ALBERTO GINASTERA: Cello Concertos = Cello Concerto No. 1; Cello Concerto No. 2 – Mark Kosower, cello/Bamberg Symphony/ Lothar Zagrosek – Naxos

by | Jun 8, 2011 | Classical CD Reviews | 0 comments

ALBERTO GINASTERA: Cello Concertos = Cello Concerto no. 1, Op. 36, Cello Concerto No. 2, Op. 50 – Mark Kosower, cello/Bamberg Symphony Orchestra/Lothar Zagrosek – Naxos 8.572372, 68’58” ****:

Alberto Ginastera (1916-1983) is still considered by many to be one of the greatest composers in the twentieth century, arguably the greatest Latin-American composer yet to emerge. Much of Ginastera’s output is thought of as somewhat iconoclastic – a blend of the traditional influences of his Italian and Catalonian heritage and the traditional music of Argentina with the new harmonies and orchestrations he learned while a Guggenheim fellow in New York in the 1940s. There is often a mix of the soothing and the biting; the sincere and the sarcastic in his music.

Some musicologists point to three distinct phases in his compositional output. Ginastera himself referred to them as Objective Nationalism, Subjective Nationalism, and Neo-Expressionism. His early works belong to the first period. Characterized by the use of Argentine folk elements employed in a fairly conventional manner, the works from this period are reminiscent of Stravinsky and somewhat of Bartok and de Falla. His ballet, “Estancia”, is a prime example.  From 1948 on, Ginastera started to use more advanced composing techniques. In what he called Subjective Nationalism, he did away with popular traditional elements, although he continues to use them mainly for symbolic purposes. He never totally gave up Argentine traditions. The music has much rhythmic contrast and has a generally tense feeling. The most important works belonging to this period are Pampeana No. 3 for orchestra and his Piano Sonata No. 1, one of the staples in the repertoire of today’s pianists.

The two Cello Concertos heard in this important and excellent recording illustrate the transitions in style quite well. Ginastera’s “Concerto” No. 1, written in 1968, is in some ways a bridge piece demonstrating the departure out of Subjective Nationalism and into his Neo-Expressionist period which began in approximately 1958. The Cello Concerto No. 1 was written right after his maligned opera Bomarzo. The Concerto does exhibit the twelve tone serialism, even some quarter tones, and biting character of the period. Latin dance rhythms exist, especially in the opening movement but are used in a precarious, almost sarcastic way. Ginastera once explained his Neo-Expressionistic genre as follows. “There are no more folk melodic or rhythmic cells, nor is there any symbolism. There are, however, constant Argentine elements, such as strong, obsessive rhythms, meditative adagios suggesting the quietness of the Pampas; magic, mysterious sounds reminding the cryptic nature of the country”.  His Popul Vuh for orchestra, and his Cello Concerto No. 2 for are even more idiomatic of this period. The Concerto No. 1 has so many attention getting moments such as the utter violence that begins the final “cadenza” leading into the third movement and the most sparsely dramatic way which closes the piece with the solo cello fading a single note after being fought against by a series of harsh, polytonal cluster chords set to Latin influenced rhythms.
The second Cello Concerto was written in 1980 and as a ten year wedding anniversary present to his beloved wife Aurora Nátola who – according to the excellent Naxos booklet notes – just passed away in 2009. This is a deeply emotional and dramatic work structured in four movements, each inspired by the epigraphs and writings of different poets; Auguste Martin, Luis Cernuda, Apollinaire and Pablo Neruda, respectively. There is no more telling moment for me in the second Concerto, than the sudden brutal transition between the closing of the third movement, Nottilucente, and the subsequent cadenza into the boisterous nature of the ‘Finale rustico’ with its allusions to a rural carnival.
These are both complex, thought provoking, intense works that may take some listeners more than one listening to appreciate. However, I believe that Alberto Ginastera is, indeed, an important and original voice in the history of modern music and of South America in particular. These two concertos, his two piano concertos and the Violin Concerto actually illustrate the development of his style as well as any of his stage works and should be required listening in musicology circles. The performances here are amazing. Mark Kosower is a highly accomplished cellist who worked closely with Aurora Ginastera on the production of this recording before she died and the Bamberg Symphony under Maestro Zagrosek handles the colors and the intensity of these works admirably. Naxos again proves its dedication to providing the highest quality contemporary music with performers attuned to the sensitivities required.
I strongly recommend this disc to anyone familiar with Ginastera’s work or wishing to learn more. Cellists would also be astonished by the difficulty of the works themselves and the performance capability of Mr. Kosower.
— Daniel Coombs

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