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David Denton
David's Review Corner, April 2008

Over the years I have tried a grasp a recognisable style of composition, but I find Leonardo Balada a musical enigma

Over the years I have tried a grasp a recognisable style of composition, but I find Leonardo Balada a musical enigma. He was born in Spain in 1933, and moved to the United States in 1936 where he studied with Persichetti and Dello Joio. He has since spent much time living there. At times writing a tonal style to which we can easily relate, he can equally be the most abrasive modernist that uses atonality to serve his purpose. Then you find works, such as Maria Sabina where he mixes the two, so that you never know where you stand. The story is cast as a dramatic cantata and relates the story of Maria Sabina who was convicted to death for her beliefs, and despite pleas and some local sympathy for her, the vociferous townsfolk want rid of her. She is hanged. The music is highly charged as the four narrators and chorus relate the story, at times aggressive, dissonant and atonal. That it was booed several times at its second performance in Madrid is understandable, as at times it is oppressively modern. It was completed in 1969, thirty-two years before In Memoriam. The words tell the story of the poet and politician, Dionisio Ridruejo, but it is better viewed without a personal input, the message being that mankind is sent to fight whatever the reason, leaving behind them the beauty of a world that is given to them. Though again modern, you here feel a reason for its moments of modernity that I fail to recognise in Maria Sabina. Both scores are extensive, and if you want to sample then go to track 5 - the second section of In Memoriam - the music typical of the disc in general. It must be extremely demanding on the performers, and I can only express my deep admiration for the Orchestra and Chorus of the Comunidad de Madrid who perform both works with such total security. It must mark out Jose Ramon Encinar as a major conductor of demanding modernity.

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