Alberto Ginastera (1916-1983) ranks with Carlos Chavez, Heitor Villa-Lobos and Silvestre Revueltas as one of the best known (and most revered) Latin American composers. A native of Argentina, Ginastera was a "nationalist" composer who made use of his country's folk music and rhythms in many his works.
This newest addition to Naxos's LATIN AMERICAN CLASSICS series highlights two of Ginastera's earliest works, the ballets PANAMBI and ESTANCIA.
PANAMBI, Ginestera's opus 1 which was written in 1937, is based on the supernatural tales of the Guarani Indians from northern Argentina.
Brimming with suspenseful, dreamlike melodies and contrasting hard-hitting rhythms and audacious percussion, PANAMBI, something of a pagan pageant, can be easily considered the Argentinean version of THE RITE OF SPRING. In fact, I have never heard a "Stravinsky-influenced" piece sound more like Stravinsky than this. Indeed, this is not negative; Ginastera's intrinsic originality and Latin sentiment shine throughout PANAMBI even though Stravinsky's presence ever looms in the background.
More original (but no less exciting) is Ginastera's music from the ballet ESTANCIA written in 1941. Set on the vast, lonely Argentinean plains (the pampas), ESTANCIA a nostalgic glorification of the gaucho (cowboy) and of his difficult yet vigorous life.
The music of ESTANCIA is laden with Argentinean folk melodies and aesthetics, and even includes a part for bass-baritone. Like PANAMBI, there are slow, gloomy sections that seem to evoke the sprawling vastness of the pampas, but there are also moments of scintillating, percussive energy suggesting the work and play of the gauchos.
Unlike many of works from Ginastera's later period, PANAMBI and ESTANCIA avoid the severe atonality and aloofness of, for example, his two PIANO CONCERTOS (also available on Naxos).
While both pieces from the present disc can certainly be classified as "modernist," they retain a welcome accessibility that won't be a turn-off to people who usually eschew such music. Any fan of early Stravinsky or Prokofiev would relish these recordings.
And what recordings they are! Both ballets are impeccably recorded by the London Symphony Orchestra under the dynamic baton of the Uruguayan conductor Gisele Ben-Dor. Additionally, the bass-baritone Luis Gaeta is perfect in his turn as the narrator/soloist in ESTANCIA. His richly authoritative "Latin" tone adds authenticity and class to an already classy disc.
Another winning point for this recording is that the complete music from both ballets is presented; these are not just excerpts. (In fact, this CD features a world-premiere recording of the complete ESTANCIA music!)
All in all, this Naxos album is easily recommended.