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Enrique GRANADOS (1867-1916)
Piano Music – Volume 6

Piezas sobre cantos populares españoles, DLR V:2.1-7 (1895)
El jardí d’Elisenda, DLR VI:2 (1912)
Parranda-Murcia, DLR I:4*
Pastoral, DLR III:12 (1910)*
Danza característica, DLR I:1
Sardana, DLR I:7 (1914)
Serenata, DLR III:20 (1893)*
Járcara, DLR II:1
Países soñados – Palacio encantado en el mar, DLR V:9 (1913)
Three Impromptus, DLR V:6.1-3
Douglas Riva, Piano
Recorded St. Martin’s Church, East Woodhay, Hampshire, November 2000
World Première Recordings*
NAXOS 8.555723 [62:48]


Our worst fears do not usually come true, but they struck Granados in a flash and ended his life. It all started when the American pianist Ernest Schelling persuaded Granados to convert his piano suite "Goyescas" into an opera and arranged for it to be premiered in New York. Although Granados was terrified of water and oceans, he and his wife sailed to New York City in 1916 to attend the premiere.

Granados had a fruitful stay in New York, performing concerts, making recordings, and even giving a recital at the White House. His journey back across the Atlantic went well, but the ship was torpedoed in the English Channel by a German submarine; both Granados and wife were killed. Fortunately, Granados still left us a wonderful legacy of music that revels in the Spanish folklore.

I have been a strong fan of Granados and Spanish piano music for many years, and there are three particular aspects that I find most compelling. First, the Spanish flourish is in a world of its own. Second, the passion for life is so rich and unfettered. Third, the music has what I refer to as the "Spanish rhythmic snap" which seems in-born to Spanish composers.

The leading representative of Spanish piano music for decades has been Alicia de Larrocha, to the point where all rivals are immediately compared to her and usually found lacking. What makes de Larrocha’s performances so commanding? Needless to say, she is steeped in the Spanish musical idiom. No other artist conveys the pure exuberance of the music as completely as de Larrocha, and the architectural sweep and fluidity she offers also have no peers. Most important, she transports the listener to her homeland.

Douglas Riva knows and has worked with de Larrocha. However, he is not some carbon-copy of her style. Riva tends to employ slower tempos and a relatively introspective presentation of Granados’s piano music. At the same time, he does an exceptional job of giving us the desired rhythmic snap and sweep, albeit in a more private manner. As de Larrocha conveys the wonders of the world, Riva probes its mysteries. He gives Granados a little of the Scriabinesque flavor concerning inward projection. Another distinctive attraction is that Riva is drawn in to the sensuous elements of Granados’s music to a much greater extent than de Larrocha. If pressed to choose, I would opt for de Larrocha, but Riva offers a valid and highly rewarding alternative which is particularly effective in those Granados works with emotional depth (e.g. "Goyescas").

Riva’s splendid traversal of the solo piano music has now reached its 6th volume, and it would be reasonable to show a little skepticism that there is still highly inspired music to uncover. With little exception, the Naxos game plan has been to program the most popular Granados works in the earliest volumes, essentially a ‘hit them with your best shot’ approach. Fortunately, I can report with confidence that Volume 6 is a winning release by any reasonable measure.

It opens with its most substantial work, the Seven Pieces based on Spanish Folk-Lore. These are delightful and evocative creations displaying varied moods and architecture. The 1st piece, "Preludio", gives us enticing guitar-type arpeggios and sultry passages which find Riva seducing us more effectively than in any other recorded performance. "Añoranza" conveys life’s urges with a hectic introduction followed by a demonstrative stretching of emotions. The 3rd piece, "Ecos de la Parranda" mixes playfully delicate passages, strong rhetoric, and a swaying/pulsating rhythm into a delectable and uplifting aural experience. "Vascongada" comes next and has a joyful and exuberant first subject taken over by a more restrained and contemplative second subject; I find this highly contrasted piece irresistible, and continued listening keeps increasing my enjoyment.

The 5th piece, "Marcha oriental", doesn’t indicate that Granados had the slightest knowledge of oriental music, but it is still a pure pleasure to experience. I’m always attracted to music that easily depicts superficial heroes swaggering about town all full of themselves. Add in a lovely second subject, and the result is compelling music-making.

The last piece, "Zambra", refers to a tap dance and is extremely vigorous music with mixed rhythms enhancing the excitement factor; I can’t imagine anyone being able to stay still while listening.

Each of the world premiere works is under two minutes in length, but it is good that they are now in the record catalogue. "Parranda-Murcia" is a catchy dance tune, and "Pastoral" is lovely and adoring music that is guaranteed to lift one’s spirits. Granados wrote "Serenata" as a gift for his wife, and the piece flows like silk and conveys a joyful glow. After listening, I have to assume that Granados had a wonderful life-mate.

"El jardí d’Elisenda" is an arrangement made by Granados of the first movement of his suite "Elisenda" scored for chamber orchestra, piano, harp, and soprano. This piece is a sparkling ballade conveying Elisenda’s various feelings as she gazes over her garden. At times comforting, at times sad, it is a lovely and ideal companion for late night contemplation. Riva’s performance is exceptional as he ushers listeners into the sumptuous garden retreat; he clearly loves this music, and its inward nature meshes beautifully with his general approach to Granados.

"Sardana" has a stunning first section which reminds me of a Bach fugue in its fine blend of architectural rigor and expressive freedom. Also, being intimate with dozens of Bach piano recordings, I have no doubt that Riva is a ‘natural’ for Bach as well as Granados.

The work "Jácara" has one of the basic themes in "Goyescas" and is thought to likely be a study for the masterpiece. In any event, the music is mesmerizing and ever so subtle in its messages.

Granados set out to compose a collection of pieces titled "Países soñados" which translates into ‘Dream Lands’. However, he wrote only the first piece which revolves around an enchanted palace in the sea. The music is quite atmospheric and evocative of the surging ocean and the desolation it can summon.

The Three Impromptus are undated, and each is highly contrasted from the others. The 1st Impromptu took me by surprise the first time I heard it a few years ago. First, it is quite modernistic for Granados and carries a large dose of Scriabinesque attitude and style. Second, Bachian phrasing is prevalent throughout. Third, the sense of improvisation is strong. Of course, the Granados stamp of sparkle and fluidity is always present. I love the music of these three composers, so the A minor is receiving much playing time. The 2nd Impromptu has a delectable mix of legato and staccato phrasing, while the 3rd Impromptu is gorgeous and one of the most emotionally rich pieces on the program.

The least rewarding work on the program is the "Danza característica". Although the piece has a highly atmospheric and mysterious opening based on descending patterns, the music never goes anywhere as these patterns reappear much too often and retard thematic development. Five minutes of music demands much more from a superb composer.

As for aural considerations, the sound is slightly veiled but meets current-day specifications in all other respects. It also has a rich quality, which blends very well with the excellent detail offered by Riva. I’d estimate that only audiophiles would complain about the sound characteristics.

Volume 6 is a fine addition to Douglas Riva’s Naxos cycle of the Granados piano works. I recommend the disc and the entire series to all those who love the piano and superb artistry from both composer and performer. However, do not gravitate toward Granados if you are looking for the emotional extremes and incisiveness of a Mahler or Shostakovich. Granados takes the brighter path and basks in the glow of his heritage; his music is life affirming and immensely satisfying.

Don Satz

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