Composers: Ginastera
Compositions: Harp Concerto, Variaciones Concertantes
Performers: Sidsel Walstad h, Norwegian Radio Orchestra/Miguel Harth-Bedoya
Catalogue Number: LAWO LWC1182

The harp concerto by Argentinian composer Alberto Ginastera (1916-1983) is probably the most popular and challenging of all 20th-century concertos. Regularly programmed (particularly in competitions) and regularly recorded, the concerto is a tough one to master. Like his teacher Aaron Copland, Ginastera investigated traditional folk tunes and rhythms before adapting them into a more personal style, which is often highly rhythmic, absorbing in particular elements of the malambo, a gaucho dance involving much heel-stomping. This rhythm features in both the concerto and the orchestral variations heard here.

Ginastera was revolutionary in his use of the harp, creating percussive rhythms on the instrument itself, with much virtuoso pedal work, and most importantly, bringing out the similarities between the harp and Argentina’s national instrument, the guitar. In both works it is easy to sense the incorporation of the open strings of the guitar. And both the concerto and the Variaciones Concertantes are highly impassioned works, which require a great deal of stamina as well as virtuosity.

The soloist in this recording, Sidsel Walstad, compares the work to ‘climbing a mountain’ in the liner notes and whilst she makes it to the summit, she is rather too cautious in her performance. Tentative is perhaps the best way to describe it, particularly when there are quite a few alternatives available where the soloist is more assertive and rhythmic in approach. I would look to Zabaleta (DG – an early champion of the work), Nancy Allen (ASV) or Alice Giles on ABC Classic.

Strangely her performance in two of the movements in the Variaciones is much more impassioned and concertante in effect – for many of these are written in rather beautiful and elegiac canons and scherzi. Perhaps Walstad is a better chamber musician or there is a problem with the placement of the recording mikes; for the Variaciones here can stand up confidently with others in the field.