Tribuna Musical: The Phil pays homage to Ginastera in the centenary of his birth

Tribuna Musical: viernes, abril 22, 2016
The Phil pays homage to Ginastera in the centenary of his birth
Alberto Ginastera is the most important Argentine composer and this year we honor the centenary of his birth. As is logical, Enrique Arturo Diemecke, Musical Director of the Buenos Aires Philharmonic, has programmed numerous scores of our artist, including the whole of the third concert of the subscription series at the Colón. To the four works of what in Spain they call a monographic concert, three others will be played much later in the season.

            Let me intersperse a personal reminiscence. When I was a teenager I had a favorite radio programme at Radio del Estado: in it Ginastera gave a learned and eclectic panorama of Twentieth Century music with excellent recordings: I owe him a good deal of my early interest in contemporary music. In my  Twenties I started my career at the Music College of the Catholic University (UCA); this was founded by Ginastera, and I briefly had him as a methodical and open-minded professor before he departed for another very valuable project: the classes of music of our time organized by him at the now mythical Instituto Di Tella, bringing famous composers to our city. A man of impeccable courtesy,  I had the occasion to chat with him in various circumstances and absorbed from him some of his vast knowledge.

             He had a clear auto-analysis of his production and he divided it in a way that has been accepted by Pola Suárez Urtubey, authoress of books on the composer: objective nationalism, subjective nationalism, neo-expressionism and final synthesis. He said to me: “I am a slow worker, my production isn´t big”. There were reasons for that: the constant search for new approaches  and the dogged artisanship of all his scores in whatever style: it had to be always technically perfect. And there were two sides on his personality: one was the  contained and controlled public image, the other a wild telluric impetus and an empathy with the mysterious and even terrifying aspects of the human being. Although this is most visible in his operas, it can be felt also in his orchestral music.

            The chosen programme mixed two very well-known works, the Overture to the Creole Faust and the suite from the ballet “Estancia”, with what Diemecke called a jewel (and I agree), the uncharacteristically Neoclassic “Concertante Variations”, and the second performance, after the première in 1965, of the Violin Concerto, a Neo-Expressionist, twelve-tone composition.

            Of course, the Overture is the composer´s clever take on Estanislao del Campo´s humorous account of a gaucho´s reaction to a Nineteenth Century performance of Gounod´s “Faust”, with transformed quotes of several passages, combining academic counterpoints with sonorous climaxes and strong rhythms. As to the suite from “Estancia”, one good thing was that it included a virile piece called “Los peones de hacienda”, often cut. The closing Malambo, with its insistent repetition of the main theme contrasted with powerful accentuations and a noisy but effective orchestration, is undeniably dynamic and the most overplayed Ginastera music.  Both were well played by the Phil and  this repertoire goes well with the conductor´s sanguine temperament.

            But both Ginastera and Diemecke are capable of refinement, and there´s no truer proof than the beautiful interpretation offered by the Phil of the “Concertante Variations”.   It was premièred under Igor Markevich on June 1953; I was there and in many other subsequent interpretations, savouring the thousand details of the score. A meditative theme of Ginastera´s inspiration is stated by cello and harp, and then, after an Interlude for strings, there are seven contrasting variations for different instruments (always surrounded by the rest of the chamber orchestra). A new Interlude but for the winds; the theme again, but this time by the bass; and a final brilliant Variation as a Rondo for the whole orchestra. Masterly in every way, many feel that it is the very best of Ginastera. And it brought the best from the players, especially the bassist (Osvaldo Dragún, who played it after some seconds of homage to his recently deceased colleague Luis Tauriello.

            And now to the Violin Concerto, finally getting a chance to be heard here after such a long time. This is a tough, difficult and harsh score, as often are the works created by composers that have followed the trend of twelve-tone music. For Ginastera this was new, and as was his manner, he innovated, for the form of the Concerto is quite sui generis. Cadenzas usually come at the end of movements; not here: the bruising five-minute cadenza comes at the very beginning, as a prelude to the first movement, again special, for it is a group of five Etudes (a modernised Paganini) before the Coda. The Adagio for 22 soloists is one of the few lyric fragments.

            And then, something very typical of Ginastera´s aural imagination: a Scherzo pianissimo, “always flighty, mysterious and on the verge of silence”. And a short virtuosic concluding “Perpetuum mobile”. Both the violin and the orchestra have a lot of hurdles to vanquish. I don´t have a score, but both the conductor and his brother Paul (who some years ago premièred the Concerto by Chávez here) seemed on top of the situation.  I counted ten percussionists! The  half-hour of music was worth hearing, even if one prefers other styles of Ginastera; his daughter Georgina does, as she stated in an interview.  

For Buenos Aires Herald

Tribuna Musical: The Phil pays homage to Ginastera in the centenary of his birth

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