Classical CD Review
By Len Mullenger
Only five years separate the two works on this disc and yet they are totally different. Both are ballet scores being presented complete for the first time although a short concert suite from Panambí has been available previously, as have excerpts from Estancia. The London Symphony Orchestra is conducted by the Uraguayan conductor Gisèle Ben-Dor. She was a protégée of Leonard Bernstein and worked with him at Tanglewood and, following in his footsteps, came to public attention as a last minute replacement for an indisposed Kurt Masur to conduct the New York Philharmonic without rehearsal. She is currently Music Director of the Santa Barbara Symphony and was chosen by the Musicians themselves to become the Director of the Boston Pro Arte Chamber Orchestra. The Los Angeles Times declared her as "just the conductor we have been waiting for to make a really persuasive case for Latin composer" and this is her second such disc although a third release has simultaneously appeared of music by Revueltas (Koch 37421-2) which, it is hoped, will be submitted for review as it supplements the Reveultas disc already reviewed this month.
Ginastera destroyed his juvenile works so Panambí is listed as his Opus 1. In an earlier work, Impressions of Puna, (withdrawn and then reinstated) Ginastera had incorporated Amerindian music to evoke the rocky landscape of Puna. Panambí was an extension of his interest in native music and legend and has the subtitle, Choreographic legend. Completed in 1937 it was first performed as a complete ballet in 1940 and subsequently won him a number of prizes establishing him as a Nationalistic composer. It is a sequence of 17 dances (some lasting only a few seconds). No synopsis is provided but the titles probably tell it all:
Moonlight on the Paraná [4.41] - Native Festival [0.26] - Girl's round dance [1.23] - Warrior's dance [1.57] - Scene [2.41] - Pantomine of eternal love [3.51] - Guirahú's song [3.19] - The Sorcerer approaches Guirahú , The water sprites appear, The Sorcerer hides [0.29] - The water sprites play [2.08] - The Sorcerer reappears, The Sorcerer cries [0.37] - The tribe is uneasy, Panambí's prayer [4.14] - Invocation to the spirits of power [1.18] - Dance of the Sorcerer [2.09] - The Sorcerer speaks [0.34] - The girl's lament [3.12] - Tupá appears, The warriors threaten the Sorcerer [0.51] - dawn [4.58] [39.11]
This score is extremely derivative, but that does not seem to matter. There are only passing references to South American folk rhythms and the influences of Ravel and Stravinsky are obvious although the Bartók references quoted by Ben-Dor in an interview with Gramophone (1/99) escape me. I will give you some reference points: the opening moonlight scene-setter is luxuriant with dark woodwind and brass, and is reminiscent of the Ravel of Mother Goose, whereas the third dance with beating percussion (3 bass drums), chugging strings and stabbing trombones has origins in the Rite of Spring. Debussy of L'après-midi makes an appearance in Pantomima del amor eterno (Pantomine of eternal love) which is a beautiful largo with extended passages for flute, oboe and horn. Guirahu's song continues the same pensive mood and opens with a flute playing a melody very similar to the trumpet opening of Schmidt's fourth symphony, which then leads to an extended, graceful cadenza. In track 8, the Sorcerer approaches with contra-bassoon imitating the Beast in Beauty and the Beast from Mother Goose - and so on. These references to other composers make for no difficulty in hearing this very enjoyable ballet music which concludes in a glorious flowing melody in an evocation of dawn.
Estancia (1941) was a commission from Lincoln Kirstein who was touring Latin America with his ballet company, American Ballet Caravan. But it was never performed by them and only existed as a four movement suite until finally performed as a ballet in 1952. This is its recording première. The piece is based on a typical working day on a ranch (Estancia) on the Pampas, so reflects the daily life of the gaucho (cowboy) rather than the native indians. It is based upon the poem Martín Fierro by José Hernández, parts of which are recited and sung by the bass-baritone Luis Gaeta. The ballet starts where Panambi left off with a dawn sequence. The scenes are Dawn [2.34] - Little dance [2.07] - Morning; Wheat dance [ 3.21] - The farm labourers [2.55] - The cattlemen, the entry of the foals [2.03] - The townsfolk [2.18] - Afternoon: 'Triste' from the Pampas [3.21] - Rodeo [2.04] - Twilight idyll [2.51] - Night; Nocturne [4.19] - Dawn [1.41' - Final dance - Malmbo [3.32] [33.11]
Dawn opens with a riding rhythm on full orchestra based on a Gaucho dance the Malambo, a driving rhythm that would grace the opening credits of any Western, and Gaeta narrates the Dawn section of the poem:
Here I set myself down to sing
To the sound of the guitar
Like a man who unveils
Some extaordinary pain
Like the solitary bird
Who finds comfort in song
The accompaniment is quiet and sad as the poem recalls the end of the gaucho way of life. There is further recitation between Little Dance and the waltz-like,soaring Morning and wheat dance. The farm labourers dance to the vigourous Malamba rhythm of the Dawn sequence and the cattlemen to an equally rumbustuous version of it. The townsfolk do not know what to make of this with their quizzically tip-toed dance. Afternoon has a sad little song:
And now for the first time we go
To that most hidden, most deeply felt region:
Though the whole of my life
Is a string of woes -
Every sorrowful soul
Likes to sing of its griefs.
All sorrows are blown away in the exciting Rodeo and we then enter twilight, Night and finally dawn again in a series of reflective passages, ending in a final burst of energy in the ecstatic, whirling, rousing Final Dance - a Malambo - which is where we came in. This is a very lyrical score and I did not detect any influences. In those four intervening years Ginastera had quite developed his own style.
This recording was made in the Abbey Road studio and produced by Michael Fine who had been "borrowed" from Deutch Grammophon. Technically it is one of the best recordings I have heard. I thought on first hearing that it was occasionally a little bass-heavy but it is a truthful realization of those three bass drums!