coro de Cámara
de Tenerife; Coro del Conservatorio Superior de Música de Tenerife;Orquesta
Sinfónica de Tenerife/Victor Pablo Pérez, cond.
HARMONIA MUNDI HMC 987041 (F) (DDD) TT: 66:48
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By international concensus, Alberto Ginastera and Heitor Villa-Lobos
were South America’s foremost composers of the 20th century—in
truth South America’s only outstanding composers on a world scale,
which does not, however, diminish their respective excellence. If I prefer
the Argentinian Ginastera (1916-1983) as a creative genius over his elder
Brazilian colleague (1887-1959), Villa-Lobos’ exotic colors lack
staying power for my taste, the ongoing challenge of Ginastera’s
intellectual control hand-in-glove with a vibrant, equally individual
range of expression.
Here we have a pair of discs by each composer issued during the latter
half of 2003—reissues in the case of two from the Louisville
First Edition archive. Of five works by Villa-Lobos and seven by Ginastera,
only one is otherwise unrecorded—the latter composer’s
Jubilum, a three- movement overture written in 1979-80 for the
Teatro Colón, to celebrate the 400th anniversary Buenos Aires’ founding.
It was premiered in that storied opera house in 1980 but recorded at
Louisville on January 25, 1982 under Akira Endo, the shortest-term conductor
(1980-82) in the Kentucky orchestra’s 67-year history. The music’s
implicit solemnity and huge performing demands (triple winds, quadruple
brass, four percussionists plus timpani, celesta, harp and strings) leave
much here to the imagination—Louisville never had an orchestra
of such numbers. Ditto Endo’s generic reading. But it is make-do
or no Jubilum at all, as there hadn’t been for years until
the Santa Fe Music Group LLC obtained the Louisville library for reissue.
Jubilum deserves a full-bodied, red-blooded modern version,
although the absence of Ginastera’s two late-period cello concertos
means the gap is hardly likely to be filled in the current climate of
upheaval—unless José Serebrier, born just across
the border in Uruguay, might be persuaded to undertake all three works.
have the connections to interest Yo-Yo, the Ma who wears so many hats?
Or Lynn Harrell, who has espoused Concerto No. 2 in concert?
Otherwise, Robert Whitney’s 1954 world-premiere recording in mono
of Pampeana No. 3 (A Pastoral Symphony) has been duplicated, and in truth
bettered by three newer stereo versions available from Archiv. It’s
a coin-toss between the late Eduardo Mata with Venezuela’s Simon
Bolivar Orchestra on Dorian, or Jan Wagner (South American in spite his
name) with the Odense Symphony on Bridge with the bonus of a far newer
Ollantay (the “Symphonic Triptych” that Ginastera said was
the end of his “subjective nationalism” period). Jorge Mester’s
1969 recording was brisk and idiomatic but Wagner’s, although slower,
is no less rhythmically alert, and reveals more of the music’s
interior subtleties. Furthermore, he has brought the Odense Orchestra
within challenging distance of Scandinavia’s best.
The Harmonia Mundi S.A. CD is newest, and again duplicates four works
available on other labels, but—mirabile dictu!—the
City of Granada Orchestra proves itself a crack ensemble that lacks only
violins than the best elsewhere in Spain, with the possible exception
of Madrid. The Auditorium Manuel de Falla (Granada was his home city)
is not perhaps ideally reverberant but indubitably lively and brilliant.
The capper, though, is conductor Josep Pons, who was born to better any
current competition in Ginastera—including no less than
David Robertson on Auvidis/naïve with the Lyon Orchestra who gave
pleasure in 2001 (see REVIEW). Comparatively today, the Lyon ensemble
and slightly out of focus—a more echoey hall contributed
to the lack of crispness one hears from Granada. Pons is a name new to
he is a first-class conductor whose soloist, Magdalena Barrera, outplays
several stellar harpists I’ve heard to date on other recordings
of this spicy, spiky harp concerto. The dovetailing of harp cadenzas
by the strings is nonpareil. For performances as well repertoire (so
what that this duplicates discs you already possess; how many multiple
Beethoven or Mahler performances are on your shelves?), Harmonia Mundi’s
release is a winner—one of the very best heard in 2003.
On to Villa-Lobos. All four works on the Louisville reissue were world
premiere recordings, lending them a historic patina. In mono Whitney
conducted Erosion: The Origin of the Amazon (which Louisville commissioned
in 1950) and Dawn in a Tropical Forest (another Louisville commission
three years later). The earlier of these was on one of three LPs that
Columbia (later Sony) published before Louisville began its own subscription
program in 1953. Both works, however, were recorded in 1990 stereo by
Roberto Duarte and the Bratislava Orchestra on Naxos’ pricey sibling,
Marco Polo, with the addition of Amazonas and Genesis.
Jorge Mester, Whitney’s successor in Louisville, recorded the three
Danses Africaines (of the Mestizo Indians) in stereo, amounting
to a 12-minute suite, plus the only complete recording of Bachianas
Brasileiras No. 4. Which is to say, he observed all the repeats
in Villa-Lobos’ “Preludio:
Introducao,” and very poetically in the bargain, although the strings
of his orchestra in 1977 were no match for Michael Tilson Thomas’ in
the 1996 RCA Red Seal collection called “Alma Brasileira,” recorded
in Miami with the New World Symphony—the best student
orchestra in the Western Hemisphere. However, MTT led only 4 minutes
of the Prelude,
omitting all repeats, which allowed RCA to include Bachianas No.
Renée Fleming as soprano soloist), No. 7, No. 9, and the choral
Chôros No. 10 (“Rasga o coracao”). A 1995 Cincinnati
Symphony version of No. 4 on Telarc found conductor Jesús López-Cobos
halfway between extremes: his Preludio took 7:42 vs. MTT’s 3:58
vs. Mester’s 10:07.
If on the surface Mester appears slowest in the Prelude of BB No. 4, he dispatched
Danses Africaines in 11:50, whereas Duarte on a 1993 Marco Polo CD from
(with Rudepoema) took nearly 19—perhaps a matter of repeats
I don’t know the latter disc. Nor do I know Gisela Ben-Dor’s Santa
Barbara recording of the trebly titled Sinfonía No. 10, a.k.a. Amerindia,
a.k.a Sumé Pater Patrium on Koch International, which K.S. greeted
favorably in 2001 (see his REVIEW for details of the work and its background),
and D.H. on a rival site canonized as a masterpiece. Maybe so at Ben-Dor’s
tempi with her So-Cal forces. But Harmonia Mundi’s 1998 version (only recently
issued stateside) with four choruses, three male soloists, and the Symphony Orchestra
of Tenerife in the Canary Islands, all under the direction of Victor Pablo Pérez,
takes nearly 10 minutes longer than Ben-Dor and, for my taste, is an ordeal to
sit through uninterrupted. The composer called it, in addition to three alternative
titles, an oratorio in five movements. The native stuff is familiar primitivism,
but Villa-Lobos’ second- movement Tupí Indian “War Cry” doesn’t
have much impact here. The “popular native songs” of the third movement
sound trivial given the context of what follows, about an evangelist from Portugal
who arrived in the middle of the 16th century and effectually Catholicized Brazil.
As for the singing, the soloists are obviously local; Tenerife’s choruses
try very hard and earn the few kudos to be given, but the orchestra is no sibling
of Las Palmas’ Orquesta Filarmonica in Adrian Leaper’s astonishing
Mahler cycle on Arte Nova. If this Villa-Lobos’ melange is to your taste,
Gisela Ben-Dor would seem the obvious choice, albeit unheard.
R.D. (January 2004)