GINASTERA: Panambi / Estancia (Complete Ballets) (Gisele Ben-Dor/ London Symphony Orchestra/ Luis Gaeta) (Naxos: 8.557582)
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Alberto Ginastera (1916-1983)
Panambí • Estancia
"My trip through South America has been fascinating. It has been like discovering a new continent", wrote Aaron Copland to his old teacher Nadia Boulanger from Rio de Janeiro late in 1941, towards the end of an official cultural liaison trip that had taken in visits to see Santa Cruz in Chile, Chávez in Mexico, and Villa-Lobos in Brazil, besides concerts in most other South American states. "South America is in the process of becoming", he exclaimed in his diary as he returned to New York, his head buzzing with the colourful sights and sounds of his "new continent". Interestingly, he viewed the Latin American serious music scene as a series of "energetic men" (one in each country), working flat-out in environments generally antipathetic to their efforts.
The "energetic man" in Argentina was Alberto Ginastera, whom Copland met in Buenos Aires on 26 September 1941. Again, his diary: "There is a young composer here who is generally looked upon as the "white hope" of Argentine music. Alberto Ginastera would profit by contacts outside Argentina. He is looked upon with favor by all groups here, is presentable, modest almost to the timid degree, and will, no doubt, someday be an outstanding figure in Argentine music." Copland and Ginastera struck up a close friendship, and after World War II, Copland arranged a fellowship in order that Ginastera could attend Tanglewood.
In marked contrast with the vast and sprawling catalogue of his Brazilian contemporary Villa-Lobos, Ginastera's output remained small: fifty-five "opus numbers" and sixteen incidental and film scores. At the time of his meeting with Copland, Ginastera claimed only seven published works, and had already withdrawn or destroyed much juvenilia. Severely self-critical as a composer, Ginastera viewed his craft with the responsibility of an architect: "To compose, in my opinion, is to create an architecture, to formulate an order and set in values certain structures… In music, this architecture unfolds in time."
One withdrawn (but subsequently reinstated) composition, Impresiones de la Puna (1934) for flute and string quartet, shows Ginastera's first exploration of his continent's pre-Colombian heritage. The Puna is a bleak, rocky wasteland high in the Andes, the heart of the old Inca empire, and Ginastera's brief, three-movement work evokes both the landscape, and its Amerindian musics. The following year Ginastera, eager to promote an authentically national voice in his work, began sketches for a ballet score which developed his interest in "primitivism" or "indianism": Panambí, subtitled Choreographic Legend. It was this work, completed in 1937, that became Ginastera's Opus 1, and was based on a romantic and supernatural legend of love and magic from the Guaraní Indians, a tribe from the headwaters of the Rio Paraná in northern Argentina. The scenario was drawn up by Felix L. Errico. Before a complete staging could be arranged, Juan José Castro conducted a suite of four dances on 27 November 1937 at the Teatro Colón under Castro.
Panambí has been dubbed a distillation of Ginastera's major formative influences: Falla, Stravinsky, Debussy, and Bartók. Indeed, elements of each composer may be detected in the score. However, it is more helpful to view the ballet as a young man's statement about his country's heritage, and protypical of much to come. The concept of a "sequence of dances", for example, informs much of his output (including dance within his operas), and the primitivism and "indianism" of Panambí remained, in distilled and subjective form, through works such as Ollantay (1947) and Puneña no.2 (1976) to the unfinished Popol Vuh (1975-83). Panambí also previews the elements of "magic" and "night" (particularly, Invocación a los espíritus poderosos and Claro de luna sobre el Paraná), preoccupations which later significantly coloured Ginastera's work in sometimes abstract ways.
A further pattern is established by the polarization of the music between vigorous, rhythmic, and powerful showpieces (including, in Panambí, an array of percussion – particularly impressive in dances such as Danza del Hechicero), and pastoral, impressionistic, and reflective music.
Panambí takes its place alongside the great "indianist" orchestral works of Latin America: Sensemayá of Revueltas (1938), Sinfonía India by Chávez (1935-6), and Villa-Lobos's Amazonas (1917), and the success of Panambí (in its complete ballet version) resulted in national and municipal music prizes for Ginastera. In the year after its première he was approached for a further score by Lincoln Kirstein, the American ballet director, who at the time was in Latin America with his own company, the American Ballet Caravan. Kirstein founded the Caravan in 1936 as a platform for young American choreographers, with the aim of moving ballet away from classical Russian traditions. One of the company's most significant productions had been Billy the Kid (1938), with music by Copland, which glorified life on the open prairies; it received several performances on the Caravan's 1941 tour. Kirstein's commission from Ginastera for a "Ballet in One Act and Five Scenes, based on Argentine country life" resulted in Estancia (1941). Kirstein planned to commission choreography from George Balanchine, and present the ballet in New York alongside new scores from Francisco Mignone (Brazil) and Domingo Santa Cruz (Chile).
The Caravan was suddenly disbanded after its Latin American tour, and Ginastera's new work was abandoned. Its subsequent performing history mirrored that of Panambí: a concert performance of four dances by the Teatro Colón orchestra in May 1943 was tremendously successful, consolidating Ginastera's growing reputation as Argentina's leading composer, but the complete Estancia remained unperformed until 1952, when the ballet was staged at the Colón, with choreography by Michael Borowski, and sets by Dante Ortolani. The Dances from Estancia remain one of Ginastera's most frequently performed works, but ballet productions are rare, and Gisèle Ben-Dor's current disc represents a recording première.
Estancia signifies a farm or cattle ranch, particularly on the vast, grassy Argentine Pampas – a landscape which had profoundly affected Ginastera since boyhood. "Whenever I have crossed the Pampa or have lived in it for a time, my spirit felt itself inundated by changing impressions, now joyful, now melancholy, some full of euphoria and others replete with a profound tranquility, produced by its limitless immensity and by the transformation that the countryside undergoes in the course of a day."
Historically the Pampas had always shaped the largely pastoral economy of Buenos Aires, but by the time of Ginastera's birth, city life was encroaching on the old agrarian ways – soon to be symbolized by the pervasive throb of the tango. The mode of life of the famou