Ginastera – Orchestral Works 3 – Piano Concerto No.1, Variaciones concertantes, Concierto argentino – Xiayin Wang/BBC Philharmonic/Juanjo Mena [Chandos]

4 of 5 stars

Piano Concerto No.1*
Variaciones concertantes
Concierto argentino*

Xiayin Wang (piano)*

BBC Philharmonic
Juanjo Mena

Recorded November 2016 and September 2017 at MediaCityUK, Salford, Manchester

Reviewed by: Richard Whitehouse

Reviewed: June 2018
Duration: 66 minutes



Juanjo Mena continues his traversal through the orchestral works of Alberto Ginastera (1916-83) with this collection of three concertante pieces, presented in reverse order to underline the stylistic variety though also consistency across a quarter-century of his career.

Coming near the outset of the composer’s most radical phase, the First Piano Concerto (1961) has also proved among his most durable works; a tribute to the expressive immediacy distilled from its extremes of dynamism and stasis. Both are present in the ‘Cadenza e varianti’, with its ten brief variations on the declamatory opening exchange of soloist and orchestra – prior to an explosive coda. Xiayin Wang has the measure of its methodical virtuosity, then brings the deftest of touches to the ‘Scherzo allucinante’ and an ‘Adagissimo’ the more intense for its raptness, before the final ‘Toccata concertata’, as made (in)famous by Emerson, Lake and Palmer, erupts with furious resolve. Mena draws a response from the BBC Philharmonic far more virtuosic than that enjoyed by Barbara Nissman (Pierian) or Dora De Marinis (Naxos).

Quite why Variaciones concertantes (1953) has not yet entered the repertoire is unclear, as lucid as it is affecting. Each of the principal instruments – singly or in pairs – occupies the limelight, in music which finds its composer poised between the folk-inflected idiom of his earlier years and more radical language hereon in. Formally this piece falls into alternating groups of slower and faster tempos, capped by a Finale of less panache then Britten’s Purcell-inspired Fugue though no less scintillating. Mena handles his scaled-down forces with due sensitivity, and whether one prefers this version to the excellent one by Karl-Heinz Steffens (Capriccio) rather depends on the sequence of works on either release.

Finally, to Concierto argentino (1935). The teenage Ginastera’s earliest surviving work with orchestra was successfully launched, only for the composer to withdraw it pending a revision that never took place. Relocated long after his death, then performed and recorded (with the two mature Concertos) by Nissman, this piece reveals itself as modest yet engaging; prophetic too in the use of percussion such as takes on an almost continuum role in parts of the outer movements. Here the influences of Bartók and Stravinsky are unmistakable, whereas the central Adagietto suggests a more than passing acquaintance with Ravel’s Piano Concerto in G. Wang is fully attuned to the work’s undoubted appeal, she and Mena making the best case so far for its inclusion as part of the official Ginastera canon.

Hopefully it will now be possible for Ginastera’s similarly withdrawn Symphonies from the early 1940s to be performed and recorded; ostensibly as part of this Chandos series which, together with the published works yet to be tackled (notably the Concertos for Violin, Cello and Harp) should ensure a further three instalments. The present disc, no less well recorded than were its two predecessors, is further enhanced by extensive annotations from Gerald Larner and the conductor. Ginastera aficionados and newcomers alike need not hesitate.

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