GINASTERA:  Piano Concerto No. 1, Op. 28.  Piano Concerto No. 2, Op. 39.
Dora De Marinis, pianist/Slovak Radio Symphony Orch/Julio Malaval, cond.
NAXOS 8.555283 (B) (DDD) TT: 66:10

Hilde Somer commissioned the Second Concerto in 1972, premiered it with the Indianapolis Symphony a year later, and subsequently recorded both the Second and the First (finished in 1961), although neither one with a notable conductor or orchestra. Only the First, accompanied by a Viennese "Philharmonia" under Ernst M”rzendorfer (originally issued on an SD by Desto) survives on the Phoenix label, if you can find it. She made the Second for Orion (a So-Cal vanity label) with the UC/Irving Orchestra led by Alvaro Cassuto. Joao Carlos Martins, however, premiered Concerto No. 1 with the National Symphony Orchestra of Washington, DC, and made the first recording with Erich Leinsdorf and the Boston Symphony, issued on an RCA stereodisc that coupled Ginastera's 1953 Variaciones concertantes, withdrawn long ago.

Had BMG not deep-sixed RCA, and thus the likelihood of further "“Living Stereo" and "High Performance" CD remasterings, the Martins/Leinsdorf partnership might have been revived. British AVS did give us a First Concerto by Oscar Tarrago and the Mexico City Philharmonic under Enrique Bátiz, vividly recorded in 1989 and viscerally played, but that too is missing from Schwann/Opus. However, even if the AVS were available, the Second Concerto would still be in limbo, waiting to be rescued by enterprising Naxos with the bonus of a new No. 1, played by the Argentinian virtuosa Dora De Marinis. She's not be as famous as her flamboyant compatriota, Martha Argerich, but - as a monopolistic Chicago concert presenter used to say - the lady plays a lot of piano. Tempi in the First Concerto are marginally slower than Tarrago's (8:42/5:46/6:34 /5:23 vs. her 9:14/6:52/6;16/6:01), but she's comparably incisive as well as considerably more poetic in the "hallucinatory Scherzo" and Adagissimo slow movement. Best of all, Sra. De Marinis is partnered hand in glove by Julio Malaval -- born in Argentina although a German citizen since 1985 -- for whom the Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra plays head-and-shoulders above the average heard on a lot of their 140+ Naxos and Marco Polo discs. They sound, in fact, as idiomatic as ASV's Mexicanos, and were recorded with finesse, fullness of tone, and natural perspective by Reinhart Geller in their natural habitat, the Bratislava Radio Studios.

For some of us, Ginastera (1916-83) is the greatest composer South America has given the world to date (even if Astor Piazzola is currently flavor-of-the-year, and Heitor Villa-Lobos' aficionados olČ his cause with a fervor we Ginasterics envy). Both piano concertos -- he also wrote a fiendishly difficult one for violin, two for cello, and two for harp -- employ an international vocabulary without allegiance to any single style. He used 12-note procedures closer in spirit and freedom to Alban Berg than to Schoenberg or the hyper-fastidious Webern. He was a master of pointillistic orchestration - hallucinatory in the First Concerto, more sinister and "fantastic"in the Second. But Ginastera never disavowed his roots; the First Concerto concludes with a malambo, despite his calling it Toccata concertanta -- the gaucho dance that also ended the Estáncia ballet suite 20 years earlier. Both concertos have a theme-and-variations opening movement, and both are scored with a fantasy, microtonal at times in the Second, that no one bettered in the turbulent postwar-2 period. Yet these are not "difficult" works, once their acquaintance has been made. And they yield new secrets with each listening, inviting one to return time and again. At twice the price Naxos couldn't have done better than it has here.