for piano and orchestra
3(III=picc).3(III=corA).3(III=bcl).3(III=dbn)-22.214.171.124-timp.perc(3): 3Chin.gongs/3crot/glsp/vib/xyl/5bongos/5conga dr/3tom-t/5cowbells/ 2cyms/6susp.cym/3tgl/3bamboo bells/guiro/5tpl.bl/5wdbl/BD/SD/tamb/ TD-harp-cel-strings
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The first movement of this mammoth four-movement work is a set of thirty-two variations inspired by the seven-note chord in bar 208 of the fourth movement of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. To these seven notes, Ginastera adds a five-note chord to complete the twelve-tone theme. The fact that Ginastera chose to write 32 variations is significant—a bow to the 32 Variations in C Minor (1806) for piano and also to the master’s 32 piano sonatas. In Variation 22, Ginastera recalls the opening phrase from Beethoven’s Sonata, "Les Adieux." Some variations similarly invoke Schumann, Ravel, Debussy, Bartók and Stravinsky’s influence. The movement opens not with the theme, but with the first variation. Ginastera saves the only direct statement of the two-part theme for the movement’s final bars. Both musically and dramatically, this movement is the strength and pillar of the Second Concerto.
The second movement is one of Ginastera’s fleeting, magical scherzos that he originally composed for the right hand alone. According to the composer, the Scherzo "is elaborated on a series of contrasts between light and shade which form a rapid and kaleidoscopic succession of opposing colors, microtones and timbres, in a continuous interchange between piano and orchestra."
The third movement is a poignant Adagio. Ginastera is a sonic painter of color and the possibilities here are infinite. "The third movement Quasi una fantasia, opens with a poetic exposition from the orchestra; then we hear a second exposition from the piano, which is combined with the central development (theme), now accompanied by the orchestra. At the climax the initial orchestral adagio returns and comes to the fore with the piano which later develops variations on its own theme."
The fourth movement’s dramatic Cadenza serves to prepare and introduce a finale that moves like the wind. The composer’s inspiration here is the final movement of Chopin’s B-flat Minor Piano Sonata. "The fourth movement, Cadenza e finale prestissimo, begins with an introduction (cadenza) from the piano, accompanied by the orchestra in a dramatic duet. The nature of this piece is that of a splendid fanfare which is resolved in the prestissimo finale. This section, played at speed and sotto voce by the piano, emphasizes its surrealistic character. There are five sections within the movement: first, transition, third or intermediate section, recapitulation and coda. An eleven-note theme, taken from the end of Chopin’s B-flat Minor Sonata (Funeral March), appears in the intermediate section, symbolizing the tragic and fantastic nature of the Concerto."
The polytonal language and rhythmic energy here are pure Ginastera. The composer remains true to his inspiration, even ending the movement with a similar gesture to the one that Chopin used to end his ghostly finale. While Hilde Somer later added an extended four-measure octave passage to conclude Ginastera’s work, the ending as recorded here has been restored to the abrupt forte chord that both Ginastera (and Chopin) intended. Without sacrificing momentum and excitement, the original ending seems a bolder and more dramatic gesture in keeping with the spirit of the finale, and with Ginastera’s original conception of the work.
The Second Concerto is a monster of a work but well worth the effort and the challenge. It is my hope that young pianists may discover, as I have, the value of this largely unknown piano concerto. Hopefully it will one day become a staple of the twentieth-century piano concerto literature. How wonderful to rediscover a composer who can make us feel, who puts us back in touch with our passions and reaches deep into our soul. Alberto Ginastera has left us a rich legacy that, fortunately, will last forever.
Program note reproduced from CD liner notes with the permission of the author.