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Tomás BRETÓN (1850-1923)
Piano Trio in E major (1887) [34:42]
Cuatro piezas españolas (1913) [18:44]
LOM Piano Trio (Joan Orpella (violin); José Mor (cello); Daniel Ligorio (piano))
rec. Auditorium Paper de Música, Capellades, Barcelona, November 2006 (Cuatro piezas) and April 2007 (Trio)
NAXOS 8.570713 [53:26]
Experience Classicsonline

Bretón became Orchestral Director of the Teatro Real in Madrid, shortly before his compatriot Enrique Fernández Arbós became conductor of the Madrid Symphony Orchestra. Not long after Bretón became Professor of Composition at the Conservatoire and its Principal soon after that. Meanwhile Arbós performed Bretón’s music as much as he was able and even recorded Polo gitano and En la Alhambra five years after the older man’s death. Both men were active in the propagation of Spanish music, though in his time Bretón was criticised for writing what was deemed to be insufficiently ‘Spanish’ music.

His 1887 Piano Trio was written when he was thirty-seven. It has a certain Mendelssohnian lightness throughout. The Spanish qualities that are announced in the footnotes sound to me rather muted – or so well integrated into the fabric of the writing as to be absorbed into the mid century bloodstream. A reference point is probably Schumann or Mendelssohn’s Op.66 trio - rather more than the Op.47 but both are relevant precursors to Bretón’s work. The themes are deft and buoyant, sometimes memorably so, with the piano maintaining a primus inter pares role throughout. Perhaps the Spanish elements are most audible in the second movement where the vivacity of the rhythm and dance themes is idiomatic. In the third movement the very Mendelssohnian piano chording is ripe and fulsome, the stirring chorale-like theme definitely reminiscent of the Op.66 trio. The frolicsome finale seals a good performance of a work that should be given a hearing from time to time. A previous recording on Marco Polo 8.223745 by members of the New Budapest Quartet and pianist György Oravecz was rather more tensile and hard driven than this one – and was coupled with the composer’s String Quartet in D major.

The coupling for this Naxos is altogether different – the Cuatro piezas españolas of 1913. These are rather more characteristic and fragrant Iberian pieces; Danza Oriental, Scherzo Andaluz, Bolero and Polo Gitano – the very same piece that Arbós recorded in its orchestrated guise. Many years later Argenta recorded it and the Bolero for LP. The first sways gently and evocatively in the breeze whilst the allure of the second lies in its vibrant violin lines and the vigour of its conception. The Bolero is light hearted and great fun. If one thinks of Bretón’s music it’s probably these Four Pieces, rather than the Trio, that will strike the more resonant chord for their sure if sometimes light Spanish imagery.

The sleeve-notes are perhaps a little parsimonious. As for the performances they’re not quite infallible but they are energetic and generous, as well as being sensitively shaped and very well recorded. I enjoyed them very much, as I did this wholesome and much needed addition to the small Bretón discography.

Jonathan Woolf


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