I love the music on this CD. It is a fine introduction
to the great corpus of Spanish pianoforte music. Of course most
enthusiasts of this genre will probably count the recordings of
Alicia de Larrocha as being almost definitive. However
I have been well impressed by the playing of the present pianist,
Ana Benavides. She was born in Spain at Malaga and studied the
piano in Madrid, Vienna and the Royal College of Music in London.
She has gained a fine collection of musical awards and specialises
in the interpretation of Spanish music. This expertise and enthusiasm
is well to the fore in this CD.
The first offerings are the Four Spanish Dances
by Manuel de Falla. Perhaps the easiest way to describe these
gorgeous pieces is to suggest that they are like the music of
Chopin but written with Spanish themes and nuances. They date
from between 1906 and 1908 when de Falla was in his early thirties.
There are four numbers here: Aragonesa, Cubana,
Montanesa and Andaluza. The composer tries to set
out the 'atmosphere and soul' of each of these regions. He actually
attempts to mimic the rhythms, scales, ornamentation and passion
of each district. These are played with great subtlety by Benavides.
Each movement is a complex of light and shade, movement and repose.
The four pieces deserve to be in the main pianistic repertoire.
I have never heard any music by Xavier Montsalvatge
before listening to this CD. And I confess it is an omission,
though I doubt I am the only person in this situation! Montsalvatge
was born in Girona in 1912 and died only last year (2002). His
output covers most of the standard genres, including symphonies,
concerti, ballets, film music and operas. His opus list is reputed
to number some 150 works. Having not heard any other work than
this sonatina, I am not in a position to comment on his
musical development. However, a brief review of the literature
suggests that his style has evolved over the years. He was much
influenced by 'Les Six' and Maurice Ravel. He was later impressed
by the developments of music in the Spanish-speaking regions of
the Caribbean and Latin America. Finally he explored the possibilities
of serialism and atonalism. However, he seems to have managed
to fuse a variety of styles with his own unique musical personality.
Much of his life was spent in Barcelona; he travelled extensively
and has had his music performed in many countries. The Sonatine
pour Ivette is dedicated to the pianist Gonzalo Soriano. The
composer suggested that he was responding to the desire to produce
'youthful and agile music'. He claims that his daughter was the
source of inspiration for this piece. However, it is a work that
is too complex and profound to be a 'mere' sonatine! It is also
not musically childlike. Everything about this work suggests a
profound craftsmanship and considerable understanding of pianistic
writing and musical construction.
This is not the place to consider the life, times
and pianistic achievement of Enrique Granados. Save to mention
that he is perhaps best known for his Goysecas - at least
by enthusiasts for piano music. Besides, Naxos are currently issuing
what appears to be the complete works for pianoforte. No doubt
reviewers will assess the vast amount of keyboard music written
by Granados, as good, bad and indifferent. It is important, however,
to realise that Granados wrote a few major masterpieces for the
piano and also a vast amount of what would now be regarded as
'salon' music. The Valses poeticos were composed between
1893 and 1894. They were dedicated to Joaquin Malats, a personal
friend of the composer. This set of 'valses' was one of Granados’s
earlier piano works. It derives from the classic, Northern European
form as opposed to his later nationalistic compositions, such
as his Spanish Dances. Here they are beautifully played,
with all the poetical imagery expected from such a work. Perhaps
one of the few problems with this recording is the fact that the
seven pieces are presented as one track. So really the listener
has to take these at a sitting. Yet this is correct. It is a set
and does not need or deserve to be excerpted. There is a unity
about these movements that makes them extremely satisfying. Perhaps
these are salon pieces? However they are constructed with such
exquisite craftsmanship that the distinction hardly matters. For
completeness sake I give the listing of these seven 'valses.'
Vivace poeticos, Tempo de vals noble, Tempo de
vals lento, Allegro humoristico, Allegretto,
Sentimental and Presto.
Eduardo Ocon is a closed book to me. Yet we are
told that he was the father of Spanish Nationalism in music. He
was born in 1833 and died in 1901. He was the precursor of de
Falla, Albeniz and Granados. Ocon wrote much for the piano (I
understand that Ana Benavides will record his complete piano works
on Naxos) and this music was inspired by his German born wife,
the pianist Ida Borchardt. The easiest way to describe this music
is to liken it to the 'Spanish' offerings of Glinka and Bizet.
These two composers, like Ocon, were inspired by Spanish dances
including the Bolero and the Fandango. This is attractive music
that demands to be heard. The tempo shifts and the subtle light
and shade all help to make this a fascinating work. In Ana Benavides
this composer has a fine champion. I look forward to the Naxos
This is a great CD full of attractive music that
is well written and well played. I appreciated the clear sound
quality. My only complaint is the lack of programme notes in the
CD insert. As these are not well known pieces it would have helped
to have some details. I really do want to know more
about these fascinating and interesting works and lesser-known
composers such as Montsalvatge and Ocon!