Ginastera: One Hundred (CD review)

Yolanda Kondonassis, harp; Gil Shaham, violin; Ori Shaham, piano; Jason Vieaus, guitar; Raphael Jimenez, Oberlin Orchestra. Oberlin Music OC 16-04.

"Beauty is the emergence of a spiritual climate in which each artist is transfigured through the impulse of creation. In this climate, the work that springs forth from the depths of his soul, combining personal and shared elements of humanity, is purified and becomes translucent and clear. It becomes universal." --Alberto Ginastera

A few years ago I reviewed a Naxos recording of Ginastera's cello concertos, and I remember the back of the jewel box saying, "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 made me feel rather uninformed at the time because I could only remember hearing a single piece of music by the man before that, an old recording of the Harp Concerto with Zabaleta. Maybe the composer is finally getting his due.

Alberto Ginastera (1916-1983) was an Argentinean composer who studied with Aaron Copland and among whose students was tango composer Astor Piazzolla. What surprised me in reading about Ginastera is that an old rock track familiar to me, Emerson, Lake & Palmer's "Toccata," the group adapted from Ginastera's First Piano Concerto. It's remarkable how things in this world are so intertwined, yet we may not even know about them.

Anyway, what we have in the present disc is a 2016 celebration of the one-hundredth anniversary of Ginastera's birth. There are four pieces represented on the disc, starting with the biggest (orchestra and soloist), longest (about twenty-five minutes), and arguably most popular of his works, the aforementioned Harp Concerto, Op. 25, this time performed by Yolanda Kondonassis, harp, accompanied by Raphael Jimenez and the Oberlin Orchestra. Ginastera wrote it in 1956 and revised it in 1968.

Yolanda Kondonassis
Ms. Kondonassis plays it with sensitivity and feeling, bringing out its more Romantic qualities of lyricism and melody. Yet she never shies from adding sparks to the livelier interludes. The orchestra play with enthusiasm, Jimenez providing a good rhythmic punch throughout the work's more-energetic segments.

The next three selections are brief duets or solos, starting with Pampeana No. 1, Op. 16 (1946), played by Gil Shaham, violin, and Orli Shaham, piano. They play it as a sort of slow, intricate lament, the two performers engaging in a conversation neither old-fashioned nor completely modern yet always compelling. This is modern music that doesn't sound at all modern nor dated and gets especially heated about halfway through. Beautifully executed.

Then there's the Sonata for Guitar, Op. 47 (1976), with Jason Vieaux, guitar, and Danzas Argentinas, Op. 2 (1937), with Orli Shaham, piano. They, too, appear well rendered, the soloists providing virtuosity, color, passion, and sentiment to the music in equal measure.

Incidentally, the booklet notes contains several insightful, well-written essays on Ginastera and his style. They are worth a read.

Producers Yolanda Kondonassis and Erica Brenner and engineers Paul Eachus and Lawrence Rock recorded the music at the Warner Concert Hall, Oberlin Conservatory of Music, Oberlin, Ohio in November 2015 and February 2016 and at the Academy of Arts and Letters, New York, NY in February 2016. The sound obtained in the concerto is nicely focused and wide spread, with a moderate orchestral depth, good dynamics, and a fairly decent balance among the instruments. Nice bass and percussion, too. Fun stuff. There is a light ambient glow that slightly softens the sonic definition, but it's only a minor veiling and actually enhances most of the music. The duet and solos also sound realistic enough, the violin and piano combination never seeming too close or too distant. The solos, though, I found a bit too near, even if their closeness increases the clarity of the instruments.


To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click on the forward arrow:

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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.

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. --John J. Puccio

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa