Salvador Mas

Leonardo Balada: Guernica; Symphony No. 4; Zapata

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Catalan composer Leonardo Balada long ago passed through the flame of mid-century serialism to find his own voice in a style that combines folk elements, traditional impressions, and nontraditional scoring. Naxos has elected to record a number of Balada's works, and this disc serves as an outstanding introduction to Balada's overall work.

Guernica (1966) is reminiscent of the early style of Penderecki, Lutoslawski, and, to a lesser degree, Varèse in his handling of percussion and other effectual media. Homage to Sarasate and Homage to Casals (both 1975) are based on models, Pablo de Sarasate's Zapateado in the former case and Pablo Casals' El cant des ocells in the latter. Both pieces are submitted to considerable fragmentation and combination in a collage-like approach; in the second piece more of the folksy original is retained, and for Balada this was the beginning of a new direction in his music.

The Symphony No. 4 "Lausanne" (1992), based on Swiss tunes and written for the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, is the most elusive and abstract-sounding music on the disc. But Zapata: Images for Orchestra(1988) blends a Mahler-like texture with surreal interruptions from fragments of La Cucaracha and concludes with a wild send-up of the Jarabe Tapatío (or, as gringos know it, the "Mexican Hat Dance").

Naxos is to be congratulated for concentrating with such comprehension on behalf of Balada; this is superb contemporary music that does not leave its listeners behind and is rich with orchestral color, novel ideas, and even some humor (though not so in Guernica). The performance by the Barcelona Symphony, National Orchestra of Catalonia, and conductor Salvador Mas Conde discloses Balada's scores in all their detail, and Naxos' recording is to its usual standard of "excellent, if a little quiet."

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