CD Review: Ginastera – Bernstein – Moussa (Andrew Wan, Kent Nagano, OSM)

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Ginastera: Violin Concerto. Bernstein:
Serenade. Moussa: Violin Concerto (Adrano) 

Andrew Wan, violin.
Montreal Symphony Orchestra/Kent Nagano

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Analekta AN 2 8920

Total time: 76:52

Alberto Ginastera, previously known for colourfully scored evocations of Argentinian folk music, embraced serialism, microtones and aleatorism in his 1963 Violin Concerto. It’s a dark half-hour. The lengthy, brooding, opening Cadenza for solo violin “serves,” wrote Ginastera, “to introduce the basic materials of the entire concerto.” Seven percussionists play dozens of instruments in eerily quiet “night music” and angry fortissimi. The Adagio for 22 Soloists exudes struggle and anguish. The finale, Ginastera wrote, begins “at a flying pace, in a mysterious, scarcely audible whisper.” It ends in a violent Perpetuum mobile.

Plato’s Symposium, in which banquet guests philosophize about love, inspired Leonard Bernstein’s Serenade for Solo Violin, Strings, Harp and Percussion (1954), five movements each titled for one or two of the participants. It’s pure Bernstein – sentimental, playful, jaunty, 

helter-skelter and joyous, peaking emotionally in the bittersweet fourth movement adagio, Agathon. The final, longest movement, Socrates; Alcibiades, finds Bernstein striving for profundity before resorting to Broadway song-and-dance to reach the finish line. 

The four-movement Violin Concerto by Montreal native Samy Moussa (b.1989) was premiered by concertmaster Andrew Wan, music director Kent Nagano and the MSO on Nov. 28, 2019. Subtitled Adrano (the fire-god beneath Mount Etna) – Moussa’s visit to the volcano inspired him – it begins with slow, ascending chords, the violin in its upper register. Pizzicati strings pluck us higher, there’s an eruption of immense energy, then gentle subsidence, echoing the initial chords. The music recalls Strauss’s Alpine Symphony and the opening of his Also Sprach Zarathustra, but without their triumphant climaxes. Lasting only 15 minutes, half the length of Ginastera’s and Bernstein’s compositions, it needs fleshing out to achieve its considerable potential. The booklet says these works were recorded in concert, yet no applause is heard. These high-voltage performances surely deserve the sounds of many more than one hand clapping.

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