Conservatory of Music Students in the New York Times:
Rhythms Rise Up From the Pampas
By VIVIEN SCHWEITZER
Published: March 11, 2011
Early in his career, Alberto Ginastera incorporated elements from the music of his native Argentina into his scores with traditional tonal means. Later, in his neo-expressionist period, he used serialism and avant-garde techniques to reflect indigenous South American traditions, as in his rarely heard "Cantata Para America Magica" for soprano and percussion orchestra.
Ivan Tan, on piano, and Caitlin Bailey, on cello, wore masks for their performance of “Vox Balaenae" (Voice of the Whale).
Fourteen percussionists including the Talujon Percussion Quartet and musicians from four local college conservatories were joined by three pianists (one playing celesta) and the soprano Lucy Shelton for a performance of that cantata at Symphony Space on Thursday evening.
James Baker conducted the expressive work, in which Ginastera used pre-Columbian texts and meshed 12-tone techniques with an earthy primitivism, as part of a program called "Para America Magica." Polyrhythms and dramatic percussion flourishes added a pulsing energy that rose to an apocalyptic climax at the end of “Prelude and Song of Dawn" the first of six verses (one instrumental).
Ms. Shelton sounded underpowered and sometimes struggled to navigate the wide leaps of the difficult and dramatic vocal line. The moods varied throughout the cycle, with gentle percussion and more mellow singing in “Nocturne and Love Song," the second verse. The army of percussionists produced fiercely agitated waves of sound to evoke the warriors of the third verse. “Song of Prophecy," the final stanza, concluded with a whisper.
Ms. Shelton was also the soloist in George Crumb's “Night Music I," a setting of “The Moon Rises" and “Gacela of the Terrible Presence," two poems by Federico Garcia Lorca. Their starkly contrasting moods are conveyed with chromatic instrumental writing and Sprechstimme vocal lines, which were effectively delivered by Ms. Shelton.
Mr. Crumb's “Vox Balaenae (Voice of the Whale)"was performed by Ivan Tan, pianist; Caitlin Bailey, cellist; and Meghan Shanley, flutist. Mr. Crumb, who was inspired by recordings of whale songs, stipulated that the performers should wear black half-masks to symbolize the impersonal and powerful forces of nature. In the opening “Vocalise (...for the beginning of time)," marked “wildly fantastic, grotesque," Ms. Shanley sang into her flute to produce surreal, eerie timbres. Mr. Crumb named the set of vividly colored variations after geological eras.
The program also included Ginastera's Guitar Sonata, whose witty intricacies and myriad sound effects were rendered with virtuosic flair by David Leisner. The work's four movements include a solemn prelude, a scherzo marked "il piu presto possibile" that quotes Wagner's “Meistersinger," a rhapsodic interlude and a spirited rondo that evokes the music of the Argentine pampas.