The performance of Alberto Ginastera's Cello Concerto by the National Symphony Orchestra during the past week, with Rostropovich conducting and the composer's wife, Aurora Natola-Ginastera, as soloist,brought Washington another in an impressive series of superlative Ginastera compositions that have enjoyed suspicious premieres in this city.
The world of new music is not over-crowded these days when it comes to works superb imagination, flawlessly designed and vividly set forth. Even less crowded is the repertoire of cello concertos. The final revised version of Ginastera's concerto offers, if only to a limited number of performers, a new and magnificent vehicle.
The number of performers will be held down by the technical demands made by the composer upon soloist, conductor and orchestral players. Ginastera's great works - and the list is an imposing one - always demand both intellectual and emotional gifts from their intertpreters if they are to succeed in re-creating what he has written in such a way that audiences will be won over to them.
Listening to the cello concerto during the past week, the musical content was of such phenomenal brilliance that at times the enormous contribution of the solo cellist was, for the moment, almost overlooked.
But Aurora Natola-Ginastera is today one of a kind. The world's concert platforms have never been crowded by great cellists, and in their midst, fewer than six women have been truly great Natola-Ginastera's art is so powerful that, even in the midst of the incredibly taxing demands of her husbans's concerto, she makes clear her right to a position of eminence on any list of pre-eminent cellists.
Into the three movements of the concerto Ginastera has poured a stream of vividly conceived sounds that emerge with equal powers of conviction from the solo instrument and the orchestral resources that are colorfully employed around it. With all of its technical diablerie, the concerto offers frequent opportunities for the cellist to sing out melodies of pure gold.
The emotional message is clearly indicated in the marking "edagio molto appassionato" over the first movement. Like the Beethoven piano sonata with the same direction, the Ginastera begins and continues in a mood of unrelievedly intense, probing feeling.
There is a highly exotic coloration in the score, achieved through the use of groups of percussion instrumentns, including windwood chimes, crotales, bongos and congas, tambourines, maracas, cow bells, Chinese gongs, woodblocks, tams-tams and tom-toms. The sounds of all of these are often subdued,taking place along with equally extraordinary sonorities from other instruments in the orchestra.
There are frequent directions for players to produce pitches "a quarter-tone higher than the natural, the sharp, or the flat." As is always the case with this composer, everything is laid out with perfect clarity and is requested not to produce the effect of stunts, but for the musical result desired.
The scherzo of the concerto is introduced by a clarification from Gianstera. "Exposition as well as reexposition of the 'Presto sfumato' must acquire a strange, mysterious, surrealist character which produces the impression that cello is surrounded by a jungle of magic, iridescent, silent, nocturnal and cosmic sounds." Its outer sections move at a blinding rate of speed in which the soloist must perform feats that would, from any other magician, be called sheer legerdemain. At its center there comes, in contrast, a "trio notturnale" for the solo cello, french horn and harp. it is a moment of magic quite different from the dazzling pages that frame it.
Even while listening to the concerto, it was impossible not to remember works in which other composers of equal virtuosity in creating new sounds ahd called for effects as Ginastera's may sound to some today. It was also a time when the image of Alban berg loomed larger in the background than at any other time in my experience of Ginastera.
In the finale, Ginastera asserts once again the emotional dominance of the music - "esaltato" is one marking: "exalted." And the cello's solo lines do indeed move on a plane of grand feeling. Midway through the finale, there is a slowing down, before the final section unfolds. It is marked "largo amoroso," and in its course, becomes one long, sustained song of love. Slowing continuously up to the final pages, the song of the solo cello becomes move expansive, to be played "songfully and poetically."
At last, Ginastera reaches one of the great moments in music, an affect like that at the end of the "Liebestod" in Wagner's "Tristan" (see the photograph of page 86 from the score).
At a moderately slow tempo the solo cello plays a rising series of notes. They form two complete 12-tone serice, starting on low C and continuing through E flat, G flat, A, D, F, G, sharp, B, F, G, B, flat, and D flat; then the second series, each of which is to be played a quarter-tone higher than written: E flat, G flat, G, A, C, C, sharp, D, E, F, G sharp, A sharp, and B, leading, at last, with an affect of utter repose, to a high C.
While the solo cello moves upward through the two series, each note sounded by the soloist is also played pianissimo by pairs of strings, from the double basses up through cellos, violas and violins, and is sustained, so that as the high C sings in the solo voice, a mirage of sound exists softly underneath. For 12 measures that high C is held, marked at first "always mezzo piano, and well sustained"; then "little by little diminuendo and dying away," until, after a "longest hold" there comes, finally, the direction "Nothing!"
Words have no place in trying to describe how a genius produces the marks of his gifts. Ginastera has created, at frequent moments in his cello concerto, music whose impassioned beauty was unforgettably set forth by Aurora Natola-Ginastera and Rostropovich last week. The memory of those pages will not diminish.