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Manuel de FALLA (1876-1996)
The Complete Solo Piano Music

Nocturno (c.1896) [04:43]
Mazurka en do menor (c.1899) [95:53]
Serenata andaluza (c.1900) [05:03]
Canción (1900) [01:44]
Vals-Capricho (1900) [03:39]
Cortejo de gnomos (1901) [02:03]
Serenata (1901) [04:07]
Allegro de concierto (1903-4) [08:24]
4 Piezas españolas para piano (c.1906-1909) [15:50]
Fantasia Bética (1919) [13:30]
Homenaje pour le Tombeau de Claude Debussy (1920) [03:17]
Canto de los remeros del Volga (1922) [03:22]
Pour le Tombeau de Paul Dukas (1935) [03:02]
Miguel Baselga (piano)
rec. 5-7 August 1996, Danderyds Gymnasium, Sweden
BIS-CD-773 [77:30]
Pour le Tombeau de Paul Dukas was issued in 2006 as the work of Joyce Hatto on Concert Artist CACD 92742

A "Hatto original", but a minor one. "Pour le Tombeau de Paul Dukas" was popped in at the end of "Hatto’s" Dukas disc, where the actual Dukas works were played by Tor Espen Aspaas. That "Hatto original" has already been discussed by me.

The story is much as before. In the Hattified version the sound has been damped down a little and the piano spread out to disguise the acoustic. The time was stretched by a mere 5 seconds. Looking at some salient points along the way, at 0:29 "Hatto" is one second behind, at 1:27 she is still one second behind, at 2:26 she is four seconds behind and finishes, as I have said, five seconds behind. These differences might fool anyone trying to synchronize the two but don’t really affect our conception of the performance. An artist’s own performances are likely to vary more than five seconds from one to another without the actual interpretation changing noticeably. The different sound picture does alter the effect, though. Fortunately I am now saved from getting egg on my face, but if I had listened to one after another without knowing they were the same, I may not have suspected anything. I may have simply heard two similar and equally good performances. Listening specifically there are no lack of points to make me realize they are the same – I’m not questioning the identity of this one. Perhaps the point is that this austere, mainly chordal piece does not call for "interpretation" the way a Chopin Mazurka does and I wouldn’t expect another performance to sound all that different from this one.

Having dealt with the "Hatto" angle, I have to admit that I am probably not the best equipped of MusicWeb critics to deal with this CD, not because I don’t like de Falla but because I don’t know the music very well and don’t have any alternative versions. I do have fond memories of my piano teacher during my Edinburgh years, Colin Kingsley, playing the Fantasia Bética with enormous relish. Kingsley had been an orchestral pianist in his early years and when I once asked his advice on how to play a black-note glissando without tearing my fingers to pieces he told me that, under the cover of the orchestra pit, he used to whip a plastic comb out of his pocket to play the glissandos in de Falla’s ballet scores. He played them "properly" in recital, of course!

The most important competitor must surely be Alicia de Larrocha, but she plays only the mature works, adding the ballet transcriptions on her Decca version and some Montsalvatge on RCA. Heissier has more of the early works and also adds the ballet transcriptions, but I can’t see any alternative if you want the original piano music complete, and I certainly can’t imagine anyone being disappointed with these performances.

Miguel Baselga was born in Luxemburg of Spanish parents in 1966. He has been playing since the age of six and I was interested to see that he studied with Eduardo del Pueyo, a notable Spanish pianist who is virtually forgotten today. Baselga presented de Falla’s complete piano music in Madrid in 1996, on the occasion of the fiftieth anniversary of the composer’s death, having set it all down in the studio a few months earlier. Since then he has begun a complete Albeniz cycle for Bis which has now reached its fifth volume.

De Falla was a slow developer and the Four Spanish Pieces, written when he was in his early thirties and had moved to Paris to broaden his experience, may be considered the threshold of his maturity. Not all the earlier pieces were published and the self-critical composer did not wish them to be so, but in all truth he had nothing to be ashamed of. At least as Baselga plays them they have charm, droll humour - in The March of the Dwarfs – and frequent poignant touches which sound at least a little Spanish. The Canción begins like a spare Gymnopédie, though the Satie-like simplicity is slightly lost later. Less interesting than these, I’d say, is the more ambitious Allegro de concierto, not really the sort of piece de Falla was born to write.

The Four Spanish Pieces are extremely attractive and thoroughly Spanish. Here Baselga proves to be a true product of the Spanish school as handed down from Frank Marshall. No impressionistic washes of pedal, but every detail crisp and clear, the different melodic lines separately coloured and allowed to dialogue in easy counterpoint. The rhythms are by turns exhilarating and gently lilting, with a caressing rubato that never turns into distortion. In short, even though I haven’t heard de Larrocha in these pieces, Baselga seems to me close to the style I know from her recordings of Granados.

The Fantasia bética is de Falla’s one outright masterpiece for solo piano. Its extreme difficulty has maybe discouraged performances though it invariably brings the house down when it is heard. Baselga gives it all the flare it needs but without any obvious showing off. It is a very musical performance.

Pour le Tombeau de Claude Debussy was originally written for guitar. In his excellent notes, Andrés Ruiz Tarazona describes it as "a languid and misty habanera". Possibly he imagined a more impressionistic performance. Baselga keeps the textures as clean as a guitar would – that instrument has no sustaining pedal of course – and presents his view most convincingly.

The famous "Song of the Volga Boatmen" is subjected to some very original harmonies, reflecting de Falla’s gradual move towards Stravinskian austerity in his later years. Pour le Tombeau de Paul Dukas goes a stage further along this route though I have to confess to finding it the least interesting work here.

Altogether a most interesting and excellently recorded programme. Unless you prefer to have the ballet transcriptions – but the music sounds better still on the orchestra – this is the obvious disc for those wanting to get to know de Falla as a composer for the piano.

Christopher Howell



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