* Panambi, op. 1 (1937)
* Estancia, op. 8 (1941)
Luis Gaeta, narrator/bass-baritone
London Symphony Orchestra/Gisele Ben-Dor
Naxos 8.557582 Total time: 72:32
Summary for the Busy Executive: Stravinsky and Bartok on the pampas.
Ginastera's music falls into roughly four periods: an Impressionistic
early phase; a vigorous Modernist phase; a highly experimental period,
strongly influenced by Berg; and a grand synthesis of elements from the
previous three. Panambi and Estancia come from the first two periods.
For many years, both suffered the same fate. The composer had written
full-length scores. One reason or another delayed the premiere of the
complete works, and conductors presented excerpts instead. I became
acquainted with parts of Panambi through an old Everest LP led by Eugene
Goossens and a suite from Estancia on a Leonard Bernstein collection of
Latin-American (and Latin-American-inspired) orchestral showstoppers.
Both were attractive, but not especially gripping. I waited a long time
for a recording of the entire scores, which, when it finally arrived,
hit with the force of revelation. Indeed, as far as I can tell, this
is the first recording of the entire Estancia, complete with soloist,
although earlier near-complete versions have appeared.
It turns out that the stature of both Panambi and Estancia grows
significantly when you finally hear all the music. Ginastera has long
been considered one of the finest composers of his time, but it's taken
more than sixty years for the most elementary respect to be paid to his
Ginastera designated Panambi his op. 1, but he had withheld or destroyed
at least fifty earlier works in characteristically ruthless self-criticism.
He reached only slightly more than fifty opus numbers at the time of his
death, unlike Handel who probably could have reached fifty opera between
breakfast and lunch. The ballet exemplifies one strain of Latin-American
nationalism from the Twenties and Thirties: the evocation of indigenous
Indian culture, as shown by such works as Chavez's Sinfonia India and
piano concerto and Villa-Lobos's Amazonas and Uirapuru. Ginastera took
an authentic folk tale of love and sorcery from a regional tribe. The
idiom is that of early Stravinsky, before he lost his Debussyan roots.
One can trace much of the sound of the ballet to Firebird, especially
in the finale, a depiction of dawn, in which Ginastera transports the
last pages of Firebird to Argentina.
A Latin-American tour by Ballet Caravan and a performance of
Aaron Copland's Billy the Kid, as well as an invitation to compose
from the company founder and director, Lincoln Kirstein, inspired
Ginastera to try something similar, although again in Argentinean terms.
Instead of the Wild West cowboy, Ginastera turned to the gaucho and
Jose Hernandez's epic, Martin Fierro. Ginastera takes a few lines,
some declaimed, some sung, but jettisons the poem's plot in favor of a
city-slicker-wins-the-ranch-girl story. However, as in Billy the Kid,
the plot is the least of the ballet. Ginastera has found musical symbols
for the Argentinean pampas, as Copland did for the American prairie.
Much of the music derives from Bartok (and at Bartok's level), although
the beat and melos remain echt-Latin-American. The piano plays the
pitches of the open strings of the guitar, and music taps out many
folk-dance rhythms - especially the malambo, to reappear prominently
throughout Ginastera's later output, and not always in explicit folk
contexts. Each section of the ballet shows superb craft and throws
off great excitement - every note perfectly placed without compromising
the sense of abandon - perhaps the reasons why the four-dance suite
has remained popular, especially the showstopping finale. And yet the
sections you hardly ever hear are not only beautiful in themselves (with
the outstanding solo "Triste," the quintessence of yearning), but impart
greater profundity to the score. One experiences more "roundedness" of
emotional space, a hint at the vast loneliness of the pampas.
Ben-Dor and the LSO do very well indeed. In fact, I would recommend
this recording before all the others, and not simply because this is the
only truly complete Estancia. The coupling with the complete Panambi
makes perfect sense. Since I know no Spanish beyond what I hear in old
Westerns, I can't judge Luis Gaeta's reading of the Hernandez excerpts,
but his singing is wonderful. I have heard slightly more exciting
recordings of the Estancia suite, but the LSO does fine, thank you.
Only a virtuoso orchestra has any chance with Ginastera, so intricate
and tight the ensemble. Furthermore, at this point the complete score
trumps the suite, and the Naxos price is definitely right.
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