Ginastera: Cello Concertos (CD review)

Mark Kosower, cello; Lothar Zagrosek, Bamberg Symphony Orchestra. Naxos 8.572372.

The back of the Naxos jewel box says "Alberto Ginastera was one of the most admired and respected musical voices of the twentieth century, who successfully fused the strong traditional influences of his national heritage with experimental, contemporary, and classical techniques." That may be so, but it made me feel rather uninformed because I could only remember hearing a single piece of music by the man, an old recording of the Harp Concerto with Zabaleta. The present disc hopes to rectify that situation for a lot of us classical-music fans.

Alberto Ginastera (1916-1983) was an Argentinean composer who studied with Aaron Copland and among whose students is tango-composer Astor Piazzolla. What surprised me in reading about Ginastera is that a rock track familiar to me, Emerson, Lake & Palmer's "Toccata," the group adapted from Ginastera's First Piano Concerto. Serves me right for not reading the album's liner notes. It's remarkable how things in this world are so intertwined, yet we may not even know about them.  Anyway, Ginastera wrote his two Cello Concertos in 1968 and 1980, and it's a pleasure to have them here.

The disc begins with the Cello Concerto No. 2, Op. 50, composed by Ginastera as a tribute to his wife, the cellist Aurora Natola. Written in four movements, each section bears the lines of a poem to help the listener better understand the music. It's all very sensitive and evocative, the composer having explained earlier in his career that "art is first perceived by our senses. It then affects our sentiments and in the end awakens our intelligence.... A work which speaks only to the intelligence of man will never reach his heart."

Cellist Mark Kosower plays with a light touch, never overstating the music even when it becomes somewhat melodramatic, as at the end of the first movement; nor does Maestro Lothar Zagrosek overdramatize Ginastera's poetic moods. Still, the music often sounds to my ears like most typical modern pieces, with a plethora of sonic effects, mainly percussive, in slow but harmonious succession, without much regard to a discernable melody. However, the third movement, a nocturne, struck me as most touching, Kosower's cello wistful and yearning.

Ginastera called his Concerto No. 1, Op. 36, a neo-Expressionist work. It's a darker, more ominous-sounding piece than No. 2, written in a traditional three-movement concerto arrangement. I'm not sure just what the composer was after in the first movement, but the music can be downright spooky. The scherzo is more rambunctious, an energetic section with a vigorous rhythmic pulse that Kosower and Zagrosek exploit with cultivated restraint. It's quite a lot fun, actually, and does indeed appeal to the senses above all. I might have done without the final movement, though, which apparently Ginastera intended as a plunge into madness, the chaos eventually fading into silence. I suppose this is an appropriate ending to the work, and parts of it are undeniably brilliant. The overall effect, nonetheless, seems to lose its welcome by the halfway point.

Naxos recorded the concertos in Bamberg Congress Hall, Bavaria, the Concerto No. 1 in 2009 and the Concerto No. 2 live a year later in 2010. The live recording is very close-up, helping to eliminate any possible audience noise but not offering much in the way of natural hall ambience. In compensation, we do get excellent clarity and dynamic impact.

In the Concerto No. 1, also recorded very closely but not live, we find slightly more dimensionality, with just as much punch. In any case, both recording styles sound fine, and they fit the music nicely.

JJP

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Meet the Staff

Meet the Staff
John J. Puccio, Editor, Publisher, Reviewer

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.

Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.
Karl W. Nehring, Contributing Reviewer

For more than 20 years I was the editor ofThe $ensible Soundmagazine and a regular contributor to its classical review pages. I would not presume to present myself as some sort of expert on music, but I have a deep love for and appreciation of many types of music, "classical" especially, and have listened to thousands of recordings over the years, many of which still line the walls of my listening room (and occasionally spill onto the furniture and floor, much to the chagrin of my long-suffering wife). I have always taken the approach as a reviewer that what I am trying to do is simply to point out to readers that I have come across a recording that I have found of interest, a recording that I think they might appreciate my having pointed out to them. I suppose that sounds a bit simple-minded, but I know I appreciate reading reviews by others that do the same for me -- point out recordings that I think I might enjoy.

For readers who might be wondering about what kind of system I am using to do my listening, I should probably point out that I do a LOT of music listening and employ a variety of means to do so in a variety of environments, as I would imagine many music lovers also do. Starting at the more grandiose end of the scale, the system in which I do my most serious listening comprises an Onkyo C-7030 CD player, Legacy Audio StreamLine preamplifier, Legacy Audio PowerBloc2 amplifier, and a pair of Legacy Audio Focus SE speakers augmented by a Legacy Point One subwoofer. I also do a lot of listening while driving in my 2016 Acura RDX with its nice-sounding ELS Studio sound system through which I play CDs (the ones I especially like I rip to the Acura's hard drive so that I can listen to them whenever I want) or stream music through the system using my LG G7 ThinQ cell phone, which features surprisingly sophisticated audio circuitry. For more casual listening at home when I am not in my listening room, I often stream music through the phone into a Vizio soundbar system that has remarkably nice sound for such a diminutive physical presence. And finally, at the least grandiose end of the scale, I have an Ultimate Ears Wonderboom Bluetooth speaker for those occasions where I am somewhere by myself without a sound system but in desperate need of a musical fix. I just can't imagine life without music and I am humbly grateful for the technology that enables us to enjoy it in so many wonderful ways.
Bryan Geyer, Technical Analyst

I initially embraced classical music in 1954 when I mistuned my car radio and heard the Heifetz recording of Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto. That inspired me to board the new "hi-fi" DIY bandwagon. In 1957 I joined one of the pioneer semiconductor makers and spent the next 32 years marketing transistors and microcircuits to military contractors. Home audio DIY projects remained a personal passion until 1989 when we created our own new photography equipment company. I later (2012) revived my interest in two channel audio when we "downsized" our life and determined that mini-monitors + paired subwoofers were a great way to mate fine music with the space constraints of condo living.

Visitors that view my technical papers on this site may wonder why they appear here, rather than on a site that features audio equipment reviews. My reason is that I tried the latter, and prefer to publish for people who actually want to listen to music; not to equipment. My focus is in describing what's technically beneficial to assure that the sound of the system will accurately replicate the source input signal (i. e. exhibit high accuracy) without inordinate cost and complexity. Conversely, most of the audiophiles of today strive to achieve sound that's euphonic, i.e. be personally satisfying. In essence, audiophiles seek sound that's consistent with their desire; the music is simply a test signal.

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It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.

When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa