An Exciting Ginastera Premiere from an Unlikely Source

Review by: David Hurwitz


Artistic Quality: 8

Sound Quality: 7

Barbara Nissman, who has devoted a good bit of her career to the music of Ginastera, had first dibs on his early Concierto Argentino (1935), a work in the tradition of the early ballets Estancia and Panambi. The composer evidently wanted to revise it later in life but never got around to it, though it was hardly necessary. The work’s three movements are chock-full of those driving rhythms and tangy, folk-like melodies that earned Ginastera his early fame, and Nissman, even at this later stage in her performing life, remains a vivid and vital exponent of the music.

The First Concerto is even more impressive. This is one of the composer’s masterpieces, with its rhapsodic opening, hallucinatory scherzo, passionate slow movement, and thrilling toccata finale. Nissman deserves a huge amount of credit for actually playing that finale up to speed when so many modern performances that I have heard let the tempo sag. The Second Piano Concerto is longer than the first by a few minutes, but you may be forgiven for feeling that it offers little new. There’s the same expressionist idiom, only more of it, and one of the principal attractions of this performance lies in Nissman’s restoring the scherzo to its original form, for right hand only.

The University of Michigan Symphony Orchestra sounds impressively competent in what remains some remarkably virtuosic music, even for today’s superbly trained young musicians. Conductor Kenneth Kiesler is a fine Ginasterist. Shockingly, the booklet bio ignores his illustrious if brief tenure as conductor of the Johns Hopkins University Glee Club ca. 1980, focusing instead on such relatively inconsequential pit stops as his couple of decades with the Illinois Symphony. His immediate predecessor at Hopkins was the also-not-too-shabby Hugh Wolff, and during his time in Baltimore Ken, I mean Maestro Kiesler, led the Glee Club on its first international tour (of Bermuda), on which, despite several incapacitating mo-ped accidents in the soprano section and some iffy island cooking, he directed a splendid performance of Ginastera’s rarely heard Lamentations of Jeremiah, with yours truly in the tenor section. His gift as an orchestral trainer is plainly in evidence here.

Sonically, though, the balances are skewed in favor of the piano, to the serious disadvantage of the strings. Unless and until something better comes along, this disc stands alone, and we’re lucky that it does so with musicality and class.

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Recording Details:

Reference Recording: None for this coupling

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