GISÈLE BEN-DOR , conductor

PRESS:

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The London Times
June 3 2016

The London Times

Classical

     Plácido Domingo:

Ginastera — the Vocal Album

           Warner Classics

       Neil Fisher

June 3 2016,    The  Times

★★★★☆

           It has taken a very long time, but at least Plácido Domingo’s celebration of Ginastera has made it    out for the 100th anniversary year of Argentina’s national composer. The Uruguayan-born conductor Gisèle Ben-Dor started planning The Vocal Album in 1999. Recording began in 2002, when Ana María Martínez laid down her very fiery take on the early Cinco Canciones Populares Argentinas, in a newly orchestrated (and slightly over-egged) version by Shimon Cohen.

            Various wrangles then meant that Domingo had to record his contributions to two chunky extracts from the 1964 opera Don Rodrigo without his duetting soprano, Virginia Tola, who also sings the 1971 cantata Milena. His parts were finished only in 2014, then another hiatus delayed the album’s release further.

            These complications don’t dent the expressive power of those late works, however. If the Canciones belong to Ginastera’s “nationalist” period, Don Rodrigo and Milena come from the part of the composer’s life when he drifted to European modernism. Don Rodrigo has the heated plot of a verismo firecracker by Montemezzi or Wolf-Ferrari — the eponymous king rapes a woman he has sworn to protect, loses Spain, but is redeemed by a divine bell-ringing miracle. Yet its music sounds more like Alban Berg’s, the violence delivered in grinding dissonances and jagged vocal writing.

            Domingo championed the same role at New York City Opera 50 years ago, and it’s remarkable enough that he came back to it. Some vocal tiredness doesn’t dilute his expressive force, and he skilfully judges the contrast between the two scenes, the first showing the king crazed by perverse passion, the second aged and spent. He is well partnered by the Argentinian Tola, and Ben-Dor conducts the Santa Barbara Symphony orchestra with plenty of heat.

        Milena is the most compelling work on the album, however. Here Tola superbly sings and declaims extracts from the letters that Franz Kafka sent to the journalist Milena Jesenská (her replies are lost, alas). They are not love letters by any traditional measure — the famously un-optimistic author writes at one point that “we are both married, you to your husband in Vienna, I to anguish in Prague” — and Ginastera responds appropriately.

        In alternating sections marked “Prose” and “Cantus”, he uses sepulchral colours and the eerie glint of electronic effects to create a chilling backdrop for the soloist to deliver Kafka’s paranoid angst. In the last section Ginastera quotes from the final song of Schubert’s Winterreise and then the music disappears into greyness.


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