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Joaquín TURINA (1882-1949)
Sonata romántica sobre un tema español, Op. 3 (1909) [20:28]
Sonata Fantasía, Op. 59 (1930) [12:34]
Rincón mágico (Desfile en forma de sonata), Op. 97 (1941) [24:00]
Concierto sin orquesta, Op. 88 (1935) [10:45]
Jordi Masó, piano
rec. Auditorium, Jafre, Spain, 5-6 July 2004. DDD
NAXOS 8.557438 [67:47]

 

 

I am going to make a surprising statement about this CD! I have come to the conclusion that Turina’s piano music often impresses me and moves me more than much of that by Ravel and Debussy.

Now let me get one thing straight: I love and appreciate the music of the two French masters. I do not deny their mastery of the piano or their craftsmanship. I am not putting these two giants down. But let me elaborate a little. It does go a back a long way.

When York City Library used to have an impressive music section – before it was dumbed-down to achieve the lower expectations of the present City Council, there was an excellent selection of Turina’s piano music. It was bound into a number of volumes: I further recall it was on very thin and quite brittle paper. I remember thumbing through it and wondering what this impressive looking music would actually sound like – as opposed to my brave attempts at imagining the printed score in my head. There was one piece in particular which was entitled Radio Madrid (1931) that was a depiction of the composer’s early experiences in broadcasting. I have yet to hear it. And really this is the fundamental problem with Turina’s piano music – so little of it is available. Most listeners have the opportunity to know only a small fraction of Turina's output for the piano whereas the competitors, Ravel, Debussy, Albeniz and Granados are much better served on CD and vinyl and the concert hall. If Turina’s music was in the public view it would, I am convinced, be exceedingly popular. There is nothing difficult or outré about the works I have heard: there is only imaginative, enjoyable, moving and highly satisfactory music.

I understand that Naxos have embarked on a massive 16 CD recording project to cover most of the published piano works – so it will be possible to consider this over the next few years. But as an aside, I do worry that Naxos start, but do not finish projects: I think of the Liszt Piano Music cycle – very slow now. And what about the Parry Symphonies?

Let’s consider Turina’s impact a little. I asked a few friends about Turina’s music. They had never heard if him despite being familiar with some of the Spanish Classics both at a listening and a playing level. At a recent event at Hampton Court I was chatting to a lady who was a piano teacher. Somehow we got onto the subject of Albeniz and I asked her what she thought of Turina’s music. She had not heard of him either! However, she asked me what his music was like. I do not like making judgements like this; they are usually only partially helpful. But I tried – I suggested that if she took some Albeniz and some Granados and mixed it with lashings of Ravel and Debussy and added a hint Rachmaninov she would have a good idea of what Turina sounded like. But before I look at the works on this CD and try to draw some conclusions a brief résumé of the composer may well be in order.

At the age of four Joaquín Turina Perez was given an accordion as a present. Family and friends were impressed at how rapidly he learnt to play it. He was born into a middle class Seville family on 9 December 1882 and was fortunate that the arts were regarded highly in this household. This was to bode well for his future as a composer and a pianist.

At twelve he commenced formal musical studies which included compositional technique. He began to compose in his early teens. His debut as a performer came in March 1897 when he played the virtuosic Fantasy on a Theme from Rossini’s Moses, by Sigismond Thalberg. By the time of his 21st birthday he was a part of the Madrid musical scene. A period of study in Paris followed when he sat at the feet of Moritz Moszkowski for piano studies and composition classes with Vincent d’Indy at his Schola Cantorum. Whilst in Paris he discovered, and was influenced by the ‘impressionist’ music of Debussy and Ravel. It was around this time (1903/04) that La Mer was first heard and also Ravel’s String Quartet. Furthermore he became good friends with fellow Spaniards Albeniz and de Falla. It was Albeniz who encouraged Turina to re-discover the music of Spain in general and Andalusia in particular. Further Albeniz is reputed to have insisted that Turina must not write music unless it had a Spanish influence. A little presumptuous I fear! Especially as this conversation took place after the first performance of Turina’s great Piano Quintet. Yet the younger composer was to have the last laugh. Even the most cursory hearing of this CD shows that the influence of Debussy and Ravel was never obliterated – in fact these stimuli lend considerable colour to the music.

At the outbreak of the First World War Turina returned to Madrid to pursue a career equally divided between composing, playing and teaching. He died in Madrid on 14 January 1949.

Turina’s major works include Danzas fantásticas (1920, versions for orchestra and piano), La oración del torero for string orchestra, the operas Margot (1914) and Jardín de Oriente (1923), much chamber music, pieces for guitar, songs and of course a vast amount of piano music.

The Sonata Romántica was composed in 1909 and occasionally evinces some confusion of styles rather than a synthesis. But that does not make this work any the less enjoyable. Turina was at the time mourning his mentor and friend Albeniz and this sonata is dedicated to him. He uses one of the elder composer’s fingerprints – a well-known folk theme. In this case it was the Spanish Song – El Vito. This had also been used in works by Falla and Infante. And the outcome is a first movement that eschews sonata form for a theme with four variations. In spite of my comment about stylistic imbalance, this opening movement is certainly impressive. Here the composer more or less achieves a balance between working out the Spanish folk tune and the urbanity of the Parisian scene. The Scherzo is a lovely movement and is certainly not a ‘joke.’ Here Turina presents some really gorgeous music that is in the ‘romantic’ vein. The last few pages are especially spine-tingling.

The last movement opens with a rather ‘misty’ slow passage – however this is not to be the pattern throughout. Soon an ‘allegro’ takes over. It is this material that dominates the rest of this beautiful movement. The folk song inevitably makes its come-back and the work closes with three dramatic chords.

The Sonata Fantasia is well and truly on my list of ‘Desert Island Discs’. It is a beautiful and gorgeous work of art. The piece was originally entitled ‘Sonata Andaluza’ but was changed presumably because there is little in the way of folk music in this work. It is from some twenty years later than the previous sonata, having been composed in 1930. The work was dedicated to the musicologist Josep Subira.

Turina’s inspiration for this colourful work is more French impressionist than Spanish – although a number of references to Andalusian Dances can be found. Primarily this is not about folk music. There are only two movements in this all too short work - one wishes it would go on for ever! The first is full of poetry and flashes of Southern sunshine. The harmonies and figurations create an atmosphere which is virtually impossible to describe. The second is more complex. It is billed as a ‘Coral con variaciones: Lento.’ The programme notes suggest that this music nods in style towards the Spanish guitar in its patterns of notes. Yet most of this music lies perfectly under the pianist’s hands creating a magical work. There are a few faster moments – but the mood of reflection never really disappears. The closing pages display an impressive pianism that is akin to Rachmaninov.

Rincón mágico or ‘Magic corners’ is a kind of pseudo-sonata. The composer wrote that he ‘wanted to sing of love and sadness, searching out that little corner of the Andalusian spirit that looks out to the wider world; I have lived a part of my life dreaming, because I, as a musician love melody. There, tragedy loses its heart-rending edge, dance becomes purer and wine is only perfume. I cannot sit at a piano with a far-reaching melody. I sing what pleases me, and I feel a response.’ These words sum up the impact of the music more than any critic can.

The word ‘Rincones’ means ‘Corners’. And this is an image that Turina uses often. For him it is an intimate and private place that may or may not be shared with other people. My late father uses to describe a similar state of mind as ‘going up into the toe of your shoe.’ Not surprisingly one of the ‘corners’ was the composer’s study in his home; hence perhaps the dedication of this work to his wife and children.

The first movement of Rincón mágico (Magical Corners) is a ‘theme with variations’ – this is a complex piece in spite of its largely reflective writing. The harmonies are typically quite rich – although in some of the faster sections the texture is sparer. There is a hint of Debussy in this music!

The second ‘movement’ is another of Turina’s superb scherzos. This is a highly crafted little gem that would certainly stand a life on its own. The trio is especially attractive. The ‘Lied’ is probably the heart of the work; it is a well-balanced and for the most part sustained meditation. However there is a lively and more involved middle section. The closing bars are particularly effective. The movement was dedicated to the singer, Lola Rodriguez de Aragon. The last piece is entitled ‘Sonata: allegretto ritmico.’ This is a dazzling technical display of pyrotechnics that shows the pianist’s ability to great effect. This is not the best of the four ‘movements’ but is certainly impressive. It is dedicated to Turina himself, and his family.

The Concerto without Orchestra is another work in which the composer seems to have forgotten the admonition by his old mentor Albeniz. It is of course possible to find allusions and references to Spanish-isms in this work – especially in some of the repeated note figurations. There are also a number of ‘Impressionist’ fingerprints – for example glissandi and bare fifth chords. Technically it sounds exactly as this title would suggest – extremely difficult. However for me this is the least impressive and memorable and moving pieces on the CD. Perhaps it is just a little too virtuosic?

Jordi Masó has given a fine performance here. He quite obviously relates to Spanish piano music as his discography reveals. He has recorded works by Roberto Gerhard and Joaquim Homs for Marco Polo, along with four volumes of music by Federic Mompou for Naxos. As noted above he is currently contracted to complete a cycle of Turina’s piano music. I understand this will eventually be a 16 CD project.

He has a clear empathy with Turina’s music and never allows the dichotomy between the Spanish influence and the suavity of French Impressionism to become confused. He preserves the quality of the two key strands of Turina’s music – impressionist and Andalusian. He balances these two elements resulting in fusion rather than confusion. There is no doubt that this music is highly virtuosic – yet Masó never plays to the gallery. I await the remaining recordings with bated breath!

Whilst reviewing this CD I bought a copy for a friend. She was honest enough to admit to me that she had never heard of the composer! Anyway, she put the CD into the machine – and within three minutes she was fast asleep. When she told me this I think she saw my raised eyebrow and look of surprise. She further explained to me that this is actually a very high honour for the music. It is only with pieces that really move her that this happens. She alluded to Alfred Brendel’s recording of Schubert’s Impromptu No. 3 in Gb major. Apparently she only survives about 20 seconds on this one! But it is not as bad as it seems. After wakening she is able to listen to the work with complete concentration. And the upshot is that she is as seriously impressed with Joaquín Turina’s music as I am.

John France

see also Reviews by Patrick Waller, Jonathan Woolf and Kevin Sutton

 

 

 



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