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Enrique GRANADOS (1867-1916)
Piano Music - Volume 8: Carezza-Vals (Caress Waltz), DLR VII:3 [6:32] Dolora, DLR III:7 [2:15] * Clotilde, DLR III:3 [2:15] * La sirena (The Mermaid), DLR VII:2 [3:37] Dans le bois (In the Forest), DLR III:11 [1:48] * Marcha Real (Royal March), DLR III:22 [3:26] * Soldados de cartón (Cardboard Soldiers), DLR III:21 [2:47] Elvira, DLR III:2 [3:52] * Album of Memories (22), Paris, 1888, DLR III:1 [43:28]
Douglas Riva, piano
rec. St. Martin's Church, East Woodhay, Hampshire, August 2002
World Premiere Recordings *
NAXOS 8.557142 [70:00]

In Volume 8 of his important series of the complete piano music of Enrique Granados, Douglas Riva offers early Granados having little resemblance to the composer's more inspired and mature works for piano. Lacking are an effective use of Spanish rhythms and flourishes, compelling thematic development, and the intensity of exuberance and melancholy so prevalent in the best Granados piano works such as Goyescas and the Spanish Dances.

Yet this 8th Volume cannot easily be dismissed. The music may be formative and rather generic, but it gives us the opportunity to hear and understand the building-blocks that Granados used to advance his craft. Also, even his earliest pieces often possess fine melodies and the ability to beguile and grip the listener.

Most of the captivating music resides in the first eight pieces on the program, five of them being first recordings. "Carezza-Vals" is a deliciously elegant and buoyant waltz, although the musical material is slim for a 6 minute duration. The gem of the program is the slow-paced "Dolora" where Granados conveys intense sadness within a cocoon of gorgeous melodic lines, definitely one of his most rewarding piano miniatures with a perfect symmetry among the grief-stricken voices. High exuberance from a halting and syncopated rhythmic pattern then comes from "Clotilde" which represents the best of salon-type music. "La sirena" is a lilting waltz of graceful proportions that makes one want to grab a partner and dance the night away.

We owe the premiere recording of "Dans le bois" to its inclusion in a letter Granados wrote to the composer Amadeu Vives in June, 1888; the piece is distinctive for an early Granados composition through its rather dark and pensive mood painting. "Marcha Real" is a harmonization of the Spanish National Anthem and recalls Schumann's many march-like piano miniatures. Sharply-etched rhythms and bold accenting inform "Soldados de cartón" which evokes a sinister and demonstrative personality. Next is "Elvira" with its irresistible and exuberant dance rhythms. Overall, these first eight pieces are very enjoyable with "Dolora" being an especially compelling miniature.

I wish I could be equally enthusiastic concerning the 43 minute "Album of Melodies", but these 22 pieces of music are significantly inferior to the previous works on the program. This music consists of student efforts and workshop sketches that become tedious when listening to the whole cycle. The melodies are entirely forgettable and generally involve minimal thematic development. The sole exception is the five minute Allegro vivace that closes the sequence and possesses some trace of personality and seriousness of purpose; the other pieces are either innocuous or merely pleasant.

Through it all, Douglas Riva does his best to bring this music to life. Riva's series has been a model of extensive research, idiomatic interpretation, and superb recorded sound. In preparation for the project, Riva collaborated with the legendary Spanish pianist Alicia de Larrocha to complete the critical edition of the Complete Works for Piano of Granados. His performances tend to be of a more serious nature than de Larrocha's, but I have been thoroughly enchanted by his recordings.

In summary, the Riva series is essential for anyone interested in Spanish piano music. Those who have collected the previous volumes need no prodding from this reviewer to acquire Volume 8 as well. However, those new to Granados are advised to begin with one of the earlier volumes that contains his more inspired compositions. The primary value of Volume 8 is as part of the overall series; on its own, the disc has limited appeal.

Don Satz

see also review by John Leeman

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