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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John J. Puccio

John J. Puccio

About the Author

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.

Mission Statement

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.

So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa