Former Annapolis conductor proves her mastery of Latin American style

`Colorful' first recording done of Mexican piece

August 19, 1999|By Phil Greenfield | Phil Greenfield,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

The recording studio continues to be a hospitable setting for the talents of Gisele Ben-Dor, whose six-year stint at the helm of the Annapolis Symphony ended in spring 1997.

Ben-Dor, who maintains a bi-coastal career with the Santa Barbara (Calif.) Symphony and the Pro Arte Chamber Orchestra of Boston, began her recording career auspiciously in 1995 with a well-received anthology devoted to the music of Hungarian Bela Bartok issued on the Centaur label.

Her second disc, also released in 1995, was devoted to the works of Argentine composer Alberto Ginastera. With the London Symphony and Israel Chamber Orchestra in tow, Ben-Dor, Uruguayan by birth, demonstrated her affinity for the Latin style in feisty, expertly colored accounts of Ginastera's "Glosses on Themes of Pablo Casals" and "Varaciones Concertantes."

Now come two more additions to the Ben-Dor discography, both worthy entries to the classical catalog, especially for ASO fans wishing to keep tabs on the Annapolis alumna as she ascends the slippery ranks of her profession.

Ben-Dor's new recording for Koch International, the first-ever of Mexican Silvestre Revueltas' ballet suite "La Coronella," reaffirms her mastery of the Latin American idiom.

Revueltas (1899-1940) was a Mexican nationalist and political revolutionary whose highly original compositions take sounds from Mexico's folk culture and refashion them for the concert hall.

Folklorist and anti-bourgeois sentiments play out strongly in "La Coronella" (The Lady Colonel), a story of social upheaval inspired by a series of skeletal engravings crafted by Mexican artist Jose Guadalupe Posada. "Danse Macabre," say hello to "The Communist Manifesto."

It's wonderfully bizarre and colorful stuff, complete with intense changes of meter, mariachi-like trumpets, and elegant waltzes that deconstruct before your eyes and ears.

Ben-Dor's account is a white-knuckle ride through the score. Her command of the various Mexican idioms infused into the suite sounds plenty authentic to me, with atmosphere and hot-blooded brio lurking around every bend in the score.

Her Santa Barbara Orchestra is impressive in both the ballet and in "Itinerarios," a 9-minute lament spotlighting the plaintive sounds of a solo saxophone. The California brass are first-rate, and while the strings could be weightier and the solo oboe less nasal, the overwhelming impression is of a talented orchestra playing its collective heart out.

Ben-Dor's second offering, cryptically (read: "meaninglessly") titled "American Journeys," comes from Jupiter Recordings and gives us works of Franz Liszt and Ferrucio Busoni arranged for orchestra by John Adams, plus a pair of concertos by David Ott.

ASO aficionados might recall Ott's superb Concerto for Two Cellos, which was given a crackerjack reading at Maryland Hall in April 1993 by Ben-Dor and the pair of National Symphony cellists for whom the piece was written.

In this program, we get Ott's 2nd Piano Concerto, performed by pianist Frederick Moyer. The concerto begins with a snappy cadenza a la the Grieg A-minor, and proceeds through to a jazzy, altogether ripping conclusion. Its solo interludes can be episodic but, on the whole, it's an attractive work well worth hearing.

So is Ott's concerto for the dusky, evocative alto flute ably played by flutist Christine Mitchell Smith.

John Adams' orchestration of "The Black Gondola," a slow, moody, exceptionally beautiful piano piece by Liszt, is the more memorable of his two transcriptions.

This time around, Ben-Dor conducts the London Symphony Orchestra, which is caught in terrific sound by the Jupiter engineers.

Santa Barbara may have better weather and restaurants -- but when it's time to rent an orchestra, London is the place to go.

Pub Date: 8/19/99

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