Chandos’s survey of Alberto Ginastera’s orchestral music continues with this stark if effective juxtaposition of works separated by thirty-five years, over which time the composer moved from an adept utilising of existent styles to formidable mastery of his own distinctive idiom.
Not that Panambí (completed in 1937) is a derivative or jejune piece. Completed when Ginastera was a student in Buenos Aires, its subtitle implies a conceptual link to Ravel’s Daphnis et Chloé such as is made manifest by the sophisticated impressionism evident in much of this score. Drawing on Guarani mythology, Félix Errico’s scenario has its fair share of villainous and heroic stereotypes, but it does make for a cohesive and evocative whole; besides offering several set-piece opportunities that Ginastera seizes upon with relish. Even more so than with his subsequent ballet, Estancia, it is those more inward and reflective sections that leave the strongest impression – whether in the sombre eloquence of the opening ‘Moonlight on the Paraná’, wistful pathos extending over ‘Pantomime of Eternal Love’ and ‘Guirahú’s Song’, or final sequence where the Sorcerer is transformed into a blackbird then Guirahú restored to life and reunited with Panambí in music tender and rapturous by turns. As an ‘opus one’ by a composer barely into his twenties, this is an arresting and impressive debut, heard here in the first recording of the original version.
By the time of his Second Piano Concerto (1972), Ginastera was well into his most forward-looking phase that fused a highly personal take on serial technique with an equally individual approach to rhythm and sonority. Formally, too, the present work sets its own precedent – the initial movement comprising ‘32 Variations on a chord by Beethoven’ (namely the seven-note dissonance which opens the Finale of the ‘Choral’ Symphony), whose various groupings outline a sonata design in suitably ingenious terms. Whether, or not, the Scherzo, intended for the left-hand only, is better rendered by both, its deft impetus and colouristic subtlety are never in doubt; then the slow movement furthers the Beethoven connection in a ‘Quasi una fantasia’ whose glacial motion is offset by passages of improvisatory elegance. The last movement begins with a tensile cadenza whose mounting force spills over into a Prestissimo – the orchestra joining with the soloist for a high-octane conclusion. If it is less convincing than the ‘Toccata’ of the First Piano Concerto, the conviction of the later work overall is hardly in doubt.
Not least when the pianist is so evidently attuned to this music as Xiayin Wang, who projects the solo writing with greater flair and insight than does Dora De Marinis on a Naxos disc of both Concertos – with Juanjo Mena securing idiomatic playing from the BBC Philharmonic both here and in Panambí; his inclusion of the original choral ending being a plus-point (and a first recording) when compared to the pioneering account of this ballet from Gisèle Ben-Dor with the LSO (also now on Naxos).
Chandos’s sound-quality and annotations leave nothing to be desired, so making for an impressive continuation of this series that one trusts will further extend in the aftermath of Ginastera’s centenary – hopefully to include the two Symphonies from the early 1940s that were subsequently withdrawn.