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Manuel de FALLA (1876-1946)
Piano Music
El Sombrero de tres picos (1919)
Homenaje ‘Le tombeau de Claude Debussy’ (1920)
Obras Españolas (1902-8)
Fantasia Bética (1919)
Homenaje ‘Pour le tombeau de Paul Dukas’ (1935)
Tres Obras de Juventud (1889)
El Amor brujo (1915)

Jean-François Heisser (piano)
Rec September 1989, Salle Adyar, Paris
APEX 2564 60157 2 [74.27]

It is often said, if rather unkindly, that the best Spanish music has been written by Frenchmen. While it is true that Bizet, Debussy and Ravel composed some of their most wonderful works with Spanish themes in mind, the Spanish composers themselves can be equally distinctive. Notable among these masters is Manuel de Falla, who spent some of the most important years of his career living in Paris, as some of the pieces collected here testify.

Although piano music played a less significant part in Falla’s life than it did for his great contemporaries, Granados and Albéniz, this intriguing CD compilation has many riches to offer. The list of repertoire reveals that the best known pieces on the programme are both transcriptions of great ballet scores: The Three-Cornered Hat and Love the Magician. On the other hand, the music is so strong that it retains its essential character in the composer’s own piano transcriptions. As well as the obvious priority of bringing the music to a wider public, Falla’s intentions were in the direction of clarity of tone and style. There is no question that both these pieces succeed on these terms. That this should be so relies a great deal, of course, on the clear-textured articulation of Jean-François Heisser’s playing, and to the clarity of the recorded sound (the original issue was by Erato). If anything, the somewhat dry acoustic favours Falla’s cause.

Commissioned by Artur Rubinstein and first performed in New York in 1920, the Fantasia Bética lays claim to the accolade of being Falla’s finest piano piece. In this magnificent, but most subtle, piece, the spirit of Spain achieves a universal expression. Bétique was the Roan name for Andalucia, hence the title. Within a single span lasting a quarter of an hour, the work contains a wide range of experience, demanding much of the pianist’s technique and more still of his imagination. At one extreme lies violent energy, at the other a dreamy idyll. In Heisser’s performance the former challenge scores particularly strongly, but but does find scope for the poetic aspect to emerge too.

The various Spanish pieces, complete with regional descriptions (including Cuba!), were dedicated to Albéniz, and they certainly sound more distinctively and deliberately Spanish than the remainder of this recital. The music is none the worse for that, of course, since this is an idiom that suits the piano admirably. The popular rhythms and tunes are eagerly communicated by Heisser, while the impressionistic subtleties (all the pieces end pp) emerge also

Precursors of this style are the Obras de Juventud (Three Pieces from my Youth), which Falla completed in 1889, some time before his mature personality developed. The piano writing is already assured, particularly since heisser affords the music due care and attention.

French influences lie behind the two ‘Hommage’ pieces, dedicated to fellow composers whom Falla knew and admired. Quoting from Debussy’s Spanish piano pieces in the Préludes, this Homenaje was originally written for the guitar, though Falla transferred it successfully enough to the piano. The Homenaje ‘Pour le tombeau de Paul Dukas’ is another deeply felt miniature, a sensitive tribute to a musician to whom Falla felt he owed so much.

With clear recorded sound and and dedicated performances, this Falla collection has much to commend it.

Terry Barfoot

see also review by Paul Shoesmith

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