I ended my review
of this cycle of Isaac Albéniz’s piano works by insisting
that it was essential to have an easily available ‘complete’ edition
of this music. I looked forward to subsequent releases
and was confident that Guillermo González was the man to
realise this task. Although it has been more than eighteen
months since that last disc was issued, it is good to see
that neither Naxos nor González have let me down. Although
this present CD explores pieces that are relatively unknown
to recital goers who may happen on the odd work by Albéniz,
these are three hugely entertaining, eternally varying
and technically competent works. They are essential to
all lovers of Spanish music in particular, and nineteenth-century
piano music in general.
There is an interesting
balance on this particular CD between music that was quite
definitely written to fulfil a demand for salon music or
the recital room and that designed to satisfy the repertoire
needs of the composer’s pupils.
The Mazurkas de
Salón seems to reflect both of these requirements – having
been especially written for Albéniz's teaching work with
the daughters of the wealthy. The programme notes point
out that the sheet music covers of each of these mazurkas
shows a calling card with the corner turned down, and the
name of their dedicatee. These were, Isabel, Casilda, Aurora,
Sofia, Christa and Maria. As Noel Coward once said, “I
wonder what happened to them”? Yet there is nothing dry
or didactic about these mazurkas: they are not ‘teaching
pieces’ as such. I guess that his pupils must have been
at a reasonably high standard if they were able to play
them at all well. It is hardly surprising that they nod
to Chopin: anyone writing a mazurka must owe the great
Polish composer some debt. Yet, these are not pastiche
- Albéniz brings a freshness and an interest to these six
attractive dances that is wholly personal. The Mazurkas
were composed around 1885.
The 6 Pequeños Valses
to me. Perhaps the fact that I can battle my way through
a couple of them on the piano makes them particularly attractive!
They were composed when Albéniz was about twenty years
old and represent the “height of his romantic phase”. During
this period he “produced quantities of études, pavanes,
mazurkas, barcarolles and other salon pieces.” For these
he was paid five pesetas a page by his publisher Romero.
Waltzes’ look to Chopin, yet every so often shafts of Spanish
sunshine sparkle across the score. They are short but beautifully
structured pieces that do not stretch the pianist’s ability,
but certainly entertain the listener. They can be played
individually, but I guess that ideally they should be performed
as a group.
Perhaps the most
important work on this CD is the 6 Danzas españolas
. These are once again pieces that
are probably more suited to the salon than the recital
room. Yet with a big difference. It is in these pieces
that the first intimations of the composer’s fascination
with a genuine Spanish idiom were first revealed. Out
the pervading influence of Chopin and Schumann and in
the nationalistic dance forms and rhythms of Spain and
Cuba, which was a Spanish colony at that time.
The story of the
composer’s engagement with Spanish folk-music bears retelling.
In 1881 he went on a tour of Cuba, Mexico and Argentina.
He returned to Spain for a further gruelling series of
performances – in Aragon, Navarre and the Basque Country.
It was during this tour that he met the guitarist ‘El Lucena’.
This musician introduced Albéniz to the subtleties of Andalusian
guitar music. From this time onwards he began to use this
sound-scape in many, but not all of his compositions. It
was this “guitar-like strumming’ as re-interpreted for
the piano that was to inspire a number of French composers,
including Debussy and Ravel.
The 6 Danzas
quite involved from a technical and compositional perspective.
They are slightly less approachable than the other two
sets of pieces on this disc - yet they reveal their charms
and delights to anyone who is prepared to listen carefully
and perhaps hear them more than once. They were composed
some time between 1881 and 1887.
My only criticism
of this CD is the text size of the programme notes. As
reviewers and others get older and their eyesight becomes
correspondingly poorer it becomes more and more difficult
to read the tiny font sizes seemingly popular with graphic
artists. I accept the restriction on space and page sizes,
but what about having a link to a .pdf file on-line?
That being said
the content of these notes is excellent and any commentator
or reviewer of these works will rely heavily on them for
many years to come.
This is a great
CD that explores some impressive music that is technically
superb in both the sound quality and the performance. González
succeeds in making these pieces both moving and attractive.
I guess that if I were honest I would concede that these
works are in no way masterpieces of pianoforte literature:
Albéniz’s was his massive Iberia
suite. Yet what
these present works may lack in star quality, they make
up for in sheer enjoyment and technical accomplishment.