GINASTERA: Panambi (complete ballet) – Piano Concerto No. 2 – Manchester Chamber Choir – BBC Philharmonic/Juanjo Mena – Chandos

by | Feb 23, 2017 | Classical CD Reviews

Exciting, atmospheric and complex orchestral music from South America.

GINASTERA:  Panambi (complete ballet) – Piano Concerto No. 2 – Manchester Chamber Choir – BBC Philharmonic/Juanjo Mena – Chandos 10923, 69:07 ****:

The music on this disc represents the early and late music of one of the most influential South American composers of the 20th century, Alberto Ginastera (1916-1983). The ballet Panambi (1934-36), represents his early blend of Argentinian folk music with his own nationalistic style – using polytonality, and pounding rhythms. It’s both thrilling and atmospheric. But in the 1950s Ginastera came under the influence of the Second Viennese School (Schoenberg, Berg and Webern) and his music became “neo-expressionistic.” He integrated 12-tone and serial techniques with dramatic, ritualistic and expressive effects, while maintaining the earlier characteristics of ostinato (repetition of phrases). The Piano Concerto No. 2 is a good example of his later style.

Audiophiles are familiar with the suite from Panambi, but this is the first recording of the complete ballet. It was an astonishing debut for the young composer and the popular music to the ballet Estancia followed in 1941. When Ginastera heard a performance of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring in 1918, he commented, “The primitivism of the music, its dynamic impulse and the novelty of its language impressed me as a work of genius.” Its influence can be heard in the savage ‘Danza de los guerros’ and ‘Inquietud del tribu.’ The South American Indian legend is about the love of Panambi, the daughter of the village headman for the brave warrior Guirahu, and the jealousy of the village sorcerer for Panambi. The Water Sprites intervene and the god Tupa punishes the sorcerer by turning him into a black bird. Of course, Panambi ends up in the arms of Guirahu. The score is colorful, melodic, and rhythmically vivid. Especially beautiful is the use of female voices at the rapturous finale, clearly influenced by Ravel’s Daphnis and Chloe. The performance and recording expresses the atmosphere and excitement of the score clearly.

Aaron Copland came to Buenos Aires in 1941 as a cultural envoy for the Committee for Inter-American Affairs looking for new talent and found Ginastera. The American’s Billy the Kid influenced Estancia and Copland’s cowboy Rodeo showed the impact of Ginastera’s South American gaucho tale. Ginastera came to the United States in 1945 on a Guggenheim fellowship where he became influenced by serial techniques which he integrated into his own expressive style. The result is music that is at times atonal and dissonant, but retains the excitement and melodic elements that make it unmistakably Latin-American.

The Piano Concerto No. 2 (1972) is an advanced example of this new style. The first movement is a lengthy set of 32 variations inspired by works of Beethoven: primarily his thirty-two piano sonatas and the very dissonant seven-note chord in the last movement of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. Yet, there are intervals that provide melodic respite, as well as moments of glitteringly evocative tranquility. A short scherzo is an exciting dialogue between percussion and piano. A pensive, anxious and mysterious slow movement leads to a percussively dramatic cadenza. The motoric finale is an exercise in rapidly paced triplets similar to the Presto finale of Chopin’s Sonata in B flat minor. It shares the atmospheric patina of Panambi, but the complexity and variety of dissonance, atonality and melodic intervals makes it much more interesting. I suspect that it will grow in musical interest over repeated hearings.

Xiayin Wang’s scintillating performance captures the verve and atmosphere of this work and the BBC Philarmonic under the leadership of Juanjo Mena provide an idiomatic accompaniment.  This is stimulating music sumptuously recorded for those who are looking for music from South America.

—Robert Moon

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