It is often said that composers go in pairs, we tend to put Albeniz and Granados
together. It's good though that here we have a CD where Granados, the less
prolific of the pair by a long way, has a recording of orchestral music to
himself, although some of it was orchestrated by a later hand.
If you thought, as I did, that Enrique Granados was not much more than a
salon composer of attractive piano pieces and their guitar arrangements and
of attractive, nationalistic songs, then this CD may make you think again.
The symphonic poem 'Dante' composed between 1907-8 is a 30-minute
work for large orchestra and in two movements, with a mezzo-soprano in the
second movement. It is a setting of Canto V from Dante's 'Divina
Commedia' sung in Italian. Incidentally the translation given in the
booklet is, quite rightly and mercifully, anonymous. The work is in a rather
Wagnerian mode. In fact the last few minutes of the score definitely brought
to mind 'Tristan' with its upwards searching sixth and falling
chromaticisms. There is nothing remotely Spanish about this music, and if
you like Granados's music primarily because of his ability to evoke the Spanish
culture and landscape then this work is not for you. The symphonic poem takes
as its first movement, 'Dante e Virgilio', their meetings and no doubt
their philosophical discourse as they travel. The second movement, which
tells the tragic true story of the illicit lovers' 'Paolo e Francesca'
(as in Canto V), gives the composer a chance to write passionate love music,
hence the reminders of Tristan. Francesca has an affair with her deformed
husband's brother, they are discovered and he murders them both. Francesca
is one of the most beautifully painted women in literature and Granados tries
his best, but he is no Wagner. The piece is an interesting curiosity but
it may be with relief that you move to more familiar waters.
The 'Cinco Piezas' has been arranged and orchestrated by Anselm
Ferrer (1882-1969). Five out of a set of seven were chosen. The mood is set
with titles like 'Zambra' and 'Mel de la Alcarria'. This latter
piece has reminders of de Falla and possibly 'The Three Cornered Hat'.
All of the pieces are quite charming and the set lasts almost 25 minutes.
From Granados's last masterpiece 'Goyescas' of 1916, come the
remaining pieces. The doleful and enigmatic 'La Maja y el Ruisenor'
for soprano (the characterful Frances Lucey) and orchestra. The booklet provides
the text and translation. The Intermezzo, written at the last minute to cover
a scene change, is a wonderful evocation and probably one of the single most
famous parts of Goyescas.
Adrian Leaper is a remarkable conductor with ability and a will to take on
unusual repertoire and to record it with great success. Looking through my
own CD collection I found him in a wide variety of music, so what an intelligent
move by the Orchestra Filarmonica de Gran Canaria in November 1997 to appoint
him as their musical director. For ASV he has recorded music by Obradors
and Rodo; you can find him in Dvorak, and Sibelius, and he has recorded in
the early 90s for Naxos.
His direction is exemplary and obviously the Spanish air is having an effect.
He tweaks out of the music every nuance of characteristic expression and
is blest here by two perfectly idiomatic singers; indeed Nancy Fabiola Herrera
was raised in the Canary Islands. She has the ideal darkly hewn quality coupled
with clarity of text delivery, which matches the purity of the orchestral
The booklet notes in three languages are typical of ASV. They never go into
too much technical detail but give you biography and basic background. You
may be happy with that, but with the repertoire they often produce, I often
feel thirsty for more information. Personally I would like more on the music
and slightly less on the performers and the orchestra. Their biographies
take up more space than the music commentary and I have to say, sorry, but
that is not quite the right balance. But I fear that the performers themselves
would not agree.