GINASTERA:  Panambí - Ballet (1937).  Estancia - Ballet (1941).
Luis Gaeta, narrator/bass-bar.;London SO/Gisèle Ben-Dor, cond.

BMG/CONIFER 133629 (F) (DDD) TT:  72:22

This has been on local shelves as a Conifer import (at import rates) for at least a couple of years, but the price dampened curiosity. Now it has re-emerged as a BMG release, "made in the EU." Let there be many more of the same—assuming the price isn't a gouge. Gisèle Ben-Dor's bio neglects to list the '90s seasons she was music director of the Annapolis Symphony (comprised of D.C. area free-lance and Peabody Institute players from Baltimore) before moving to Santa Barbara, CA, from which she commutes to the Boston Pro Arte Chamber Orchestra, her other current music directorship. Born in Uruguay, Ben-Dor vies with Marin Alsop as the globe's leading maestra, and has the chops to back up her credentials. (Interestingly, the inside rear cover of this jewel-box depicts her as a southpaw; Paavo Berglund is the only other conductor to my knowledge who is likewise "sinistral.")

Left-handed or right, Ben-Dor gets poetic performances from the LSO of quiet episodes in these two early, nationalistic ballets, plus a healthy measure of - what? machisma? - in the swaggering sections with their driving rhythms, expanded percussion, and mano-a-mano menace in things like "Malambo" - the gauchos'  equivalent of a dance triathlon that ends Estancia. This Op. 8 was composed at the request of Lincoln Kirstein in 1941. However, his company abruptly disbanded, and the ballet wasn't premiered until 1952 in the Teatro Colón at Buenos Aires. (But somehow, I suspect, Aaron Copland got wind of the scenario on a September 1941 visit to South America that included a meeting with Alberto Ginastera; Rodeo came out a year later with too many similarities to be coincidental.)

Estancia depicts a 24-hour routine on the lonely pampas, from dawn to dawn, with the "Malambo" as a "Danza final" to get the audience on its feet. It includes four spoken or sung passages printed in the program book from José Hernández's epic poem Martin Fierro, in praise and appreciation of "the unlucky gaucho" (Argentina's cowboy on that nation's vast ranches), performed by Luis Gaeta.

Panambí was created in 1937 as Ginastera's Op. 1, although it is better known today for the four-movement suite (Op. 1b), selected from 18 in this ballet based on a supernatural legend of the Guaraní Indian tribe from the headwaters of the Rio Paraná. If it reflects the influences of Debussy, Stravinsky and Bartók, Ginastera's emerging personality underpins this vivid and genuinely poetic score, missing only the pervasive structural epoxy of his later music.

The recording boasts "Extended Dynamic Range" - as good an example of 20-bit resolution as any yet released transatlantically. Both scores receive their first complete recording on this generously filled CD, for which BMG is to be thanked in a era when tossing and dumping have been rampant. Let's hope it signals a turnaround, as well as a reawakened interest in Ginastera—along with Silvestre Revueltas one of the two greatest composers Latin America has produced.

R.D. (May 2002)