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Barry Forshaw
Classical CD Choice, February 2012

Ginastera’s two cello concertos are among his most individual compositions. The first concerto, the definitive version of which was premièred by Ginastera’s second wife Aurora Nátola in 1978, is a delight here, with its Latin dance rhythms immensely winning. © 2012 Classical CD Choice

Terry Robbins
The WholeNote, December 2011

incredibly modernistic sound and form. Soloist Mark Kosower does an outstanding job with extremely difficult and emotionally demanding works and has matching support from Lothar Zagrosek and the Bamburg Symphony Orchestra. This CD speaks loud and clear—and in a highly individual and effective voice… © The WholeNote Read complete review

David W Moore
American Record Guide, September 2011

Kosower is…solid technically. His Concerto 2 is taken from an exciting performance. Concerto 1 was done in the same hall, but without an audience. Concerto 1 is rather a grim work, very difficult to play, but an event for the listener. Concerto 2 shows more popular influences. Both are fine compositions that take us to other worlds of sound and feeling. These are very good readings that make a deep impression.

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

Raymond Tuttle
Fanfare, September 2011

These are intriguing works, written not in Ginastera’s earlier and more popular idiom (Panambí, Estancia, etc.), but in a neo-expressionistic style that suggests what Bartók’s music might have sounded like had he lived longer and emigrated to Argentina. The Cello Concerto No.1, composed in 1968 but revised in 1977 for Nátola-Ginastera, is both dark and colorful, a paradox resolved by Ginastera’s acute ear for unusual and imaginative instrumental timbres. Its middle movement is marked Presto sfumato (Ginastera’s designations are often intriguing) and it is a scary tour de force for the soloist, who must saw away with precision but little respite, and fight with whooping, shrieking brass and insect-like percussion. Kosower has earned his merit badge, and then some, with this exciting and technically solid performance, and the musicians of the Bamberg orchestra add to the music’s spidery thrills.

The Concerto No. 2 (1980) was composed as a 10th anniversary present for Nátola-Ginastera. It is in four movements, and each movement bears a poetic epigraph (reprinted in the booklet) by Auguste Martin, Luis Cernuda, Guillaume Appollinaire, and Pablo Neruda, respectively. In this work, Ginastera makes more prominent use of folk idioms than in the previous concerto, but the language remains atonal, though hardly mathematical. The first movement alludes to, in the composer’s words, “a famous cello theme by a great composer,” although I confess I was not able to identify it (the opening of the third movement of Brahms’s Piano Concerto No. 2), because Ginastera immerses it so completely in his own idiom. Both concertos demand the most attentive listening; this is by no means restful music to enjoy before bedtime. It is, however, music that eventually finds its way into the heart by way of the head. Despite the modernism of his language, Ginastera was a communicator.

As I’ve already suggested, although I can’t compare Kosower’s performances to those of Nátola-Ginastera, I have no reason to believe that he has made anything less than an iron-clad case for these concertos. Even in the composer’s most demanding passages, there’s no sense that the cellist is being pushed beyond his limits, and his sound remains rich and full throughout the cello’s range. Zagrosek and the Bambergers, proven experts in the past century’s most demanding scores, give these concertos their all, with color, imagination, and precision.

MusicWeb International, July 2011

The blurb for this CD claims that Argentinean composer Alberto Ginastera “was one of the most admired and respected musical voices of the twentieth century”—if only! There are still too many music-lovers who will know him at best by his 1941 ballet Estancia—more likely just the final dance—or perhaps his Harp Concerto or the orchestral Pampeana no.3, so little exposure does his music get in the concert hall or on the radio. On the other hand, having taken an avant-garde turn in the 1950s, the nationalist Ginastera of Estancia is hardly recognisable as the composer of these cello concertos. The South-American folk instruments and dance rhythms can still be heard, but now making use of the experimental language of serialism, aleatory methods and microtonality.

The twelve-tone row and quarter tone appear in the three-movement Cello Concerto no.1, yet so does the B-A-C-H motif, as if Ginastera were nonetheless asserting a strong sense of continuity with the past. The work begins with some extraordinarily deep rumblings from the orchestra, setting the tone for a movement—indeed a whole concerto—dense with cryptic, frequently sinister-sounding sonorities. This is a mainly slow-moving, brooding, almost ponderous work—in places the music comes to a complete halt, as if the orchestra was considering its next move—except for a sudden eruption into an almost moto perpetuo frenzy at the start of the second movement, marked Presto sfumato, and again by way of reprise—sounding initially like a battery of digeridoos!—after a reflective Trio notturnale.

Whether fast or slow, the cello part is extremely virtuosic, often pushed up against its uppermost register. The orchestral scoring is relatively light, sometimes exotic, but always dark, ranging from the eerie to the downright violent. The first part of the amazing final movement is like a percussive assault on a cello that is trying to think clearly or stay rational. The cello manages to cling to sanity for the mysterious, virtually mystical end where, for more than a minute, it sustains the same very high note, with the odd dramatic comment from the orchestra, before finally vanishing.

Mark Kosower, outstanding principal cellist of the Cleveland Orchestra, dedicates this recording to Ginastera’s wife, Aurora Nátola, who died aged 85 shortly before the recording took place. Nátola was by all accounts an excellent cellist, and in her heyday appeared as a guest soloist with the Bamberg Symphony. Kosower writes that without her “encouragement and support” the recording would not have happened. In fact, her involvement goes far deeper, because in 1977 Ginastera actually revised the score of the First Cello Concerto for Nátola, whom he married in 1971, having left his first wife in 1969, the year following his original completion of the Concerto. Nátola gave the premiere in 1978. The back inlay gives the date of the First Concerto simply as 1968, but presumably this recording is of the revised version.

Ginastera then wrote the four-movement Second Cello Concerto for Nátola in 1980 in celebration of their tenth year together, incorporating a ‘dawn’ theme for ‘Aurora’; it comes as no surprise that it is a lighter work than the First. About it Ginastera said: “the unifying element throughout the first movement is a famous cello theme by a great composer, whose identity should be discovered by the listener”—this is the cello solo from the third movement of Brahms’s Second Piano Concerto—“that the Scherzo sfuggevole must be performed within the strictest pianissimo”—this is superbly observed by the orchestra and soloist—“that in the third movement one hears the coquí, that minute and musical nocturnal creature [tree frog] from Puerto Rico; and that in the last movement appear the Quechuan rhythms of the karnavalito, of Inca origin.”

Nonetheless this Concerto is by no means easy listening, and in several ways has much in common with the First, not only the fact that it is almost identical in length. Both works require great virtuosity of the cellist; both are brilliantly orchestrated, exploiting a huge palette of tonal colour; both are more slow than fast, more piano than forte. Like the First, the Second has a superb finale, a poetic Cadenza that gives way to the life-affirming and boisterous ‘karnavalito’.

The Second Concerto is a live recording, but, aside from what Ginastera provides in the scores, there is little ‘atmosphere’ as such: extraneous noises have been all but eliminated and there is very little difference in sound quality between the two—in both cases it is very good. The hall itself is shown in a colour photo in the booklet, which has excellent notes on Ginastera and these works by Susan Wingrove.

This is a marvellous team performance from cellist, conductor and orchestra alike, making a compelling case for Ginastera’s concertos. The Government must act now to make these compulsory components of the repertoire.

Nick Barnard
MusicWeb International, June 2011

Naxos have slowly but surely built a catalogue of music by the Argentinean composer Alberto Ginastera. Their recordings have a strong claim to be definitive. Ever since a youth orchestra encounter with his dances from Estancia I have been a great fan. He is the only composer whose music has made it into both of my last two ‘discs of the year’ selections. This is why I was delighted to have the chance to make a first acquaintance with these two major orchestral scores. Each runs to over thirty-four minutes and makes full use of the large, percussion-rich, orchestra that Ginastera often favours.

Cellist Mark Kosower was the player on the well-received Naxos disc of the complete Ginastera chamber works for cello (8.570569). I have not heard that disc but on the strength of his performances here he is a powerful and compelling advocate of Ginastera’s art. Central to the importance of these relatively late works is that Ginastera married a cellist, Aurora Nátola-Ginastera in 1971, dedicated the second concerto to her as a tenth wedding anniversary gift, and revised the first concerto for publication with her playing in mind. Ginastera’s compositional career is often broken down into three phases; as I wrote before in my review of the magnificent three string quartets (8.570780): “Objective Nationalism” (1934–1948), “Subjective Nationalism” (1948–1958), and “Neo-Expressionism” (1958–1983). These phases chart a gradual move away from an overtly Nationalistic/folk-based style to something more personal although with clearly Latin-American roots. As with many composers there is a clear sense of a refining of the musical palette, removing the extraneous and glib and simply leaving the very essence of the music’s fibre. Not that these are austere scores as such. At one level Ginastera uses the orchestra with an almost profligate confidence, but at another there is a clear intellectual rigour here that requires repeated listenings even to begin to get a sense of the riches on offer. These are not the archetypal cello concertos with the rich baritone voice of the soloist singing away in the midst of an admiring orchestra. Very often I got the sense that the soloist was an intruder in an often unsettling or at least unforgiving orchestral landscape.

Naxos have chosen to place the first concerto second on the disc but I will deal with the pieces in compositional order. The Cello Concerto No.1 Op.36 [notice how small Ginastera’s catalogue of acknowledged works is] was commissioned in 1968 but was revised for publication in 1977 and first performed in the new definitive revision by the composer’s wife. To what degree the work changed between composition and revision the otherwise excellent note by Susan Wingrove does not make clear. However, she does explain that the work was written in the aftermath of Ginastera’s notorious opera Bomarzo. The opera dealt in quite graphic terms and at length with the violent and lascivious life the 16th Century Duke Pier Francesco Orsini. Violence is an abiding impression of the concerto too. Sometimes the cello seems to plead for some form of reconciliation between warring factions; at other times he seems only too eager to lead the affray. As so often in Ginastera sequences of ‘night music’ proliferate but even here, when marked to be played with extreme quietness, the impression is one of latent fear-streaked darkness with a thuggee lurking in the shadows. This is deeply unsettling music—not at all what one might expect coming from a senior composer in his twilight years having recently found his new great love. Wingrove points out that Ginastera makes use of motivic cells in both works—for example B.A.C.H. is used in the first concerto’s first movement. I have to say without the benefit of a score this has yet to leap out at me by dint of the music alone. As a whole these are some of the knottier works by Ginastera that I have heard. On the kind of superficial acquaintance that a first-hearing review like this must represent the music is stronger on its use of instrumental colour, texture and motivic development than on melody per se.

As mentioned before the Concerto No. 2 was written expressly for Aurora Nátola-Ginastera and one imagines the piece embodies both her playing and their relationship. Night in all its facets dominates again. Although, in the first movement Ginastera makes play of his wife’s first name Aurora to write music that represents the transition from night to day—the concept of metamorphosing darkness to light is given musical form. Again Ginastera uses pre-existing themes as a backbone of the work. In this instance the cello solo from the third movement of the Brahms Piano Concerto No. 2 but once again it would be hard to say that in any way this dominates the score. Again, the abiding initial impression is one of instrumental organisation and orchestral colour over memorable instant melodic invention. Wingrove in her notes makes the point that Ginastera worked as a composer of film scores for some years in the 1950s when he was out of favour with the Peron regime. Certainly, from this experience it is not impossible to extrapolate forwards to this work where mood and atmosphere are so key to its overall effect. I did find myself wondering once or twice how rewarding it is (or isn’t!) for a soloist to have to perfect such complex writing which ultimately makes its impact through effect rather than engaging the listener’s heart. The concluding Finale Rustico is near to one of his earlier exciting toccatas. As often in the past he uses obsessive percussion-led ostinati to create a sound-world of riotous celebration.

The writing for the soloist in both concertos sounds terrifyingly hard so ever more credit to Kosower for total command of instrument and idiom that he displays. A particular skill is the way in which he is able to link sequences of notes together which range across the entire cello seamlessly. At a technical level this is extremely hard but is vital to allow the listener to perceive such seemingly disjointed lines as melodic. The effect of this style of writing is to give the music a striving expressionistic quality. Because this is not music of instant easy beauty it requires from all the players a style of playing that is almost super-lyrical. It might sound counter-intuitive but music like this requires a fusion of steely precision in terms of rhythm and technical accuracy but hyper-romanticism in regard to its expressivity. Kosower has this aesthetic balance off to a tee. He plays on the borrowed Starker Nebula—Janos Starker is one of his teachers. It is an instrument ideally suited to this music and his playing. The tones are guttural and dark from the lower strings yet are able to cut through the complex textures during the extended passages in alt. To play these pieces with such conviction is the result of many hours of concentrated and dedicated work.

Praise too here for the engineering and production of the disc. Ace producer Michael Fine and his engineer Wolf-Dieter Karwatky have created a disc of demonstration quality. There is a wealth of orchestral detail—including extended ‘ethnic’ percussion and a vast dynamic range all of which has been captured without excessive spotlighting of instruments. Add to that the need to integrate the solo line believably into the sound picture and the fact that the second concerto was recorded live—not that one is aware of any extraneous sounds or fallible playing for an instant—and you can see that the scale of what they have achieved is very impressive indeed. The same can be said of the playing of the Bamberg Symphony Orchestra under Lothar Zagrosek. It says something about the stature of Naxos as a label that established performers of such stature appear here as a matter of course.

This is one of those slightly curious discs that one admires very much indeed without necessarily liking it a lot. That I put down to my current superficial understanding of the music. Ginastera was too fastidious and sophisticated a composer for his music not to deserve extended study. The Naxos disc in any event enjoys a huge price advantage. Indeed, I would go as far as saying that this is one of the finest concerto discs from Naxos that I have heard. On the strength of his performance here I will look forward to hearing more from cellist Mark Kosower.

Lawrence A. Johnson
The Classical Review, June 2011

Alberto Ginastera’s two cello concertos each bear the significant influence of cellist Aurora Natola, his second wife and the Argentinean composer’s muse for the final, extremely productive 12 years of
his life.

The Op. 36 First Cello Concerto was written in 1968 not long after Ginastera’s second opera, Bomarzo—commissioned by the Opera Society of Washington and hugely successful in the city—was banned in his own hometown of Buenos Aires after the influential Neue Zeitschrift für Musik denounced it as “Porno in Belcanto”. Substantially revised after his marriage to Natola, and premiered
by her in 1978 with Mstislav Rostropovich leading the National Symphony Orchestra, the concerto inhabits some of the same expressionist, quasi-serial landscape.

As the ‘Adagio molto appassionato’ marking indicates, the concerto opens with a darkly tempestuous movement with pensive, brooding passages for the soloist, surging to taut climaxes of firm impact. The central movement is a moto perpetuo-style Presto with the rapid rhythmic solo cello figurations driving the music, and a contrasting trio section that offers a slow lugubrious notturnale. The finale opens with a violent pounding orchestral outburst, which alternates with broad, deeply ruminative writing for the soloist. The second section of the movement is a kind of soloist-led epilogue (‘Largo amoroso’) with a hushed enigmatic fade out of the solo cello at the coda.

The Cello Concerto No. 2—inexplicably placed first on this disc—was written in 1980 and dedicated to Aurora, marking the couple’s tenth anniversary. Each of the four movements bears an epigraph from a different poet. The first, and most substantial, movement makes some cryptic use of a motif from the famous cello solo of Brahms’ Second Piano Concerto, but it is the Argentinean folk element that is most to the fore in this work. Lyrical long phrases in the cello are set off by crystalline high percussion and offbeat instrumental effects that evoke the natural world, Andean jungle and Inca past.

The brief second movement Scherzo offers an ominous unsettled expression with kaleidoscopic washes of color amid jumpy fragmented cello passages. The ensuing Nottilucente is classic night music with the cello unfolding a ruminative long line against quiet mysterious stirrings and murmurings in the orchestra. A thoughtful cadenza becomes more mercurial and assertive leading into a rhythmic speeded-up theme. The orchestra leaps back in for a finale that builds with considerable momentum and head of steam against a contrasting languorous theme for cello.

The First Cello Concerto is one of Ginastera’s finest works and deserves a place in the regular repertory. I was less convinced by the Second Concerto, but Mark Kosower makes a strong and compelling case for both.

As on his previous disc of Ginastera’s complete cello music—Kosower shows himself completely inside the composer’s somewhat elusive idiom. Appointed principal cello of the Cleveland Orchestra in 2009, Kosower’s understated virtuosity and tonal refinement always fall gracefully on the ear. The cellist delivers supreme advocacy for these works, bringing great feeling and expression to the restless yearning, solo lines and infusing the brooding solo passages with a burnished tone and dark eloquence.

The recording is top drawer and Kosower’s former colleagues of the Bamberg Symphony Orchestra provide first-class orchestral support under Lothar Zagrosek’s alert direction.

Mike D. Brownell, June 2011

One of the most celebrated Argentine composers of all time and certainly among the most notable Latin American composers of the 20th century, the music of Alberto Ginastera was heavily influenced not only by the pervasive rhythms and folk melodies of his country, but also his decisive musical intellect and passionate underpinnings. He penned several works for the cello, and eventually took the famed cellist Aurora Nàtola as his second wife. This union inspired a large-scale revision of his First Cello Concerto (which Nàtola premiered under Rostropovich’s baton), and the composition of the Second Concerto in 1980, a virtual reenactment and tribute to the couple’s life together. Both of these concertos possess formidable technical challenges to both soloist and orchestra, yet Ginastera’s intertwining of intellect, musicality, and folk influence make them both satisfying, engulfing experiences for listeners. Ginastera was a master orchestrator as evidenced not only by the endless variety of colors and textures he coaxes from the orchestra, but also the ingenious way that he scores for the solo cello so that issues of balance rarely come into play. Cellist Mark Kosower takes full advantage of this during his performances of the two concertos with the Bamberg Symphony Orchestra. Despite the lofty technical demands, Kosower’s playing still manages to seem relaxed and at ease, his sound never forced in an effort to overcome the orchestra. Both Kosower and conductor Lothar Zagrosek interpret Ginastera’s works admirably, focusing heavily on precise rhythmic integrity. Listeners unfamiliar with these two highly worthwhile concertos would be hard pressed to find a more reliable, pristine performance.

John J. Puccio
Classical Candor, May 2011

The back of the Naxos jewel box says “Alberto Ginastera was one of the most admired and respected musical voices of the twentieth century, who successfully fused the strong traditional influences of his national heritage with experimental, contemporary, and classical techniques.” That may be so, but it made me feel rather uninformed because I could only remember hearing a single piece of music by the man, an old recording of the Harp Concerto with Zabaleta. The present disc hopes to rectify that situation for a lot of us classical-music fans.

Alberto Ginastera (1916–1983) was an Argentinean composer who studied with Aaron Copland and among whose students is tango-composer Astor Piazzolla. What surprised me in reading about Ginastera is that a rock track familiar to me, Emerson, Lake & Palmer’s “Toccata,” the group adapted from Ginastera’s First Piano Concerto. Serves me right for not reading the album’s liner notes. It’s remarkable how things in this world are so intertwined, yet we may not even know about them. Anyway, Ginastera wrote his two Cello Concertos in 1968 and 1980, and it’s a pleasure to have them here.

The disc begins with the Cello Concerto No. 2, Op. 50, composed by Ginastera as a tribute to his wife, the cellist Aurora Natola. Written in four movements, each section bears the lines of a poem to help the listener better understand the music. It’s all very sensitive and evocative, the composer having explained earlier in his career that “art is first perceived by our senses. It then affects our sentiments and in the end awakens our intelligence…A work which speaks only to the intelligence of man will never reach his heart.”

Cellist Mark Kosower plays with a light touch, never overstating the music even when it becomes somewhat melodramatic, as at the end of the first movement; nor does Maestro Lothar Zagrosek overdramatize Ginastera’s poetic moods. Still, the music often sounds to my ears like most typical modern pieces, with a plethora of sonic effects, mainly percussive, in slow but harmonious succession, without

much regard to a discernable melody. However, the third movement, a nocturne, struck me as most touching, Kosower’s cello wistful and yearning. Ginastera called his Concerto No. 1, Op. 36, a neo-Expressionist work. It’s a darker, more ominous-sounding piece than No. 2, written in a traditional three-movement concerto arrangement. I’m not sure just what the composer was after in the first movement, but the music can be downright spooky. The scherzo is more rambunctious, an energetic section with a vigorous rhythmic pulse that Kosower and Zagrosek exploit with cultivated restraint. It’s quite a lot fun, actually, and does indeed appeal to the senses above all. I might have done without the final movement, though, which apparently Ginastera intended as a plunge into madness, the chaos eventually fading into silence. I suppose this is an appropriate ending to the work, and parts of it are undeniably brilliant. Naxos recorded the concertos in Bamberg Congress Hall, Bavaria, the Concerto No. 1 in 2009 and the Concerto No. 2 live a year later in 2010. The live recording is very close-up, helping to eliminate any possible audience noise but not offering much in the way of natural hall ambience. In compensation, we do get excellent clarity and dynamic impact. In the Concerto No. 1, also recorded very closely but not live, we find slightly more dimensionality, with just as much punch. In any case, both recording styles sound fine, and they fit the music nicely., May 2011

Latin dance rhythms and folk elements are prominent as well in the two cello concertos by Alberto Ginastera. Infrequently heard and hence appealing to cellists with as much virtuosity at their command as Mark Kosower possesses, the pieces date from 1968 and 1980, respectively, and are of almost the same length—although No. 1 is in three movements and No. 2 in four. Both works are tributes to the composer’s second wife, Aurora Nátola: she gave the première of the first, and the second was written for her as a 10th-anniversary gift. The two concertos are both technically difficult and filled with dance rhythms and orchestral color. The first has highly prominent percussion…The second is more folkloric and more representational, including jungle sounds and an instrumental version of sunrise. The works’ folk and rustic elements (the second concludes with a Finale rustico) are especially attractive, and the pieces provide a fine opportunity for cellists to display the range of their sound, from broad singing lines to intense and speedy passages, in unfamiliar but thoroughly interesting works.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, May 2011

Those who link the name of Alberto Ginastera with his brilliantly coloured ballets, Panambi and Estancia, will scarcely believe the two cello concertos came from the same composer. He did, in fact, go through so many stylistic shifts, so that the nationalistic music of his younger years that gave the impression of a true Latin American composer, was swept aside in his later years. Maybe we should detect in his music a slow change to his use of a twelve-tone technique, but it finally arrived at the point with his divorce from his wife of thirty years. That was followed by marriage to the great cellist, Aurora Natola, who become his musical collaborator and chief advocate, and was also marked by a move in 1971 to a new home in Switzerland where he became immersed in the latest European styles. The first of the two Cello Concertos from 1968 thus predates these events, though it was the revised score that first appeared with Natola as soloist. The second was dedicated to her, and it is this concerto that opens the disc. In four movements, the strong opening Metamorfosi presenting a challenge to the soloist contrasting with the serene Nottilucente and a hectic finale. Indeed both works pose quite awesomely difficult passages for the cellist, and the orchestra are not short of their own problems. I have to add that I found both scores intriguing on first hearing, though only after several times did I reach below the virtuoso outer shell. In Mark Kosower, the principal cellist of the Cleveland Orchestra, they have found a brilliant and dedicated advocate unfazed by pages black with notes. It also requires an orchestra of the Bamberg’s outstanding quality and the experience of conductor, Lothar Zagrosek. The second concerto comes from a 2009 concert performance, the sound quality in both being exemplary.

Naxos Records, a member of the Naxos Music Group