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  Founder: Len Mullenger
Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

Musica española para piano
Manuel de Falla (1876-1946) Piezas Espanolas: Aragonesa, Cubana, Montanesa and Andaluza
Xavier Montsalvatge (1912-2002) Sonatine pour Ivette
Enrique Granados (1867-1916) Valses Poeticos
Eduardo OcÓn (1833-1901) Rapsodie Andalouse
Ana Benavides, piano
Recording date not given
ANACRUSI PRODUCTIONS AC 014 [51.51]

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I love the music on this CD. It is a fine introduction to the great corpus of Spanish pianoforte music. Of course most enthusiasts of this genre will probably count the recordings of Alicia de Larrocha as being almost definitive. However I have been well impressed by the playing of the present pianist, Ana Benavides. She was born in Spain at Malaga and studied the piano in Madrid, Vienna and the Royal College of Music in London. She has gained a fine collection of musical awards and specialises in the interpretation of Spanish music. This expertise and enthusiasm is well to the fore in this CD.

The first offerings are the Four Spanish Dances by Manuel de Falla. Perhaps the easiest way to describe these gorgeous pieces is to suggest that they are like the music of Chopin but written with Spanish themes and nuances. They date from between 1906 and 1908 when de Falla was in his early thirties. There are four numbers here: Aragonesa, Cubana, Montanesa and Andaluza. The composer tries to set out the 'atmosphere and soul' of each of these regions. He actually attempts to mimic the rhythms, scales, ornamentation and passion of each district. These are played with great subtlety by Benavides. Each movement is a complex of light and shade, movement and repose. The four pieces deserve to be in the main pianistic repertoire.

I have never heard any music by Xavier Montsalvatge before listening to this CD. And I confess it is an omission, though I doubt I am the only person in this situation! Montsalvatge was born in Girona in 1912 and died only last year (2002). His output covers most of the standard genres, including symphonies, concerti, ballets, film music and operas. His opus list is reputed to number some 150 works. Having not heard any other work than this sonatina, I am not in a position to comment on his musical development. However, a brief review of the literature suggests that his style has evolved over the years. He was much influenced by 'Les Six' and Maurice Ravel. He was later impressed by the developments of music in the Spanish-speaking regions of the Caribbean and Latin America. Finally he explored the possibilities of serialism and atonalism. However, he seems to have managed to fuse a variety of styles with his own unique musical personality. Much of his life was spent in Barcelona; he travelled extensively and has had his music performed in many countries. The Sonatine pour Ivette is dedicated to the pianist Gonzalo Soriano. The composer suggested that he was responding to the desire to produce 'youthful and agile music'. He claims that his daughter was the source of inspiration for this piece. However, it is a work that is too complex and profound to be a 'mere' sonatine! It is also not musically childlike. Everything about this work suggests a profound craftsmanship and considerable understanding of pianistic writing and musical construction.

This is not the place to consider the life, times and pianistic achievement of Enrique Granados. Save to mention that he is perhaps best known for his Goysecas - at least by enthusiasts for piano music. Besides, Naxos are currently issuing what appears to be the complete works for pianoforte. No doubt reviewers will assess the vast amount of keyboard music written by Granados, as good, bad and indifferent. It is important, however, to realise that Granados wrote a few major masterpieces for the piano and also a vast amount of what would now be regarded as 'salon' music. The Valses poeticos were composed between 1893 and 1894. They were dedicated to Joaquin Malats, a personal friend of the composer. This set of 'valses' was one of Granados’s earlier piano works. It derives from the classic, Northern European form as opposed to his later nationalistic compositions, such as his Spanish Dances. Here they are beautifully played, with all the poetical imagery expected from such a work. Perhaps one of the few problems with this recording is the fact that the seven pieces are presented as one track. So really the listener has to take these at a sitting. Yet this is correct. It is a set and does not need or deserve to be excerpted. There is a unity about these movements that makes them extremely satisfying. Perhaps these are salon pieces? However they are constructed with such exquisite craftsmanship that the distinction hardly matters. For completeness sake I give the listing of these seven 'valses.' Vivace poeticos, Tempo de vals noble, Tempo de vals lento, Allegro humoristico, Allegretto, Sentimental and Presto.

Eduardo Ocon is a closed book to me. Yet we are told that he was the father of Spanish Nationalism in music. He was born in 1833 and died in 1901. He was the precursor of de Falla, Albeniz and Granados. Ocon wrote much for the piano (I understand that Ana Benavides will record his complete piano works on Naxos) and this music was inspired by his German born wife, the pianist Ida Borchardt. The easiest way to describe this music is to liken it to the 'Spanish' offerings of Glinka and Bizet. These two composers, like Ocon, were inspired by Spanish dances including the Bolero and the Fandango. This is attractive music that demands to be heard. The tempo shifts and the subtle light and shade all help to make this a fascinating work. In Ana Benavides this composer has a fine champion. I look forward to the Naxos cycle.

This is a great CD full of attractive music that is well written and well played. I appreciated the clear sound quality. My only complaint is the lack of programme notes in the CD insert. As these are not well known pieces it would have helped to have some details. I really do want to know more about these fascinating and interesting works and lesser-known composers such as Montsalvatge and Ocon!


John France



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