GINASTERA Concerto Argentino (1935). Piano Concerto No. 1, Op. 28 (1961). Piano Concerto No. 2, Op. 39 (1972) (original version) • Barbara Nissman (pn); Kenneth Kiesler, cond; University of Michigan Symphony Orchestra • PIERIAN 0048 (78: 22)
The current recital includes the world premiere recording of not one, but two works by Alberto Ginastera (1916-1983)—the Concerto Argentino, a work written when the composer was but 19 years of age and still a student at conservatory, dedicated to his friend, the pianist Hugh Balzo, and the Piano Concerto No. 2 in its original form, with the restored ending and the original scherzo movement featuring writing for the right hand alone. The co-commissioner of the second concerto—the Austrian pianist, Hilde Somer (the other half being the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra)—had altered the movement from one for right hand alone to one for left hand alone, changing many of the figurations throughout the movement in the process; Barbara Nissman has restored the work to its original state. The earliest work, some might say the most accessible of these concertante compositions, features all of the hallmarks of the composer’s early period: the use of dance rhythms, a simple, melodic style, and the exuberance and drive of the concluding toccata-like Allegro rústico. Though the composer withdrew the composition from publication—he wanted to rework the concerto near the end of his life, but never got the chance before his untimely death—it is fortunate that Nissman has here championed it: It is staggeringly mature for such a young composer and makes for an attractive addition to the existing 20th-century repertoire. Hopefully the recording here encourages others to more often perform it.
The other two concertos are later, more mature compositions. They are overall more dissonant, more musically dramatic, more filled with those quiet moments of reflection (the Adagissimo movement from the first concerto is just beguiling), but still filled to the brim with instrumental bravura—Ginastera knew how to write for the instrument! The Second Concerto is especially unique in its outlay: variations on a chord of Beethoven’s (the seven-note chord from the 208th bar of the finale of his Ninth Symphony); scherzo for the right hand alone; fantasia; cadenza; and finale. The work is at times eerie in its outlook. Its first movement—over 12 minutes in length—is mysterious, even introspective in a way; it is, moreover, filled with passages of hushed tension. Think of a howling wind in the graveyard at midnight. The big orchestral climax near the movement’s end once again gives way to a mysterious and static chord held in the strings. The scherzo and fantasia both follow suit—the eerie mood is nothing but heightened here. The Cadenza e Finale prestissimo here acts as the grand climax to the entire piece. It is noisy, it is turbulent. There is not so much a sense of resolution as rest after exhaustion. Nissman throughout the recital provides an ample amount of energy, her rhythm always acute, her drive ferocious. She and the orchestra under Kiesler are especially thrilling in the Scherzo allucinante of the First Concerto: The movement is hauntingly beautiful in this performance. Though there are moments when one can tell that this is not a seasoned orchestra—some issues with tuning, others with timing—in general they play well. Perhaps most importantly their performance is gripping. They show an excitement in these performances—never does one get the sense that they are sitting back and going through the motions. For those who may not appreciate this music, or for those who think they might not, these are the kinds of performances that will change your minds.
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