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Steve Schwartz
Classical Net, June 2012

Panambi reveals traces of Stravinsky’s Firebird, while Estancia transposes Bartók to the Argentine pampas. Ben-Dor leads super-charged performances with the London Symphony, simply one of the great orchestras in the world.

The Suite de Danzas Criollas, originally for piano, appears here in an orchestration by Shimon Cohen. It opens with an expansive, wistful song, with the harp imitating an accompanying guitar. Orchestrator Cohen rises to the challenge here and gets the authentic Ginastera sound.

The Aztec creation myth, Popul Vuh, occupied Ginastera for decades. The sounds are both gorgeous and fascinating, and in some mysterious way, Ginastera links them together convincingly. For me, this is the outstanding score on the disc…

Ben-Dor proved her Ginastera chops in her earlier releases of the popular ballets and of the Variaciones concertantes and the Glosses on Themes of Pablo Casals. She gets great playing not only from the LSO, but from every one of her ensembles. Her Popul Vuh especially impressed me, since it’s a hard score to keep together, and she makes the music both coherent and exciting. The sound is excellent. © 2012 Classical Net Read complete review

Robert R. Reilly
Catholic News Agency, July 2011

I close with some summer fun in the outrageously raucous, highly colorful, wildly imaginative music of Alberto Ginastera (1916–1983). Naxos has assembled a selection of music from his two famous ballets, Estancia and Panambi, along with a substantial piece called Popol Vuh: The Mayan Creation and Ollantay, an Inca-inspired composition. If Villa-Lobos was Brazil’s Stravinsky of the jungle, Ginastera was Argentina’s Stravinsky of the pampas. The final movement of Estancia, “Malambo,” is deliciously raucous. In between the musical riots, Ginastera writes some gorgeously lyrical music.

Gisele Ben-Dor does a fabulous job in conducting the London Symphony Orchestra, the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra, and the BBC National Orchestra of Wales in these selections. All the poetry and drama are captured in excellent sound. I cannot imagine a better introduction to Ginastera’s exhilarating music.

David Hurwitz, April 2011

Here’s a terrific Ginastera collection. The Estancia and Panambi suites are drawn from Ben-Dor’s complete recording, also now on Naxos, and they are somewhat different from the composer’s own. So if you don’t have the complete versions but do have other recordings of these two suites, you really aren’t duplicating by getting this disc as well. The remaining works are all equally well-played, with the Suite de Danzas Criollas being very idiomatically orchestrated by Shimon Cohen. This performance of Popul Vuh may not be quite as savage as Slatkin’s premiere recording on RCA, but that was far less interestingly coupled, and it’s difficult to take issue with any particular aspect of the performance generally. In this context the music seems all of a piece, and as a single-disc survey of Ginastera’s orchestral music it would be difficult to imagine a more attractive program than this one. Given the different orchestras, venues, and recording dates, the engineering is remarkably consistent.

WRUV Reviews, March 2011

Argentine composer Alberto Ginastera (1916–1983) celebrates Latin American and Argentine music and stories in a selection of works that cover his lifespan. Vigorous.

Lynn René Bayley
Fanfare, January 2011

Gisèle Ben-Dor’s Ginastera series continues with this collection of ballets or intended ballets. The five works presented here span the entire length of Ginastera’s career, though four of the five are early works written between 1937 and 1946, with Popul Vuh being the last he would live to complete. All five pieces are drawn from Argentine, Mexican, and other South American subjects, which ties them together by theme if not necessarily by national style.

Each of the two suites taken from ballet scores (Estancia and Panambí) has moments of violence alternated with moments of sensual lyricism, an early trait of the composer that later evolved into a more cohesive but also, at times, a less lyrical style (I am thinking particularly of his opera Bomarzo). Many of the passages within the lyrical sections, for instance the final pages of “Paisaje de Ollantaytambo” from Ollantay, are written in a very simple style using open fifths in the manner of 1940s Copland, with whom he was friendly at the time. Of course, the use of a specific compositional technique and its practical application within the musical framework are two entirely different things, and I find that Ginastera is more imaginative and less prosaic than 1940s Copland. The short, stabbing, rhythmic horn passages in “Los Guerreros” from the same suite, for instance, are things that only seemed to occur to Ginastera and not to Copland. In this same suite, the latest of the early works, we also hear more pungent dissonances and the kind of darker orchestral colors he was to use with such great effect in his mature works.

The Suite de Danzas Criollas, originally written as a piano suite in 1946 and premiered in Buenos Aires the following year by, amazingly enough, Rudolf Firkušný, is given here in a new orchestration that conductor Ben-Dor commissioned from Israeli composer-conductor Shimon Cohen. It’s a splendid piece, easily as colorful as the works orchestrated by Ginastera himself, though to my ears the pianistic quality of the music did not necessarily cry out for orchestration. In all of these pieces, including Estancia, Ben-Dor gives energetic and well-detailed readings. Perhaps it is a compliment to the musicians that the playing of the three orchestras is of a uniformly high level, but one thing I’ve noticed over the years is that no orchestras really sound different any more. The uniformity of excellence appears to have caused, by default, a uniformity of tonal weight, color, and accent. Only in the Polish orchestras that I reviewed playing Mahler symphonies on Naxos do I hear anything resembling a specific or different set of tone colors.

Perhaps this is all to the good in this particular album, however, because by the time we reach Popol Vuh we are in an entirely different sound universe. Later Ginastera is all about tone color as part of the overall impact of the music; that, and the sparser, less obviously rhythmic aspects of the music, take us into a realm far beyond the musical rainforests of Villa-Lobos. Orchestral timbres borrowed from both folk music and jazz musicians bring an altogether darker feel to Popol Vuh, even when the music is quiet and, indeed, quite sparse. The rhythmic outbursts are, if anything, even more jarring than in the earlier works, but the soft passages are even softer, almost forlorn, as in a solo violin passage. The creation of mankind in “La Ceremonia Mágica del Maiz” is filled with primal rhythms and a large percussion section. As in much of Ginastera’s later pieces, Popol Vuh is built around musical and orchestral effects, less so on melodic structures and continuity.

Ben-Dor’s approach is essentially objective though it does a remarkably good job of bending to the plasticity of rhythms in each work. I found the slightly reverberant sound quality to be quite effective in this disc, as it softens some of the more violent outbursts and adds a certain mystical aura to the soft passages. Well worth hearing and, if you are a fan of Latin American composers in general and Ginastera in particular, worth owning.

Phillip Scott
Fanfare, January 2011

To the best of my knowledge, this is the second recording of Ginastera’s final and unfinished orchestral essay, Popol Vuh: The Mayan Creation, op. 44, originally commissioned by Eugene Ormandy for his Philadelphia Orchestra. The composer worked on it piecemeal over the last eight years of his life, leaving eight of its proposed nine sections complete and fully orchestrated when he died. Unfortunately, the unwritten ninth section was to represent the end of the process of the world’s creation, as outlined in ancient Mayan mythology. (The mythological tale was recorded by an unknown Dominican missionary in the 1550s. That text, the Popol Vuh or Council Book, is now the most detailed source material we have concerning the Mayan civilization.) Nevertheless, the eight extant sections form a satisfying work in their own right, as Leonard Slatkin realized when he received the score and premiered it in 1989, six years after the composer’s death. Slatkin went on to record the work with the St. Louis Symphony.

I do not have Slatkin’s disc at hand for comparison, but Gisèle Ben-Dor and the well-regarded BBC Orchestra of Wales give a tremendous performance in this new recording. As you might imagine, there is a certain amount of subterranean brooding in the early sections (such as the first movement, “The Everlasting Night”), broken by shattering fortissimo explosions of sound and energy. The second and third movements, titled “The Birth of the Earth” and “Nature Awakes” respectively, recall earlier musical depictions of prehistoric activity, most notably Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring and Max Steiner’s score for the 1933 movie King Kong. When human beings appear in the form of native Indians, from the sixth movement on (“The Magic Ceremony of Indian Corn”), the composer revisits his early ballet music, employing accented dance rhythms. The final movement, “The Dawn of Humankind,” is a brass chorale surrounded by swirling woodwind figuration. While not very long, it is decisive enough to act as an appropriate conclusion, so the work does not feel incomplete. Ginastera’s orchestral imagination and expertise are evident throughout, and the textures are superbly captured in the vivid Naxos recording.

The symphonic triptych Ollantay (1946) is a precursor to the later work, inspired by Inca mythology. Opening with diatonic fanfares, the music builds to a vigorous war dance before reaching a peaceful conclusion. Like the other works on this disc, it is written in the composer’s nationalistic style: strongly rhythmic in the fast moments, coolly impressionistic elsewhere.

The two ballet scores that made Ginastera’s reputation were Panambí and Estancia, both set around the plains of Argentina. The orchestral suites Ginastera subtracted from these scores are well known and, in the case of Estancia, oft-recorded. However, that is not what we have here. Ben-Dor and the London Symphony Orchestra made a recording of the complete ballets, originally released on the Conifer label in 1998 and subsequently reissued by Naxos. Here she gives us what are termed extended suites from the two works. They might more accurately be called selections, as they seem to be extracts from the complete ballet recordings. (The session dates are the same.)

New to me—and I think to disc—is the orchestral version of a piano work, the Suite de Danzas Criollas, op. 15. The arrangement by Shimon Cohen, commissioned by Ben-Dor to perform with the Jerusalem orchestra, is sometimes splashy in a way that the composer’s own orchestrations are not. Note, for instance, the doubling of xylophone and violins in the final presto. Nonetheless, it is exciting and vibrant on its own terms.

Recording quality is full and clear, despite the fact that this program was recorded in different venues and at different times. The London performances, as I said, have been issued before, but I can find no evidence of a previous incarnation of the Danzas Criollas, Ollantay, or Popol Vuh, which were recorded in 2006 and 2001 respectively. Once again, we owe Naxos a debt for making these colorful performances available.

Ballet Review, December 2010

Still Argentina’s most famous classical composer, Ginastera is best remembered for his early ballets, Estancia, which was recently used by Christopher Wheeldon, and Panambí. Ben-Dor, who has championed Ginastera’s music, is heard here in suites from her fine complete recordings of both ballets (also on Naxos and needing no further comment), two late works, and an orchestrated piano work.

Ollantay is based on an Inca legend dealing with a conflict between gods of earth and sun. His last work, Popol Vuh: The Mayan Creation, treats the birth of earth and its creatures and recalls The Rite of Spring in its rhythms and scoring, building almost obsessively at times from silence to great clashes. The Suite de Danzas Criollas for piano are alternatively pensive and lively, filling out this collection effectively in a new orchestral garb. In all, a good sampling of an interesting composer in recordings made between 1997 and 2007.

Roger Hecht
American Record Guide, November 2010

Only in Ben-Dor’s recording do I really get the idea that Ginastera had primeval images in mind. Criollas is well worth having, and her Ollantay is nice enough…

To read complete review, please visit American Record Guide online.

MusicWeb International, September 2010

Originally composed for piano and first performed by Rudolf Firkusňy in Buenos Aires in 1947, the Suite de Danzas Criollas Op.15 is heard here in an orchestration by Shimon Cohen made at the request of Gisèle Ben-Dor. Cohen did a fine job...Although it has been recorded before the symphonic triptych Ollantay Op.17 is still too little known, unjustly so, I think; this is one of Ginastera’s most appealing works. It is based on the myth of Ollantay, son of the Earth, who opposes Inca, son of the Sun. The latter declares war on Ollantay who resists for a long time in his fortress but is eventually killed. The first panel Paisaje de Ollantaytambo (“The Ollantaytambo Landscape”) is a beautiful, though troubled nocturne. There follows Los Guerreros (“The Warriors”), a powerful war dance. The triptych ends with La Muerte de Ollantay in which Ollantay forecasts the destruction of the Empire and the disappearance of the Sons of the Sun.

Popol Vuh Op.44—Ginastera’s last major orchestral work—was commissioned by the Philadelphia Orchestra who had just first performed his large-scale choral orchestral Turbae ad Passionem Gregorianam Op.43. Ginastera started sketching the piece almost immediately but for whatever reasons laid his sketches aside resuming work in 1982. The bulk of it was thus completed some time before the composer’s death but was actually left unfinished at the time of Ginastera’s death. When Ormandy died in 1985 the score was all but forgotten till the pianist Barbara Nissman drew Leonard Slatkin’s attention to it. Both deemed it perfectly performable as such so that Slatkin and the Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra gave the first performance in 1989 and recorded it soon afterwards on RCA (possibly still available). The Popol Vuh or Council Book contains the mythological Mayan narrative of creation. The various movements of the work thus trace the creation of the world according to the Mayas from the original chaos to the birth of man, subject of the missing final movement that should have been scored for percussion only. It is perfectly viable as it stands. The music is vintage Ginastera with its mix of primal brutality and of more reflective or atmospheric stances.

The opening movement La Noche de los Tiempos grows from the depths of the orchestra with dark growling from bass instruments. The impression of inchoate chaos is maintained throughout except for a short violent outburst when the Divine Council decides to create the world. The following movements El Nacimiento de la Tierra (“The Birth of the Earth”) and El Despertar de la Naturaleza (“The Awakening of Nature”) evoke the process of creation, at first from simple beginnings. These progressively become engulfed in more dynamic elements, the whole leading into the short violent El Gritto de la Creación (“The Cry of the Creation”). But the gods are not satisfied with what they have created and La Gran Lluvia (“The Great Rain”) sweeps everything away so that the Gods may start again. This allows for the creation of mankind in the form of La Ceremonia Magíca del Maiz (“The Magic Ceremony of Corn”), another powerful dance. The final movement evokes the creation of the sun, the moon and the stars in a slow crescendo culminating in heroic fanfares (El Amanecer de la Humanidad—“The Dawn of Mankind”). The incomplete Popol Vuh remains an impressive score in its own right. It will not fail to make its mark on the attentive and sympathetic listener. Incidentally there is still another recording of Popol Vuh available on Neos 10918, a most desirable release for all lovers of Ginastera’s music because it is coupled with the impressive and very little known Cantata para América Mágica Op.27 for soprano and percussion.

Gisèle Ben-Dor is clearly on familiar ground here and she conducts vital, committed and convincing readings of all the works. All three orchestras respond superbly with playing of the highest quality. The recorded sound is excellent throughout.

There is actually very little to complain about with this generous release.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, June 2010

I adore Alberto Ginastera’s music, this collection of some of his most colourful scores reminding me of the beauty of Spain bathed in the midday sun. Drawing inspiration from his South American homeland, the disc offers music from his two major ballet scores, Estancia and Panambi. Turn to track 5—the last dance from Estancia—to be electrified by the sheer panache, or to track 15 for a subtle evocation of Dawn in the Forest from Panambi .There is a hint of French Impressionism in both scores, though Ginastera spoke with such a unique musical voice. Ollantay is the story of conflict between the son of earth and the son of the sun. Not a happy outcome, though ideal for three contrasting pictures. Popol Vuh, unfinished on the composer’s death in 1983, is a long work in eight movements (a ninth was planned), and goes back to 16th century documents relating the supposed creation of the earth. Estancia came forty years before, and stylistically Ginastera had moved on, the sounds now more of their time. Muted in colour, yet just as capable of capturing The Great Rain and The Dawn of Humankind. With orchestration that always had a distinctive style,  Shimon Cohen could a skilled arrangement of the Suite de Danzas Criollas from an original piano piece in five short dances. The London Symphony is superb in the ballet suites (they may well be excerpts from the complete recordings on Naxos); the Jerusalem Symphony at home in the lightweight Suite, while the BBC Welsh orchestra play Ginastera to the manner born in Popol Vuh. We thank Gisele Ben-Dor for championing the composer, and though we find audible differences in recording venues, the overall sound is as punchy as required.

Stephen Eddins, June 2010

Naxos’ 2010 collection of orchestral works by Alberto Ginastera conducted by Uruguayan-born Gisèle Ben-Dor includes both music from previous recordings and performances released here for the first time. Ben-Dor’s recording of the complete ballets Panambí and Estancia (the latter a world premiere recording) was first released on Conifer in 1999 and reissued on Naxos in 2006. Suites from the ballets are among the composer’s most popular and frequently performed works, but these “extended suites” are essentially excerpts drawn from the earlier complete recordings and include a substantial amount of music that will be new to most listeners. These versions include music that is frequently more lyrical than the rambunctious dances of the traditional suites and offer a fuller view of the expressive range of each of the ballets. Ben-Dor draws energetic, atmospheric performances from the London Symphony Orchestra. The newly issued works include an orchestration of the piano work Suite de Danzas Criollas from 1946, the orchestral triptych Ollantay from 1946–1947, and the magisterial tone poem Popul Vuh, which the composer left incomplete at his death in 1983. Ben-Dor commissioned Israeli composer Shimon Cohen to orchestrate Suite de Danzas Criollas in 2002. It’s a serviceable arrangement, but it ultimately fails to make as strong an impression as the original because Cohen doesn’t seem able to translate the idiomatic piano writing into persuasively idiomatic orchestral scoring. The performance, by the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra, is the weakest on the disc, rhythmically hazy in the slow movements and lacking in incisiveness and punch in the fast movements. Ginastera had completed all but the last movement of Popul Vuh: The Mayan Creation at his death, but the final complete movement he wrote is so powerful that it brings the work to an entirely satisfactory close. It’s a superb summation of his career; he brought to it the full arsenal of contemporary techniques he had assimilated, as well as the visceral rhythmic drive familiar from his early, nationalist period, and it’s fascinating to hear it in this context, juxtaposed with his more familiar, populist works. The performance, with the BBC National Orchestra of Wales, is fine as far as it goes, but it doesn’t capture the work’s evocative strangeness or its exhilarating primal explosiveness quite as well as Stefan Asbury’s version on Neos with the WDR Sinfonieorchester Köln. The disc literally spans the composer’s career, with Ginastera’s Panambí, Op. 1, and Popol Vuh his last work, and while it doesn’t include examples of his rigorously modernist middle period, it’s a good introduction to one of the masters of mid-20th century music.

Naxos Records, a member of the Naxos Music Group