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Joaquín RODRIGO (1901 – 1999): Piano Music 1
A l’ombre de Torre Bermeja (In the Shadow of the Crimson Tower); Cuatro piezas papa piano (Four Piano Pieces): Caleseras – Fandango del ventorrillo – Plegaria de la Infanta de Castilla – Danza valenciana; Pastoral; Preludio de añoranza (Nostalgic Prelude); Deux Berceuses (Two Lullabies): Berceuse de Printemps – Berceuse d’Automne; Bagatela (Bagalette); Cuatro estampas andaluzas (Four Andalusian Pictures): El vendedor de chanquetes – Crepúsculo sobre el Guadalquivir – Seguidillas del diabolo – Barquitos de Cádiz; Sonada de adios (Sounding of Farewell); Serenata española (Spanish Serenade); Air de ballet sur le nom d’une jeune fille (Ballet Theme on a Young Girl’s Namne); Zarabanda lejana (Distant Sarabande); Cinco piezas del siglo XVI (Five Pieces of the Sixteenth Century): Diferencias sobre ‘El Canto del Caballero’ (Cabezón) – Pavana (Luis de Milán) – Pavana (Luis Milán) – Pavana (Enriquez de Valderrábano); Fantasía que contrahace la harpa de Ludovico (Alonso Mudarra)(Fantasia in the Style of Ludovico’s Harp)
Artur Pizarro (piano)
Recorded at Potton Hall, Suffolk, UK, 3-5 February, 2003
NAXOS 8.557272 [69:27]


Joaquín Rodrigo was a prolific composer, to say the least, and he was composing right up to the end of his life. Since he was a brilliant pianist he wrote a lot for his own instrument, and this fascinating and excellent disc covers some of this oeuvre, spanning most of his creative life; the earliest composition here is Berceuse d’Automne, written in 1923; the latest is Preludio de añoranza, written in 1987 to commemorate  the centenary of the birth of Artur Rubinstein. This was also his last piano composition.

“Fascinating” I wrote about the music and indeed it is. Written within a time span of nearly 65 years there have to be differences in style, in harmonic language etc, but what strikes me most of all is the constantly high quality of the music, the inventiveness, the colourfulness and the grateful writing for the instrument. He must have been a very accomplished pianist. All the music here is permeated by a genuine Spanish flavour. The programme planning also has to be praised, since it gives maximum variety, meaning that playing the disc straight through in one sitting (almost 70 minutes) never feels long-winded. Most of the pieces are short, only a few exceed five minutes, but each of them is a gem and each of them has a personality, a mood of its own.

The opening number, A l’ombre de Torre Bermeja, at once makes you sit up and listen: what wonderful piano playing! What dexterity, what delicate shadings, what a lovely tone! The tremolo effects Artur Pizarro achieves are quite stunning and I have to admit to sitting spellbound through the rest of the programme. This is indeed the best piano playing I have heard for a very long time. Pizarro is of course no newcomer; he won the Leeds International Piano Competition in 1990 and has led a busy life giving concerts and recitals all over the world. He also has  a number of critically acclaimed CDs to his credit and is in the process of recording the complete Beethoven sonatas for Linn Records. He may not be as well known as some other contemporary pianists, but he should be. If this disc is anything to go by he is destined to a have a place at the top of the pianists’ Pantheon.

Browsing through my notes I find exclamation marks for almost every piece. The Cuatro piezas para piano are wonderful Spanish pictures, delicately played. The tribute to Rubinstein has a minimalist feeling, and so indeed has the “Autumn Lullaby” , sombre and with a single chord repeated seventy times. It is also spiced with dissonances, while we can hear raindrops falling. Spanish autumn does not sound inviting; on the other hand its companion piece, the “Spring Lullaby” is lovely, light in tone, fresh as dew.

My real favourite is Cuatro estampas andaluzas, depicting the heat of southern Spain. Marvellous music! Listen to “The Devil’s Seguidillas” and the quite long “Little Boats of Cadiz” which moves from total stillness to a full storm. And Pizarro handles all this with the utmost skill.

The last pieces bring us back to “The Golden Age of Spanish Music”, the 16th century, where he develops some themes by great predecessors (Cabezón, Milán, Mudarra). All of this is fascinating and to my pleasure I notice that this disc is labelled “Vol. 1”. I am already looking forward to Vol. 2.

The recording is fine; natural, lifelike; the booklet notes are by Graham Wade, who is an authority on Rodrigo and has written several books on him.

It is still early 2005, but I am quite sure that this disc will be on my list of the best recordings this year. It definitely is my Piano Record of the Month.

Göran Forsling


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