Leonardo Balada – a unique compositional voice

Leonardo Balada is a Catalan-American composer who blends elements both from his native and his adopted countries in a fascinating way.

This release features two of his symphonies, as well as a concerto for three cellos. All have Balada’s highly idiosyncratic style, which can take a little getting used to. Like other post-modern composers, Balada’s comfortable mixing compositional elements rather than choosing to stick with one school or the other.

Symphony No. 6, “Symphony of Sorrows” (2005) is a good example of this. Finished in 2005, the work has elements that remind me Lutoslowski, with a dash of Varese and a healthy dose of Catalan folk music thrown in. The composition moves freely from clearly tonal to nearly-atonal sections. And yet it all works. Balada knows exactly where he’s going and how he’s going to get there.

The same is true of his Steel Symphony (1975) written 30 years earlier. It starts with an orchestra apparently tuning up (at first I thought it was a live recording). But it’s really order rising out of chaos. “Steel” is indeed the word for this work. The brass instruments have a hard edge to their sound. The strings, when playing pizzicato, have a brittle ensemble sound, and the work overall conveys the concept of hard metal.

The 2006 Concerto for Three Cellos falls somewhere between those two extremes. The tonal sections aren’t quite as accessible as those of the Sixth Symphony, yet the atonal passages aren’t as harsh as they are in the Steel Symphony. In one section Balada has the three solo cellos playing in the upper extreme of their registers, creating a delicate, ethereal and almost ghostly sound.

Although I cite composers that Balada reminds me of, in no way is his music derivative. It’s just the only way I can find to describe his music. So if you like Lutoslawski, Martinu, Gorecki, Stravinsky, Varese, or Ginastera (or at least elements thereof), you should definitely give Balada a listen.

Leonardo Balada: Symphony No. 6 “Sympony of Sorrows;” Concerto for Three Cellos “A German Concerto;” Steel Symphony
Hans-Jakob Eschenburg, Michael Sanderling, Wolfgang Emanuel Schmidt, cellos; Galacia Symphony Orchestra; Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra; Eivind Gullberg Jensen, conductor; Barcelona Symphony Orchestra; Jesus Lopez-Cobos, conductor
Naxos 8.573298

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