Canción al árbol del olvido, Op.3/1 [arranged Hugo de la Vega]
Hieremiae prophetae lamentationes, Op.14
Tres epitafios, Op.17
Recuerdos de la Alhambra
Romancero gitano, Op.152
Morgan Szymanski (guitar)
Alberto Portugheis (piano)
Carlos Fernández Aransay
Reviewed by: Richard Whitehouse
Reviewed: 1 June, 2006
Venue: Wigmore Hall, London
The Ginastera Festival, celebrating the work of Argentina’s greatest composer, continued with a programme of choral music – given by the excellent Coro Cervantes (a London-based choir now into its second decade) under the expert and enthusiastic direction of Carlos Fernández Aransay. The group made the most of the first set of “Indianas” (1967) by Carlos Guastavino: a composer remembered primarily for his songs, but whose choral writing – with its lilting melodic contours and hints of traditional dance rhythms to enliven textures – Is as idiomatically conceived as it is no doubt enjoyable to sing. Alberto Portugheis gave a spirited piano accompaniment, though his contribution to Oscar Escalda’s arrangement of two pieces by Astor Piazzolla seemed superfluous to textures whose liveliness might have been conceived with the Swingle Singers – or their latter-day equivalent – in mind.
Better, perhaps, if Portugheis had been given a solo spot similar to guitarist Morgan Szymanski. The two pieces by Francisco Tárrega complemented each other well, and if Szymanski was a little inhibited in the lively Capricho Arabe, his control of figuration in the famous Recuerdos de la Alhambra brought out the music’s simmering intensity to spellbinding effect. He returned with Coro Cervantes to round off the concert with Romacero gitano (1951) by Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco; alternately lively and reflective settings of Lorca whose evocation of Andalucia remind one that the poet lived life as intensely as he contemplated death. Earlier, the choir gave luminous renderings of “Tres epitafios” (1953) by Rodolfo Halffter: settings of Cervantes’s epitaphs for the main characters in Don Quixote – the last of which, for Sancho Panza, is an ‘everyman’ tribute of touching generosity.
The two works representing Alberto Ginastera were themselves indicative of his range as a composer even during the more nationalistic phase of his career. Thus “Canción al árbol del olvido” (1938) is a song of wistful tenderness, made more so in the sensitive transcription by Hugo de la Vega, while the “Hieremiae Prophetae Lamentationes (1946) is a highpoint of mid-twentieth-century choral music. The biblical text is arranged so the stark protestation of its opening section gives way to a more elegiac mood before the feeling of defiance, building up to a hard-won resolve, that permeates the final part. This is music whose often-angular harmonies and exposed polyphonic writing calls for a commitment such as Coro Cervantes evinced throughout – conveying the fervency yet also the poise of Ginastera’s response. It was the undoubted highlight of a well-programmed and gratifyingly well-attended evening.