Ginastera’s Contrasting Piano Concertos Accompany a Basque’s Tribute to Cervantes’ Doleful Knight

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Ginastera, Guridi: Xiayin Wang (piano); BBC Philharmonic / Juanjo Mena (conductor), BBC Philharmonic Studio, MediaCityUK, Salford Quays. 15.11.2016. (RB)

Ginastera – Piano Concerto No.1 Op.28 (1961)
Guridi – Una aventura de Don Quijote – symphonic poem (1916)
Ginastera – Concierto Argentino for piano and orchestra (1941)

This BBC Phil programme presented Latino exotica in the shape of two of the three piano concertos by Alberto Ginastera (1916-1983) separated by an overture-sized piece by Jesús Guridi Bidaola – more commonly known, when known at all, as Guridi (1886-1961). Unusually for the Salford Quay series the concert was divided by an interval. It was recorded by the BBC for later broadcast.

The concert was introduced by the orchestra’s general manager, Simon Webb. He reminded us that the orchestra, Mena and the pianist Xiayin Wang were in the process of recording a Ginastera series for this the composer’s centenary year. Volumes 1 and 2 have already been issued by Chandos. Volume 3, which will include the two piano concertos heard in this concert, will be issued in 2017.

These two Ginastera piano concertos could hardly be more different. The Piano Concerto No 1 from 1961 is a four movement work running to about half an hour. The music is busily detailed, freely dissonant, often strenuous and sometimes starkly moonlit. Xiayin Wang was left with little rest; she played with the score in front of her. The Concerto’s concern is with textures, quick mercurial progression and the exhilaration of protesting drama. Its forward momentum depends on what amounts to a three-dimensional kaleidoscope of moods but without the element of geometrical regularity. Incidents come thick and fast with a rapidity that on occasion leaves you wishing Ginastera had spent more time exploring his ideas. The Adagissimo third movement is memorable and striking with hard but delicate writing for harp, xylophone and celesta. The rhythmic excitement of the Toccata Concertanta finale did nothing to soften the dissonance and its velocity had Xiayin Wang’s page-turner rapidly up and down from her seat. This proved to be a very different Ginastera from Estancia and Panambi.

Una Aventura de Don Quijote, after Cervantes, was written in the midst of the Great War – the same year that saw the birth of Ginastera – but it bears no trace of the conflict. This is a late-romantic Spanish piece written by a non-Spanish composer. Guridi was after all of Basque birth as was Ravel – also a noted exponent of the Hispanic in music. He was born in 1886 and his music has been extensively recorded over the last two decades. With a little effort the curious can hear his orchestral music as recorded by Claves, Naxos and EMI. The string quartets and piano music are on Naxos and Marco Polo issued his impressive grand opera Amaya quite a few years back. His Sinfonia Pirenaica is also on Naxos. If the Ginastera First Piano Concerto has an international flavour, Una Aventura de Don Quijote is an atmospheric nationalist piece. It boasts Hispanic long melodic lines and has a delightful tension tautened by woodwind solos at the very quiet start. It soon develops in bold and majestic directions. It is joyously chivalric and is by no stretch of the imagination doleful. We are not told which of Don Quijote’s adventures prompted the piece but it seems to inhabit the Knight’s unsullied dreams – a half-brother to Froissart and boasting some superb work for the BBC Phil’s French Horns.  In some sources the Concierto Argentino is shown as withdrawn.

No one is going to complain about the superb Concierto Argentino which is about as different as it could be from the 1961 work with which the concert began. Xiayin Wang tackled the concerto without any appearance of hesitation without a score and without a page-turner. Her phenomenal memory was especially in evidence when at the end she and the orchestra had to do some patching. The Concerto’s exultant South-Americanisms are a delight as are all those Lisztian swirls. This is a very accessible work full of gauche rhythmic vitality and the sort of raucous street atmosphere you find in some of the Milhaud scores – all swaying dance, disturbing carnival masks and stalking pride. The short middle movement – an Adagio Patetico – is very romantic and amongst much else I will not quickly forget the miniature exchange of trills between piano, harp and celesta. The concert planner did well to end the afternoon with this piece which would happily substitute for another sure-fire charmer, Shostakovich’s Second Piano Concerto.

Rob Barnett

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