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Gramophone, July 2016

Ginastera was a purposefully serious composer, yet Viani finds equal measures of joyful exuberance and expressive intimacy in this compellingly taut recording of the composer’s complete piano music. © 2016 Gramophone

American Record Guide, October 2007

Here's a novelty packaging of all the composer's solo keyboard music. Actually it makes a great deal of sense, since there is too much piano music for one disc and too little organ to fill a second one (only two works at around 40 minutes). The Argentine Dances for Children and the 21-minute organ Variations on Aurora Lucis Rutilat are world premieres according to the notes.

Opening with the well-known Danzas Argentinas Ginastera's early music continues with a series of mostly folk-based miniatures. Much of this music is busy, laced with spiky dissonance, and catchy with strong rhythmic appeal. There are even homages in the Preludios Americanos to Copland and Villa-Lobos, but little attempt has been made to directly ape their style. The Creole Dance Suite continues in the populist vein, and the works for children will please all of us mature beings as well. It would definitely take a well-trained precocious moppet to handle some of the craggy challenges.

The large-scale sonatas appear on the second disc. Many collectors will already be familiar with Sonata 1, one of the composer's best known works. While it has had several recordings, at the budget price this set makes good sense, since all three sonatas are present. Alma Petchersky's recording also includes some well-played performances of the sonatas (July/Aug 1995), and Alberto Portugheis has them all in his flaccid ASV survey, but this is the set to go for. The sonatas are all short (Sonata3 is in one five-minute movement), pungent, and relentless essays in a style that may remind one of Prokofieff by way of Bartok by way of Khachaturian. They are not for sissies.

The Variations and Toccata (on Aurora Lucis Rutilat) is a late work like piano sonatas 2 and 3 and the organ Toccata, Villancico y Fuga. Because of the organ sonority and dense harmony (or dissonance) it may conjure up memories of some monster or horror flick lurking in our subconscious. Even in its colorful ugliness it commands attention and is a welcome addition to the recorded legacy of 20th Century organ music. The Toccata ... is a little more traditional.

Viani, of Argentine birth, seizes all of this music by the tail and clobbers us over the head with it. He can be subtle and vicious at the same time, but that is exactly what the music needs. With fine, aggressive sound engineering and good notes by the pianist "resistance is futile". Definitely not a release to be ignored.

William Zagorski
Fanfare, October 2007

Alberto Ginastera (1916-1983) was a composer of great contrasts who balanced the barbarously primordial with European refinement and innovation. The colorfully folkloric element of much of his music was always subsumed into his highly original language, which put him in league with such notables as Vaughan Williams and Bartok, and his musical interests ranged far and wide, as exemplified by such diverse works as his Second Piano Concerto, which is based on a tone row derived from the dissonant opening of the Finale of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, and the two rarely perfonned organ works presented here-the Toccata, Villancico y Fuga, op. 18, a Baroque­sounding homage to Bach in which the final fugue is based upon the note equivalents of B-A-C-H, and the modernistic Variazioni e Toccata sopra "Aurora lucis rutilat" of 1980, which takes as its point of departure a fragment of a fifth-century Easter hymn and treats it to decidedly avant-garde variations. Needless to say, Ginastera presents challenges to any conductor, orchestra, chamber ensemble, or pianist who attempts to realize his music. Pianist Fernando Viani, likewise an Argentinean of Italian extraction, feels that he has a culturally linked affinity to Ginastera-a point he clearly makes in the infonnative liner notes he' has provided for this release. The results bear out his assumption.

In the course of my earliest days as a Fanfare reviewer I was assigned Barbara Nissman's traversals of Ginastera's Piano Sonata No. 1, Danzas argentinas para piano, 12 American Preludes, Rondo sobre temas infantiles Argentinos, and Suite de danzas criollas (Globe 5006). She had been tutored by the composer himself and demonstrated a fine idiomatic grasp of his musical language, but I found the sound provided by Globe to be shallow and clangorous to the point of seriously undermining the virtues she brought to the undertaking. She subsequently wrote to me stating that she too, regrettably, found the sound wanting. I revisited that Globe disc in preparation for this review, and found it, many years later, revealing. The sound is still objectionable-bass shy and ragged in the upper frequencies-qualities that don't serve Nissman's high-energy and often bracingly mercurial playing. But listening through, not to, the medium, I found much to admire in Nissman's approach. She takes the opening movement of Ginastera's Piano Sonata No. I at a slightly faster clip than does Viani, making its structure a bit clearer. In the quiet moments of everything on her disc she tends to keep the meter even and provides a fine sense of quiet tension and architectural clarity. Viani, on the other hand, is generally more laid back, tempo wise. He takes 14:02 to traverse the folkish 12 American Preludes while Nissman dashes through them in a mere 12:02. In general, Viani tends to be more expansively ruminative in the slow music, often with telling results. To sum up the differences, Nissman is more classical in her approach, Viani, more romantic. Both are valid.

The sound on this Naxos release is spectacular, conveying the bass register of Viani's undocumented piano admirably, along with the rest of its compass. The dynamic range is likewise impressive. The same can be said for the organ pieces (once again the instrument is, alas, undocumented).

There is a danger in any collection wherein the performer attempts to do the entirety of this or that section of a composer's œuvre. With a composer as splendid as Ginastera, my knee-jerk reaction is that no one can do it all effectively. Here Viani has made a strong case that he has. Add to this the two world premiererecordings -Danzas argentinas para los niños and the Variazioni e Toccata sopra "Aurora Iuds rutilat"-andthis budget-priced offering becomes hard to pass up.

I have the feeling that I will be enjoying these two discs for years to come.

Hubert Culot
MusicWeb International, August 2007

As can be seen above, Ginastera wrote works for piano throughout his entire composing life. However, a good deal of it was composed during his early nationalistic period and is replete with folksong and folk-inflection. His early piano works show the young composer grappling with various influences including Debussy, Ravel and Bartók, although the latter’s influence will play a much more important part in the mature works. So, most of the early works speak for themselves and do not call for much comment, the more so that they are fairly well-known through various earlier recordings including those made several years ago by Barbara Nissman on Newport Classic. Nevertheless, this complete recording of Ginastera’s piano output includes a few works that have never appeared before, although they do not add that much to his reputation. These are quite enjoyable and certainly well worth having.

Although I was aware of the existence of a set titled Piezas infantiles composed in 1934 but apparently withdrawn by the composer, I was totally unaware of a second set seemingly composed in 1942. These delightful short suites, as well as the unfinished Danzas argentinas para los niños, do not pale when compared to some other, better-known pieces such as the early Danzas argentinas Op.2, the Suite de danzas criollas Op.15 and the Rondo sobre temas infantiles argentinas Op.19; and all these straightforward and simple pieces are as satisfying to play as to listen to: the mark of a true master. Of the other early works, mention may be made of Malambo Op.7 (1940) and Pequeña danza (1955), both from the ballet Estancia Op.8, and of Milonga Op.3 No.1, actually based on the song Canción para él árbol del olvido. The 12 Preludios americanos Op.12 (1944) are the summing-up of Ginastera’s so-called first period. Some of them are short tributes to friends (Aaron Copland and Villa-Lobos); others take the form of etudes. The set as a whole clearly shows how far Ginastera has progressed over the years since his first Argentine pieces.

After 1945 Ginastera reached his maturity and, although his music was still imbued with folk elements, these were now considerably more subtle and more integrated into the composer’s thinking in a way comparable to Bartók’s so-called ‘imaginary folklore’. This is the case of his three piano sonatas (1952, 1981 and 1983). Both the Piano Sonata No.1 Op.22 and the Piano Sonata No.2 Op.53 written thirty years later are amongst Ginastera’s masterpieces. In these powerfully eloquent works the folk elements are sublimated and serve as rhythmic and formal patterns on which Ginastera developed tightly knit harmonic and formal structures. The outer movements are often quite lively and full of vital energy, whereas the slow movements undoubtedly hint at Bartók’s ‘night music’ movements, albeit with Ginastera’s entirely personal accent. The Piano Sonata No.3 Op.55 is Ginastera’s last completed work. It was composed for and dedicated to Barbara Nissman. It is a short, compact piece in toccata style of great verve, all over in the space of five minutes.

This complete recording of Ginastera’s piano music also offers the composer’s works for organ. These are very rarely heard, let alone recorded; and this adds considerable extra value to this most welcome set. Toccata, Villancico y Fuga Op.18 was completed in 1947. In this work, the models are no longer to be found in folk music, but rather in the Baroque, although Ginastera firmly puts his own personal imprint on the music. The central Villancico (a Christmas carol) is particularly beautiful. Much later, in 1980, Ginastera composed his substantial Variazioni e Toccata sopra “Auroralucis rutilat” Op.52. Compared to the earlier work, this is a truly virtuosic work bearing all the fingerprints of mature Ginastera. It is a demanding, but strongly gripping piece of music that compares most favourably with some of Messiaen’s organ works. I am in no doubt about it: it is one of his great masterpieces but complex and demanding, which is why it is not likely to be heard very often. I hope though that this fine performance will fire the imagination of other organists.

This generously filled set is a splendid achievement by both Naxos and Viani. Here we have the complete keyboard output by one of the 20th century’s greatest composers. As such it also provides a comprehensive survey of Ginastera’s stylistic evolution over the years, from short folk-inflected pieces to substantial mature works such as the three piano sonatas and the magnificent Variazioni eToccata Op.52.

Glyn Pursglove
MusicWeb International, July 2007

“There is something in good music that somehow suggests dance. It has been so since the beginning of human history”. The words are those of the Brazilian composer Francisco Mignone, but I suspect that they express sentiments with which his fellow South American, the Argentinian Albert Ginastera would have been happy to endorse. Certainly the sense of the dance, and the actual rhythms of the dance, are rarely far away on this set of Ginastera’s keyboard music.

The first CD is largely given over to relatively small-scale pieces, some of them quite well known others much less so. Many are expressly versions of Argentinian traditional dances – as in the familiar set of ‘Danzas argentinas’ which opens the programme. The first, the ‘danza del viejo boyero’ (dance of the old herdsman) is a delightfully quirky piece, based on the chacera, with the left hand playing predominantly black notes, the right hand white notes. It is characteristic of Ginastera that thoroughly traditional elements should be employed – and then treated in an idiosyncratic and inventive (but perfectly ‘serious’) fashion. The second of the three dances, the ‘danza de la moza donosa’ (dance of the beautiful maiden) is limpid piece in 6/8, with a couple of attractive melodies, and based on the zamba (a relatively ‘European’ dance, in which couples circle elegantly). The third of this set, ‘danza del gaucho matrero’ (dance of the clever cowboy) is based on the malambo (a solo male dance, a virtuoso showpiece involving complex manipulation of lasso and boleadoras, and lots of rapid foot movements); Ginastera’s score includes such directions as salvaggio and furiosamente – very much in the spirit of the malambo. The music is often dissonant, but also has some melodic, tonal passages and creates an appropriate sense of energy and passion, closing with a startling glissando. As Fernando Viani says in his booklet notes, this early work “features certain clearly defined elements and compositional processes that would form the basis of later compositions”.

One needn’t perhaps argue that the Op.2 dances are the germ of all that follows, but there is certainly a striking continuity and sense of development to Ginastera’s writing for the keyboard. It is more than just a coincidence that, for example, the chord of E-A-D-G-B-E which closes the first of those three dances also occurs at the very beginning of the Malambo, Op.7, written three years later. In the early work the ‘quotations’ from Argentinian folk music are pretty direct, even if they are treated in increasingly sophisticated ways. By the time of the second version of the ‘Suite de danzas criollas’, prepared in 1946, the folk influence is a matter of spirit, as it were, rather than direct allusion and Ginastera is constructing more complex musical structures. Throughout the music on this first CD, Fernando Viani is a very persuasive advocate, even in such relatively slight pieces as the ‘Danzas argentines para los niños’ (which gets its first ever recording here) and the two sets of ‘Piezas infantiles’ – there are affinities here with some of the miniatures in Villa Lobos’s Guia Prático (Ginastera’s ’12 Preludios americanos’ include a brief ‘Homenaje a Heitor Villa-Lobos’).

The strong element of dance survives in the three piano sonatas which are at the heart of the second CD. But now the treatment of folk sources is altogether more sophisticated and challenging. Here the best analogy might be with the ways in which, in the visual arts, modernist painters and sculptors drew on ‘primitive’ sculpture – such as the clear influence of African sculpture that one finds in the work of artists such as Braque and Picasso, e.g. Les Demoiselles d’Avignon (1906-7), Negro Dancer 1907) and Fruit Dish (1908-9); or, to take another example, the way the Giacommetti’s sculptures in the 1920s drew on both African and Polynesian models and, indeed, on ancient Etruscan sculpture. In terms of musical language, Ginastera is perhaps closest to what Bartok had done with native Hungarian materials, and Stravinsky with Russian. Certainly Ginastera’s percussive writing for the piano is often reminiscent of Bartok.

The opening movement of the first sonata is full of aggressive chords and syncopated, dancing rhythms, its second movement, marked ‘presto misterioso’, full of a strange, hurried compulsions, a twelve-tone line of intense anxiety, even in its pianissimo sections. The relative peace of the adagio third movement is hard earned, its lyrical intensity falling away into a kind of dreamy melancholy. The final movement is the most directly dance-like, the most obviously ‘Argentinian’. There are fine performances of the sonata on record – e.g. by Alberto Portugheis (ASV 865) and Barbara Nissman (Pierian 005/6), but Viani loses little by comparison, in a well judged, forceful performance, with a persuasive control of rhythmic and dynamic contrasts. In the second piano sonata Ginastera drew on pre-Columbian musical traditions, very much in the manner of the visual modernists alluded to above. Ginastera himself described the sonata as evoking “the Aymara and Quechua (extra-European) music of the north of my country, with its pentatonic scales, melancholy melodies, or lively rhythms, kenas [Andean flutes] and drums, and microtonal melismas”. It’s a fascinating piece, not least for the central adagio’s version of the harawi, a pentatonic melody from Cuzco and for the employment in the final movement (’Ostinato aymará’) of the rhythm of the carnavalito dance, in music that has a kind of savage, fractured joy. The condensed, single-movement third sonata is also founded on the rhythms of Argentinian dance forms, though its unrelenting intensity (Ginastera observed that “the initial tempo marking, Impetuosamente, establishes the mood for the whole piece”) may not be to all tastes. Still, in its simultaneous use of traditional rhythms and a ‘modern’ harmonic language, it is entirely characteristic of Ginastera. Again Viani acquits himself very well, playing with real commitment and understanding.

Ginastera’s two pieces for organ are new to me. The Op.18, Toccata, Villancico y Fuga is rather less obviously indebted to the dance than Ginastera’s piano music is. There are clear debts to Bach – the closing fugue takes as its subject a theme on the letters B-A-C-H, but echoes are audible long before we get to the fugue. The Baroque influence is never far away here, not just of Bach but of Latin-American baroque too, of figures such as Domenico Zipoli (Ginastera’s piano transcription of an organ toccata by Zipoli can be heard on the first of these CDs) who, though born in Tuscany, was to spent a significant part of his musical life in South America, eventually dying in Argentina in 1726. The central villancico (a traditional Christmas carol) of Ginastera’s work is particularly lovely.

The Op.52 Variations (here recorded for the first time) are rather more technically demanding than the, Toccata, Villancico y Fuga written some thirty three years earlier. It is not perhaps especially Argentinian or even wholly characteristic of Ginastera. At a ‘blind’ hearing one might perhaps guess that it was the work of a French composer or, at any rate, of a European composer. These comments are not meant to deny the interest of the work, merely to suggest that by the time of its composition, some three years before his death, the relationship of Ginastera’s music to its composer’s geographical origins was a subtle and complex affair. It is good to have a recording of this piece. It would merit consideration by other organists, since it is a work of both substance and colour.

To say that Fernando Viani’s performances of the better-known piano works are not necessarily the very best available is not meant to damn them with faint praises. These performances are intelligent, perceptive and technically assured. What is particularly rewarding is to follow one performer’s vision of the music through the entire repertoire. Viani benefits from a good, clear Naxos recording. This is a valuable set, for which both Viani and Naxos deserve our gratitude.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, June 2007

I knew precious little about the piano output of the Argentine composer, Alberto Ginastera, save for the three sonatas, the music roughly falling into three distinct periods. Starting out under the direct stylistic influences of the French Impressionists and liberally endowed with Argentinean folk idioms, he flirted with the influences of the Second Viennese School in his late 20's (Preludios americanos), before reclaiming ground as a purely melodic South American. Stopping en route to offer two gentle suites of Pieces for Children, he arrived at what are widely regarded as the most important and original Latin American piano scores with the Piano Sonatas. These are technically very demanding, the first two structured in classical sonata style, while the third he expressed in one short movement. The composer died the following year in 1983, and we cannot be sure whether in hindsight he would have added two further movements. Ginastera returns to the great French organ composers for the two large-scale scores, the Toccata, Villancico y Fuga and the Variations e Toccata, the latter having some distinctly 'naughty' bits to bring a smile to your face. The playing throughout by the Argentinean pianist of Italian parentage, Fernando Viani, is wonderfully alive, rhythmically secure and when required of outstanding brilliance. But above all he never rushes the slow moving music, his dynamic range extensive, his many levels of quiet playing bringing much to the music. His flights of fantasy add the final dimension, keeping the listener wedded to the music. As an organist he is fantastic and I hope to hear him much more in this field. Sound quality through both discs is top class.

Ray Picot
ILAMS – The Iberian and Latin American Music Society, May 2007

Capitalising on their enterprising issues of the two numbered Piano Concertos (8.555283) and the ballets Panambi and Estancia (8.557582), Naxos venture into the heart of Ginastera's output, with his piano music. Fernando Viani has for many years been associated with Fundacion Ostinato, and in this capacity very capably contributed to excellent surveys of music by Gianneo, J J Castro, and Ginastera. He has to compete with two several well established sets, notably from Alberto Portugheis (ASV) and Barbara Nissman (Newport Classics), who both knew the composer. However, this is great music that deserves to be heard by the widest audience, and this is where Naxos score. Viani tends to err towards the faster tempi of Nissman and technically is excellent. He feels that like the composer, he is Argentinian with Italian origins, and this strengthens the empathy he feels with the music. This may be true, and there is no doubt that he offers a broad emotional range that is needed to cover the earlier transcriptions and the deeper canvasses of the sonatas. He supplements this with the premiere recording of the incomplete Argentinian dances for children, written for his son Alex and daughter Georgina. To trump the set he adds the two works for solo organ, Toccata, Villancico y Fuga, Op.18 and the Variazioni e Toccata sopra Aurora lucis rutilat", Op.52. Offering 35 minutes of music, these two works alone are worth the price of the 2 CD set. In the catalogue there is a single recording on Priory of the former, but the latter is another first. They are both complex pieces, idiomatically written for the organ and given authoritative performances by the versatile Fernando Viani, completing a valuable contribution to the recordings of this eminent composer.

Stephen Eddins, May 2007

For a composer like Alberto Ginastera (1916-1983), whose piano works were such a significant part of his output, it's fascinating to have the opportunity to trace his development through a chronological survey of his complete music for keyboard. Ginastera destroyed most of his juvenilia, but even his Piezas infantiles, written when he was 18 (and which he withdrew from his catalog, but which are recorded here), show a sure command of form and material. His first published piano work, Danzas Argentinas, Op. 2, reveals a composer who has come into his own, with a distinctive and powerful voice. The movements are based on popular dance forms, but don't use preexisting folk material. They are bursting with rhythmic energy and harmonic abandon and display many of the characteristics of Ginastera's early nationalistic style — rhythmically driven movements in triple time charged with momentum through the use of hemiolas and changing meters, alternating with incredibly sensual and languid slow movements. Suite de Danzas Criollas (1946) is perhaps the most striking example of his piano music from this period. It retains the vitality and languor of his earlier works, but exhibits an increasingly technical sophistication — one of its high points is a lyrical, chromatically luscious canon in 11/8. The First Piano Sonata (1952) is deservedly one of the composer's most popular works. The folk elements are still present, but have been absorbed into a more abstract and complex but still sensuously appealing tonal language. In the 1960s Ginastera began to adopt a more international, modernist style in most of his music, but the Second (1981) and Third (1982) sonatas break no new ground. They are stylistically similar to the First Sonata, and while their material lacks its high dramatic profile, they are attractive pieces. The organ work Variazioni e Toccata sopra "Aurora lucis rutilat" (1980), which is recorded here for the first time, again displays Ginastera's rhythmic vitality and his gift for creating moments of limpid serenity.

Argentinean pianist and organist Fernando Viani plays as though he had this music in his blood. He is fully equipped to handle the music's outrageously virtuosic demands. The way he tears through the fast movements is thrilling, generating the kind of visceral charge the composer must have had in mind, and he is equally effective in bringing out the lyric poetry of the slow movements. Naxos' sound is clean and nicely reverberant in the organ pieces.

Bob McQuiston
Classical Lost and Found, May 2007

In the past only a very few solo piano albums have made it into these newsletters, so it's a real pleasure to tell you about this spectacular two CD set featuring the complete piano music of the great Argentine composer Alberto Ginastera (1916-1983). Not only that, but the second CD is filled out with all of his organ works. The first disc is for the most part devoted to the early piano pieces. The three Danzas argentinas (1937) are rhythmically driven, harmonically dense folk-spiked dances creatively linked to his ballets Estancia and Panambi. Then there are three pieces dating from between 1939 and 1940 which are also folk-related and have a sophistication reminiscent of Paris and Les Six. Malambo (1940) is a stunning virtuosic tour de force that again hearkens back to his ballets. The 12 Preludios americanos (1944) are noteworthy for their variety and range from simple to knuckle-busting. They draw on several inspirational sources including Aaron Copland and Heitor Villa-Lobos, who are the dedicatees of numbers nine and eleven respectively. Suite de danzas criollas (1946) represents the composer in a state of stylistic transition where structural and dynamic clarity were becoming of greater importance to him. Next there are eleven delightful pieces for children that date from the 1930s and 40s. Like Villa-Lobos' Baby's Family Suites (1918 and 1921), these are meant more as recollections of childhood rather than tunes for tots to play. The disc concludes with three transcriptions for piano. Two are based on the composer's own works; the lovely Milonga (1948?) from the song Cancion para el arbol del olivido and the spirited Pequena danza (1955) from Estancia. The third, which dates from 1970, is a spectacular baroque bash based on an organ toccata by Italian composer Domenico Zipoli (1688-1726), who visited Argentina in the early 1700s. The second CD contains Ginastera's three piano sonatas. The first (1952) is folk oriented with highly chromatic machine gun bursts of notes that will leave your hair standing on end. The breathtaking finale is definitely not for beginners. The second (1981) contains more notational strafings and relies heavily on pentatonic scales. At times these make it reminiscent of Claude Debussy and Maurice Ravel in their more oriental sounding moments. It ends with another finger-numbing workout for the soloist. The third sonata (1983), which was his final work, is in one brief movement lasting a little less than five minutes. It shows that right to the very end his music still had that astounding sense of kinetic energy which so characterizes his style. The disc is filled out with Ginastera's only two pieces for organ. The Toccata, villancico y fuga (1947) pays homage to the Baroque, and Johann Sebastian Bach in particular. The old familiar B-A-C-H motif used by Franz Liszt as well as many others who wrote organ music underlies the final fugue. The other selection dating from 1980 is a variations and toccata based on the fifth century Easter hymn Aurora lucis rutilat. This is its first appearance on disc, which is surprising, because it's a spectacularly bravura piece that should appeal to all organ virtuosos. Like Vincent d'Indy's Istar it's one of those inverted theme and variations where the "big tune" doesn't appear until the very end. Fernando Viani is as equally accomplished on the organ as the piano, and delivers magnificent performances of these pieces. The sound is excellent with none of those annoying artifacts that frequently mar digital piano recordings. Audiophiles looking to put a virtual Steinway in their listening room should definitely consider getting this release.

Naxos Records, a member of the Naxos Music Group