GINASTERA Orchestral Works Vol 3 (Mena)
João Carlos Martins premiered Ginastera’s First Piano Concerto in 1961 and made the first recording in 1968 with Leinsdorf and the Boston Symphony (RCA, 1/69) – a percussive, feral performance that deserves reissue. Oscar Tarraga’s rhapsodic, romantic reading offered an alternative view (ASV, 9/89). And now we have Xiayan Wang, whose revelatory account of the composer’s elusive Second Concerto graced the previous volume in Chandos’s Ginastera series (1/17). She does not disappoint here.
There’s a mercurial quality in Wang’s playing that gives her performance of the First Concerto a markedly choreographic feeling – not balletic, exactly, but sculptural and mobile. In the opening cadenza accompagnato, for example, she darts in, out and around increasingly massive orchestral sonorities. The hallucinatory Scherzo is breathtakingly hushed, heightening the sense of vertiginous anxiety. Her finely chiselled, celestially cool tone is coupled with a vice-like rhythmic grip that throws sparks, even at pianissimo. And in the Toccata finale, where Martins takes us on a rough ride, nudging the tempo ever so slightly forwards, Wang is steady, sleek and focused. The result may be less viscerally thrilling but the cumulative effect is still terrifically satisfying.
Ginastera wrote the Concierto argentino in 1935 (he was 19), then withdrew the score after its first performance. I think I understand why. Despite the music’s brilliant orchestral textures and folkloric charms, the overall structure feels loose and the finale is notably less inspired than the preceding movements. Still, there’s plenty to delight the ear, particularly in this playful, affectionately detailed performance. Try at 6'06" in the first-movement cadenza, say, where Wang made me certain that the teenage Ginastera had got his hands on recordings by stride pianists like James P Johnson and Earl Hines.
The BBC Philharmonic have gone from strength to strength in this series. They are superb, idiomatic partners for Wang in the concertos and have the opportunity for their own virtuoso display in the Variaciones concertantes (1953). I find this the most gratifying and lovable of all Ginastera’s orchestral works. Here, the folkloric elements are fully absorbed into his personal idiom and the variations are vividly characterised, harmonically piquant and exquisitely coloured. Mena’s reading is refined yet full of subtle feeling and the recorded sound is spectacular.