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Concerto for Strings, Op. 33

About the Work

Quick Look Composer: Alberto Ginastera
© Richard Freed
The Concerto per corde (Concerto for Strings), composed in Berlin in 1965, is actually Ginastera's adaptation for string orchestra of four of the five movements of his String Quartet No. 2, which was introduced in Washington seven years earlier, at the First Inter-American Music Festival. The Concerto, commissioned by the Instituto Nacional de Cultura y Bellas Artes de Venezuela for a similar event, was given its first performance at an Inter-American Festival in Caracas on May 14, 1966, by the Philadelphia Orchestra under Eugene Ormandy. The work enters the repertory of the National Symphony Orchestra in the present concerts.

The scoring is for full orchestral strings, with solo passages for the five principal players. Duration, 23 minutes.

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Ginastera and his music enjoyed an especially warm welcome in Washington during the composer's lifetime. Several of his works were given their premieres here, among them his opera Bomarzo, which was performed and recorded in 1967 by the Opera Society of Washington (as the Washington National Opera was called back then), which company subsequently commissioned Beatrix Cenci specifically for presentation as the first opera performed in the Kennedy Center Opera House (September 10, 1971, conducted by Julius Rudel, who was then music director of the Kennedy Center and who had presided over the premiere and recording of Bomarzo as well). Over the years various other Ginastera works were commissioned and/or introduced by Washington organizations, and two years before his death the composer made his last visit here to take part in a program of his works in the Kennedy Center's Terrace Theater. Three years earlier he had been present for concerts of the National Symphony Orchestra in which Mstislav Rostropovich conducted the premiere of the final version of the Glosses for Orchestra (on themes by Pau Casals) and the Cello Concerto No. 1. The composer's wife, the cellist Aurora Natola, was the soloist in those concerts, and returned in October 1991, in observance of the 75th anniversary of her husband's birth, to perform (again with Mr. Rostropovich conducting) the Second Cello Concerto, a work her husband had composed for her. The Concerto per corde has waited some sixty years for its first National Symphony Orchestra performances, although the music itself, in a somewhat different form, was actually introduced in Washington as early as 1958.

In adapting portions of his Second String Quartet as a work for string orchestra, Ginastera did not simply expand the respective parts, but rethought the material in the specific terms of the larger ensemble. It has been said that in creating the Concerto for Strings he was actually realizing the true potential of the best parts of the earlier work. In any event, it should be noted that he not only dispensed with the original first movement, but reversed the order of the three that followed it (the Quartet's second, third and fourth movements became movements 3, 2 and 1, respectively, in the Concerto), allowing only the Finale furioso to retain its original position. He also made certain additions and deletions within the respective movements.

The opening movement is headed Variazioni per I solisti. The hymnlike theme is introduced by the concerftmaster and then subjected to a series of four variations: the first for solo cello, the second for the principal second violin, the third for viola, and the last for double bass. The orchestral accompaniment varies with the character of the respective variations, and all the solo parts are especially striking for the use of quarter-tones.

The Scherzo fantastico is well defined by its title: it is a highly virtuosic scherzo in which virtually every effect known to stringed instruments is imaginatively exploited. Two broadly contrasting trios are fitted within the movement's concise proportions, the second prefiguring the urgent character of the work's following section.

The slow movement is a dramatically expressive Adagio angoscioso, opening in a gentle, lyric vein, building to an impassioned outburst marked Il più; fortissimo possible ("As strong a fortissimo as possible"), and then just as dramatically fading away to a final bar marked simply Niente ("Nothing").

A certain folkish element insinuates itself in the feverishly energetic Finale furioso, in which the chief interest is the rhythm, hopping nervously—and at times within a single bar—between 3/4 and 6/8. There is a contrasting middle section in 2/4, and then the original frenetic alternation of 3/4 and 6/8 resumes. By way of coda there is a twelve-bar crescendo marked Sforzatissimo ("most heavily accented, effortful," or, more freely, "stressed to the max"), rising to an almost unbearable peak of intensity as well as sheer volume.