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CD Review

New Energy from the Americas

Music by Alonso-Crespo & Galbraith

  • Eduardo Alonso-Crespo:
  • Overture, Juana la loca
  • Overture, Yubarta
  • Ballet music, Juana la loca
  • Mephisto waltz from Putzi
  • Nancy Galbraith: Piano Concerto #1 *
Cincinnati Chamber Orchestra/Eduardo Alonso-Crespo
* Cincinnati Chamber Orchestra/Keith Lockhart
Ocean Records OR101
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These intriguing pieces by Argentinian Eduardo Alonso-Crespo and Pittsburg native Nancy Galbraith have frenetic and languid moments, not many of them dull. The composers are too busily experimenting with new effects. While not always successful, they have produced a strikingly listenable CD.

Alonso-Crepso's two operatic overtures – one from his Juana la Loca, the other from Yubarta-show his festive and contemplative sides. The overture to Juana la Loca (Joan the Mad, a 17th century Spanish queen) introduces a driving, repetitive melody, almost minimalist in its insistence. The composer changes tempos abruptly, the way a mentally disturbed person shifts moods. He returns to the melody several times and sometimes varies it. A riveting piece, it accomplishes what all good overtures set out to do: it whet my appetite for the entire opera (which is, alas, currently unrecorded.) A second piece from this opera, Ballet Music, shows Alonso-Crepso's skill at evoking Spanish-American dance. Through a repetitive, intoxicating melodic line, it creates a stirring image of the young couple meeting with natives from the New World. The last piece, Mephisto, a waltz from the comic opera Putzi, is less successful. Putzi was Franz Liszt's childhood nickname and the opera is based on a fanciful tale in which Liszt tries to convince the devil to save his lover. Unfortunately, apart from the opening quote from the Liszt's own Mephisto Waltz, this piece is musically sparse and tedious. Perhaps the waltz bars should have been composed or played satirically. As conductor, Alonso-Crepso plods through this piece like an antique Strauss waltz. A little humor would have helped, perhaps a sly infusion from the spirit of young reprobate Liszt.

Yubarta is an opera about a whale who interacts with a girl through her dreams. The serene overture produces images of sea creatures lolling in a calm bay and uses subtle crescendos that suggest waves breaking. It is a pleasant (although unchallenging) piece.

Nancy Galbraith's Piano Concerto #1 begins with a tranquil introduction, but soon the piano intrudes with a rude boogie-woogie rhythm. In this dazzling showcase piece, the piano plays a highly percussive role, as it does in Béla Bartók's Piano Concerto #2. As tympani pepper the rhythm, the winds banter the melody with the piano, adeptly played by Ralph Sitterbart. Galbraith impressively stitches together the three movements' haunting and driving themes. As II begins, it echoes the placid moments of Carlos Chavez symphonies, perhaps even those of Sylvestre Revueltas' La noche de los Mayas. Yet the ensuing lyrical interlude becomes too idyllic. It turns smooth and featureless, like arctic gray after tropical red. It could have used more edge: some sardonic or dissonant bars, a few unsettling tremolos, any device to set it apart from the more spectacular I and III. The third movement, although slightly too long, is stirring, raucous, jazzy, even meditative. It ends with an impressive tutti. Although not a Latina, Ms. Galbraith clearly understands the flashy color palette Latin American composers often use. She's composed other orchestral works with intriguing titles like Danza de los Duendes and Tormenta del Sur. I hope Ocean Records releases more editions of these two composers' works.

Copyright © 1998, Peter Bates