GINASTERA: Pampeana No. 3. Ollantay. Jubilum.
Louisville Orch/Robert S. Whitney, cond.
FIRST EDITION CD 0015 (F) (ADD) TT: 41:44

VILLA-LOBOS: Erosao "The Origin of the Amazon River."  Bachianas Brasileiras No. 4. Dawn in a Tropical Forest. Three African Dances.
Louisville Orch/Robert S. Whitney & Jorge Mester, cond.
FIRST EDITION CD 0016 (F) (ADD) TT: 59:50

GINASTERA: Estancia, Op. 8a. Concerto for Harp and O

VILLA-LOBOS: Symphony No. 10 "Amerindia."
Francisco Vas, tenor; Enrique Baquerizo, baritone; Santos Ariño, baritone; Coral Universitat de Illes Balears; Coral Reyes Bartlet; Coro de Cámara de Tenerife; Coro del Conservatorio Superior de Música de Tenerife;Orquesta Sinfónica de Tenerife/Victor Pablo Pérez, cond.
HARMONIA MUNDI HMC 987041 (F) (DDD) TT: 66:48

By international concensus, Alberto Ginastera and Heitor Villa-Lobos were South America’s foremost composers of the 20th century—in truth South America’s only outstanding composers on a world scale, which does not, however, diminish their respective excellence. If I prefer the Argentinian Ginastera (1916-1983) as a creative genius over his elder Brazilian colleague (1887-1959), Villa-Lobos’ exotic colors lack staying power for my taste, the ongoing challenge of Ginastera’s intellectual control hand-in-glove with a vibrant, equally individual range of expression.

Here we have a pair of discs by each composer issued during the latter half of 2003—reissues in the case of two from the Louisville First Edition archive. Of five works by Villa-Lobos and seven by Ginastera, only one is otherwise unrecorded—the latter composer’s Jubilum, a three- movement overture written in 1979-80 for the Teatro Colón, to celebrate the 400th anniversary Buenos Aires’ founding. It was premiered in that storied opera house in 1980 but recorded at Louisville on January 25, 1982 under Akira Endo, the shortest-term conductor (1980-82) in the Kentucky orchestra’s 67-year history. The music’s implicit solemnity and huge performing demands (triple winds, quadruple brass, four percussionists plus timpani, celesta, harp and strings) leave much here to the imagination—Louisville never had an orchestra of such numbers. Ditto Endo’s generic reading. But it is make-do or no Jubilum at all, as there hadn’t been for years until the Santa Fe Music Group LLC obtained the Louisville library for reissue. Jubilum deserves a full-bodied, red-blooded modern version, although the absence of Ginastera’s two late-period cello concertos means the gap is hardly likely to be filled in the current climate of discographic upheaval—unless José Serebrier, born just across the border in Uruguay, might be persuaded to undertake all three works. Does he have the connections to interest Yo-Yo, the Ma who wears so many hats? Or Lynn Harrell, who has espoused Concerto No. 2 in concert?

Otherwise, Robert Whitney’s 1954 world-premiere recording in mono of Pampeana No. 3 (A Pastoral Symphony) has been duplicated, and in truth bettered by three newer stereo versions available from Archiv. It’s a coin-toss between the late Eduardo Mata with Venezuela’s Simon Bolivar Orchestra on Dorian, or Jan Wagner (South American in spite his name) with the Odense Symphony on Bridge with the bonus of a far newer Ollantay (the “Symphonic Triptych” that Ginastera said was the end of his “subjective nationalism” period). Jorge Mester’s 1969 recording was brisk and idiomatic but Wagner’s, although slower, is no less rhythmically alert, and reveals more of the music’s interior subtleties. Furthermore, he has brought the Odense Orchestra within challenging distance of Scandinavia’s best.

The Harmonia Mundi S.A. CD is newest, and again duplicates four works available on other labels, but—mirabile dictu!—the City of Granada Orchestra proves itself a crack ensemble that lacks only more violins than the best elsewhere in Spain, with the possible exception of Madrid. The Auditorium Manuel de Falla (Granada was his home city) is not perhaps ideally reverberant but indubitably lively and brilliant. The capper, though, is conductor Josep Pons, who was born to better any current competition in Ginastera—including no less than David Robertson on Auvidis/naïve with the Lyon Orchestra who gave pleasure in 2001 (see REVIEW). Comparatively today, the Lyon ensemble sounds overweight and slightly out of focus—a more echoey hall contributed to the lack of crispness one hears from Granada. Pons is a name new to me, but he is a first-class conductor whose soloist, Magdalena Barrera, outplays several stellar harpists I’ve heard to date on other recordings of this spicy, spiky harp concerto. The dovetailing of harp cadenzas by the strings is nonpareil. For performances as well repertoire (so what that this duplicates discs you already possess; how many multiple Beethoven or Mahler performances are on your shelves?), Harmonia Mundi’s release is a winner—one of the very best heard in 2003.

On to Villa-Lobos. All four works on the Louisville reissue were world premiere recordings, lending them a historic patina. In mono Whitney conducted Erosion: The Origin of the Amazon (which Louisville commissioned in 1950) and Dawn in a Tropical Forest (another Louisville commission three years later). The earlier of these was on one of three LPs that Columbia (later Sony) published before Louisville began its own subscription program in 1953. Both works, however, were recorded in 1990 stereo by Roberto Duarte and the Bratislava Orchestra on Naxos’ pricey sibling, Marco Polo, with the addition of Amazonas and Genesis.

Jorge Mester, Whitney’s successor in Louisville, recorded the three Danses Africaines (of the Mestizo Indians) in stereo, amounting to a 12-minute suite, plus the only complete recording of Bachianas Brasileiras No. 4. Which is to say, he observed all the repeats in Villa-Lobos’ “Preludio: Introducao,” and very poetically in the bargain, although the strings of his orchestra in 1977 were no match for Michael Tilson Thomas’ in the 1996 RCA Red Seal collection called “Alma Brasileira,” recorded in Miami with the New World Symphony—the best student orchestra in the Western Hemisphere. However, MTT led only 4 minutes of the Prelude, omitting all repeats, which allowed RCA to include Bachianas No. 5 (with Renée Fleming as soprano soloist), No. 7, No. 9, and the choral Chôros No. 10 (“Rasga o coracao”). A 1995 Cincinnati Symphony version of No. 4 on Telarc found conductor Jesús López-Cobos halfway between extremes: his Preludio took 7:42 vs. MTT’s 3:58 vs. Mester’s 10:07.

If on the surface Mester appears slowest in the Prelude of BB No. 4, he dispatched Danses Africaines in 11:50, whereas Duarte on a 1993 Marco Polo CD from Bratislava (with Rudepoema) took nearly 19—perhaps a matter of repeats but then I don’t know the latter disc. Nor do I know Gisela Ben-Dor’s Santa Barbara recording of the trebly titled Sinfonía No. 10, a.k.a. Amerindia, a.k.a Sumé Pater Patrium on Koch International, which K.S. greeted most favorably in 2001 (see his REVIEW for details of the work and its background), and D.H. on a rival site canonized as a masterpiece. Maybe so at Ben-Dor’s tempi with her So-Cal forces. But Harmonia Mundi’s 1998 version (only recently issued stateside) with four choruses, three male soloists, and the Symphony Orchestra of Tenerife in the Canary Islands, all under the direction of Victor Pablo Pérez, takes nearly 10 minutes longer than Ben-Dor and, for my taste, is an ordeal to sit through uninterrupted. The composer called it, in addition to three alternative titles, an oratorio in five movements. The native stuff is familiar primitivism, but Villa-Lobos’ second- movement Tupí Indian “War Cry” doesn’t have much impact here. The “popular native songs” of the third movement sound trivial given the context of what follows, about an evangelist from Portugal who arrived in the middle of the 16th century and effectually Catholicized Brazil.

As for the singing, the soloists are obviously local; Tenerife’s choruses try very hard and earn the few kudos to be given, but the orchestra is no sibling of Las Palmas’ Orquesta Filarmonica in Adrian Leaper’s astonishing Mahler cycle on Arte Nova. If this Villa-Lobos’ melange is to your taste, Gisela Ben-Dor would seem the obvious choice, albeit unheard.

R.D. (January 2004)