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Posted October 1, 2010
It's interesting how many of the orchestral scores of the very greatest Latin American composers were written for the ballet. The Brazilian Villa-Lobos wrote more than a few, as did the Mexicans Carlos Chavez & Silvestre Revueltas, and most of these works are of very high quality. But perhaps the most impressive ballet scores come from the Argentine composer Alberta Ginastera. This disc includes a wide range of ballet scores, from the first, Panambi, op. 1, to his very last work, Popol Vuh, left unfinished at his death in 1982. As well, this fine new Naxos disc includes an extended suite from one of Ginastera's finest works, Estancia, a nostalgic evocation of the fast-disappearing gauchesco world; the Suite de Danzas Criollas, in a new orchestration by Shimon Cohen; and Ollantay, a post-war score based on an Incan poem.
As with the recently-released Naxos disc of Revueltas music, we have here a collection of fairly recent and older recordings from various orchestras, all conducted by the excellent conductor Gisele Ben-Dor. Naxos has packaged 1997-2006 recordings made in Wales, Israel, and Abbey Road, though there are unfortunate overlaps with other CDs. Still, at a bargain price this may not be a major disadvantage.
For me the most interesting work here is Popol Vuh: The Mayan Creation. The original commission for the work, from Eugene Ormandy & the Philadelphia Orchestra, goes back to 1957, though Ginastera didn't begin work on the piece until the early 1980s. It's interesting that Ginastera should have set Popul Vuh for his ballet, since this is the same text used by Edgard Varese in his avant-garde classic Ecuatorial (1933). While Ginastera's music isn't as cutting edge, these creation stories have called forth some of his most impressive orchestral sounds. That's saying a lot, since Ginastera is a master of the orchestral palette.
Once again we tip our hats to Gisele Ben-Dor, and hope that she's in the recording studio again soon, with more premiere performances of such great Latin-American music.