Naxos has become the largest classical music label in the world, as well as the largest distributor of other classical music labels. Rather than coast along on tried and true titles, the label has been adventurous, recording little known works of all periods. Contemporary music is no exception, and with catalog number 8.573298, they’ ve added to the discography of Leonardo Balada, a Barcelona born composer who has lived in Pittsburgh, PA since 1970, where he teaches at Carnegie Mellon University. His most famous composition, Steel Symphony, receives just its second recording here with Jesus Lopez-Cobos conducting the Barcelona Symphony. In this piece, Balada used his romantic avant-gard style to convey musical impressions of the Pittsburgh steel mills. Lopez-Cobos leads a dramatic and taut performance that I prefer to Maazel.
Steel Symphony was written in 1972, The other works on the disc are of the 21st century, the Symphony No. 6 “Symphony of Sorrows,” (2005) and the Concerto for Three Cellos and Orchestra ‘a German Concerto’ (2006). The sixth symphony, also conducted by Lopez-Cobos, is “Dedicated to the Innocent Victims of the Spanish Civil War,” and moves from craggy dissonance at its beginning to something like consonance and melody near the end. It’s a very powerful composition that gains stature with every repeated listening. The concerto is a virtuoso odyssey for the three cellists, who must command every register of the instrument with ease. Hans-Jakob Eschenburg, Michael Sanderling, and Wolfgang Emanuel Schmidt are the able soloists and for this piece Elvind Gullberg Jensen conducts the Berlin Radio Symphony. All of the recordings are excellent yet have different perspectives, the symphonies being up close and resonant and the concerto more distant.