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Popol Vuh: the Mayan Creation


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Amazon.com: 3 reviews
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
A useful collection of Ginastera orchestral music July 28 2010
By Dean Frey - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Audio CD
It's interesting how many of the orchestral scores of the very greatest Latin American composers were written for the ballet. The Brazilian Villa-Lobos wrote more than a few, as did the Mexicans Carlos Chavez & Silvestre Revueltas, and most of these works are of very high quality. But perhaps the most impressive ballet scores come from the Argentine composer Alberta Ginastera. This disc includes a wide range of ballet scores, from the first, Panambi, op. 1, to his very last work, Popol Vuh, left unfinished at his death in 1982. As well, this fine new Naxos disc includes an extended suite from one of Ginastera's finest works, Estancia, a nostalgic evocation of the fast-disappearing gauchesco world; the Suite de Danzas Criollas, in a new orchestration by Shimon Cohen; and Ollantay, a post-war score based on an Incan poem.

As with the recently-released Naxos disc of Revueltas music, we have here a collection of fairly recent and older recordings from various orchestras, all conducted by the excellent conductor Gisele Ben-Dor. Naxos has packaged 1997-2006 recordings made in Wales, Israel, and Abbey Road, though there are unfortunate overlaps with other CDs. Still, at a bargain price this may not be a major disadvantage.

For me the most interesting work here is Popol Vuh: The Mayan Creation. The original commission for the work, from Eugene Ormandy & the Philadelphia Orchestra, goes back to 1957, though Ginastera didn't begin work on the piece until the early 1980s. It's interesting that Ginastera should have set Popul Vuh for his ballet, since this is the same text used by Edgard Varese in his avant-garde classic Ecuatorial (1933). While Ginastera's music isn't as cutting edge, these creation stories have called forth some of his most impressive orchestral sounds. That's saying a lot, since Ginastera is a master of the orchestral palette.

Once again we tip our hats to Gisele Ben-Dor, and hope that she's in the recording studio again soon, with more premiere performances of such great Latin-American music.
11 of 15 people found the following review helpful
Wonderful ripoff - even at Naxos prices July 6 2010
By Andy Bjelland - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Audio CD
This is a frustratingly marketed disc: seemingly for the Ginastera "completist" (though perhaps a listener who had caught "Malambo" on the radio and was curious to hear more from the great Argentine composer would also pick it up), fully one-third of the disc consists of previously (re)released material. The "casual" Ginestera listener (if such a creature exists) would be better served by the Naxos re-release (originally Conifer:Alberto Ginastera: Panambí (Ballet, 1937) / Estancia (Complete Ballet, 1941) - London Symphony Orchestra / Gisèle Ben-Dor) of Gisele Ben-Dor's marvelous "World Premiere" recording of the complete Estancia and Panambi ballet scores (Panambi Estancia).

And therein lies the problem, for the Ginastera completist will no-doubt already own that disc in one incarnation or the other. Fully 26 minutes of the present disc are excerpts from that very recording, re-fashioned as so-called "extended suites." The booklet notes go to great lengths (hubris, anyone?) to praise the superiority of these "extended" suites to those that the composer may have designed himself, and the gurus at Naxos (alas, how the mighty succumb to the illness of the marketing hordes) deign to place an asterisk next to them and proclaim them "World Premiere Recordings"!

By this logic, I could purchase the rights to some out-of-print recording of, say, Grieg's complete incidental music to Ibsen's Peer Gynt, drop a few movements here and there, and fashion my own "suite" from the remainder, claiming that it's the newest, most improved, "World Premiere Recording" of never-before-heard material. Of course any idiot who knows how to press the track advance button could will have stumbled upon a similar "suite."

And for that reason I'm deducting two stars from what should be a five-star review.

The remainder of this disc (about 46 minutes) - original release material as far as I can tell - is very well played and recorded. The now out-of print "World Premiere Recording" of Ginastera's final (and incomplete) work, Popol Vuh, that Slatkin recorded with the St. Louis SO (Stravinsky: Le Sacre du printemps; Ginastera: Popol Vuh; Haydn: The Creation: Representation of Chaos) is slightly superior, the eerie depths of the work brought out that much more fully (and the very creative Haydn and Stravinsky couplings make it well worth seeking out a used copy).

The true "World Premiere Recording" of Shimon Cohen's orchestration of the Suite de Danzas Criollas (compare with the original piano version: Ginastera: Complete Piano & Organ) and Ben-Dor's recording of Ollantay (the only work here I didn't already own a recording of - though there are three or four alternatives available here at Amazon.com), round out the disc.

If only Naxos had included a new recording of one of the Cello Concertos (the no-doubt informed but sometimes painfully out-of-tune recordings by the composer's widow beg for a better rendition), or Pampeana No.3, or Jubilum, or even more new orchestrations of Ginastera's chamber works, instead of the "extended suites," this would have been a most attractive disc. At least we can hope that the enterprising label will eventually bring us those works, having already recorded so much of Ginastera's oeuvre.
Explosive symphonic spectaculars Oct. 14 2011
By Philippe Vandenbroeck - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Audio CD
I got to know Ginastera's Estancia, likely his best known work, ages ago on an LP with recordings conducted by Enrico Batiz. At that time it didn't make a lasting impression. But this CD surprised me with an unexpected level of compositional skill and refinement. Another feature that took me by surprise is the jaw-dropping energy that the female conductor of Israeli extraction Gisèle Ben-Dor brings to the performance of these pieces. Particularly in the two ballet suites - Panambia op. 1 and Estancia op. 8 - the London Symphony Orchestra seem to be at the very edge of their seats!

Stylistically, these pieces oscillate between athletic primitivism and a poignant, rustic lyricism à la Copland (with whom Ginastera studied). They are symphonic spectaculars in the true sense of the word, featuring an abundance of explosive rhythms and memorable tunes. What also strikes is Ginastera's fantastic mastery of the orchestra, even in his op. 1 which he wrote at the tender age of 20.

In addition to the ballet suites the CD includes three orchestral works that feature an interesting stylistic palette. The Suite of Native Dances op. 15 is very short and probably the least memorable of the package. Ollantay (A Symphonic Tryptich), op. 17, inspired by Incan lore, is much more substantial. Here the colours are muted and the symphonic argument more differentiated than in the suites. The most notable piece on this CD is the unfinished opus Popol Vuh: The Mayan Creation, op. 44. Allegedly this was a commission by Eugene Ormandy which Ginastera was very slow to take up and eventually he continued to work on it for almost 20 years. It was still unfinished by the time of his death in 1983. But 8 of the 9 planned sections were performable and the premiere took place in 1989 by Leonard Slatkin and the St Louis Symphony. Popol Vuh is a 25 minute orchestral fantasy that is a cross between, say, Varèse and Ravel. The Mayan creation is depicted as a sequence of expressionistic orchestral tableaux that ascend from the depths of The Everlasting Night to the Dawn of Mankind. There are no great tunes and punchy rhythms here, but there is no denying that this piece provides evidence of an unflagging creativity and an unbroken musical imagination.

Popol Vuh and Ollantay are very capably performed by the BBC Welsh Orchestra with Ben-Dor at the helm. Although the CD collates recordings with different orchestras and venues, the sonic picture is remarkably consistent. The sound is rather resonant, with fairly good bass and mid-range but a mushy top end. As a result in the most frenzied tuttis the orchestra tends to shrink into a blur. But I'm not complaining as this CD has given me a good deal of listening pleasure.

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