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Enrique GRANADOS (1867-1916)
Complete Piano Works

Disc 1
Goyescas
El pelele

Disc 2
Twelve Spanish Dances, Op. 37

Disc 3
Allegro di Concierto
Valses Poeticos
Capricho Español, op. 39
Rapsodia Aragonesa
Carezza-Vals, op. 38
Oriental
Dos Impromptus

Disc 4
Moresque y Arabe
Cuentos de la juventud, op. 1
Sardana
Bocetos
Mazurka, op. 2
Barcarola, op. 45
Los Soldados de Cartón
A la Pradera
Danza caracteristica
A la Cubana, Op. 36
Escenas Poeticas, book 2

Disc 5
Escenas Romanticas
Seis piezas sobre cantos populares Españoles
Danza lenta
Aparición
Cartas se amor, valses intimos, op. 44
Libro de Horas

Disc 6
Impromptu, Op. 39
Seis estudios expressivos
Marche militaire
Estudio, Op. Posth.
Elisenda
Paisaje, op. 35
Dos Marchas Militares
Escenas Poeticas, book 1

Thomas Rajna, piano
Recorded 1976. ADD
Full track-listing at end of review
BRILLIANT CLASSICS 92283 [6 CDs: 66.35 + 55.37 + 60.06 + 75.32 + 74.27 + 54.04]

Many collectors will recall the good old days when the decision as to which Beethoven Fifth to buy was limited to only twenty or thirty choices. This particular collector, as an adventurous schoolboy newly discovering twentieth-century music, well remembers agonising over two competing versions of Messiaen's Vingt Regards. Should it be John Ogdon, surely the safe choice, or the other reading, so well reviewed and highly thought of, but by a pianist at that time unknown to me, one Thomas Rajna?

Well, Thomas Rajna was born in Budapest in 1928 and is a prolific composer as well as a pianist. And here he is now in Granados, in one of Brilliant Classics' boxes. These performances, which date from 1976, are licensed from CRD and seem still to be available from them as separate discs. But all Granados’ piano music on six CDs? The very thought is daunting. And yet…

Enrique Granados was born in Lerida in the Catalonian region of northern Spain and died when the liner in which he was travelling was sunk in the English Channel by a German U-boat. His desk was left in a chaotic state. Many of his works are undated and establishing any kind of chronology is near-impossible. Opus numbers are of little help, and where sets of pieces were published together we are often at a loss to know if this occurred for the sake of convenience or because the composer intended them to be played as a set. His best known work, and an undisputed masterpiece, is undoubtedly Goyescas, and indeed piano music forms an important part of his relatively slim output. The music contained on these discs is surprisingly varied and much of it is compelling. Not a few pieces, however, have more charm than substance and there can be little doubt that greater music would have appeared had he lived.

Leaving Goyescas aside for the moment, the second of these six discs is devoted to the Twelve Spanish Dances, Op. 37. It would be good to think that this was a self-contained set of pieces composed as a single, coherent work, but this is not the case. Even the titles of most of the pieces, appealing though they are, were attributed not by Granados, but by the publisher in a bid to increase sales. Some of these titles seem, at best, carelessly chosen. The music itself is most rewarding, however, a stimulating synthesis of national identity and personal style. The title of the fifth piece, Andaluza, leads us to expect the triplet figurations, appoggiaturas and other elements of Arabic musical influence to be found in traditional southern Spanish music. We are not disappointed, especially in the outer sections of this, one of the more rewarding – as well as one of the better known – of a consistently pleasing series of pieces. The short, eighth piece, bizarrely entitled Sardana, is also particularly attractive, its grand outer sections contrasting with a central passage which is a kind of cross between a dance and a march.

The first piece on disc 3, Allegro de Concierto, is highly romantic in atmosphere and strongly influenced by Chopin. It gives out relatively little Spanish atmosphere, and the same might be said of the Valses Poeticos. Written in 1887, this is a kind of suite of seven waltzes with an introduction and coda. It is a charming and beautiful work lasting around a quarter of an hour and would please any recital audience. Rajna invests each waltz with its own flavour, piquant and nostalgic by turns. The Capricho Español gets short shrift from Bryce Morrison in the accompanying notes, though the following Rapsodia Aragonesa and Carezza-Vals are even more comprehensively dismissed as derivative and written to please both publisher and public. Whether listeners will agree with this depends, as so often, on individual taste, but these pieces brought me a lot of pleasure even though they are hardly demanding to listen to. Oriental is a larger-scale work, a set of variations with an Arabic-sounding intermezzo and a powerful, virtuoso coda. The Two Impromptus which follow are elegant and beautifully crafted.

Moresque y Arabe, a two-part piece full of Spanishry and the first piece on disc 4, seems strangely inconsequential though with the charm and ease of listening that characterises all the lighter pieces in this collection. Though the notes refer to the separate pieces of the charming Cuentos de la juventud, op.1, their titles are not listed anywhere nor are the pieces separately banded. There is nothing Spanish about Sardana, despite its name, and the piece carries more weight than many of the shorter works. The five easy pieces which make up Bocetos (Sketches) are skilful sound paintings, charming but undemanding, and unbanded once again. The notes state that Mazurka sounds strangely Spanish; it didn't to this listener, though Barcarola, dark and melancholy, undoubtedly did. Los Soldados de Cartón is a funny little piece for children full of fanfares, whereas A la Pradera is a short set of pastoral-sounding variations on a simple theme. Danza caracteristica begins with a hypnotic theme over repeated quaver accompaniment. There is a short, more forceful contrasting section before the opening music returns leading to a coda of ever-increasing wildness. The title of A la Cubana says it all, and like most of the music on this set, it is well worth getting to know. The final work on the disc is the second book of Escenas poéticas (Poetic Scenes). The titles of these four pieces – ‘Memories of Distant Lands’, or again, ‘The Angel of the Cloisters’ – gives some idea of their nature, but they are rather more than the picturesque pieces their titles might lead us to expect. Composed, as were the pieces in the first book (on disc 6) between 1904 and 1907 but only published after the composer's death, these pieces, dedicated to the composer's daughter, are, like the Bocetos, playable by more modest pianists.

Disc 5 begins with a work of substantial scope, the set of six pieces entitled Escenas Romanticas (Romantic Scenes). The second piece, Berceuse, is particularly affecting, and the third, which carries no title, is a large-scale rhapsody passing through many different moods from passion to quiet contemplation by way of the nightingale's song. The fourth is a short interlude leading to the dramatic heart of the work which is the fifth piece, a striking and stupendous feat of piano writing. It ends in a most remarkable way: after the main climax the music winds down in a strange and mysterious fashion, taking far longer about it than we would expect. If we were told that the serene final piece came from Chopin's pen we would be happy to believe it. The disc continues with the Seis piezas sobre cantos populares Españoles, which, as we would expect from the title, is a collection of pieces based on Spanish folk tunes. These are early pieces, certainly inconsequential, but immediately accessible all the same. Three short, atmospheric pieces follow, including the superbly brooding Danza lenta. Cartas de amor is both simple and charming, and Aparición, dedicated to a pupil, rather more than this. Three further, short pieces make up Libro de Horas (Book of Hours), all three sombre in nature, the second, which closes with the nightingale's song, particularly affecting.

Disc 6 is devoted to early works, beginning with the richly romantic Impromptu, op. 39. The Seis estudios expressivos represent for this listener the least individual music in the collection. One senses the composer's character not yet fully formed, and the influence of other composers, notably Schumann, is obvious here to the point of a clear quotation. The Marche militaire fully lives up to its title apart from a gentler trio section and this is followed by Estudio, a piece whose rhapsodic opening is only the first of a surprising number of different moods. Elisenda was dedicated to Pablo Casals and Paisaje is a gentle evocation of the countryside. The three pieces which make up the first book of Escenas Poeticas are rather melancholy and withdrawn, a quotation from Wagner in the second piece clearly identifying which Eva y Walter are depicted therein. The two military marches are good fun: they are for piano duet, and both parts are played by Thomas Rajna, a more difficult task than one might imagine.

The merits of any collection of piano music by Granados must be measured by the performance of Goyescas. The work is given pride of place on the first disc, along with the short piece, a kind of pendant, El pelele, which was published later. This is music of extraordinary richness, and even the best of the remainder seems pale in comparison with the scope and passion of these tableaux inspired by the work of Goya. Unlike the other sets of pieces here, the work was conceived as a cycle and is unified not only in mood and atmosphere but also by the use and reappearance of its themes. The cumulative affect of listening to the work is considerable, then, and hearing it in a fine performance is a powerful and moving experience. Thomas Rajna is a dedicated advocate, both in this towering work and in the other pieces contained in this set. He fears no comparison in respect of technical command, and indeed many of these pieces present the player with fearsome difficulties. His performances are convincing and affecting and will not disappoint. I have compared his reading of Goyescas to that of Alicia de Larrocha on Decca, and find that his view of this music is consistently slower than hers, an aspect which only troubled me once I started comparative listening. Another factor, more subtle, indeed impossible to capture in words, is the added authenticity of de Larrocha's reading. She simply sounds more "right", unsurprising perhaps, but raising rather troubling questions about the supremacy of musicians in their own national repertoire. In spite of this, Rajna's version is superb and in any event direct comparison is irrelevant since when you buy his Goyescas you get all the rest as well.

Others who have heard this set have found the recorded piano sound on the hard side, but this did not trouble me. It is handsomely presented with each disc in a card slip-case inside a sturdy box. The covers feature images by Goya, attractively reproduced. There is a booklet containing notes on the first disc by Roy Carter and on the others by Bryce Morrison. These are authoritative, and the only criticism one could level against them is a frustrating lack of dates making it impossible to find one's way around this extensive collection. A further inconvenience is that several of the larger collections of pieces are unbanded. A lot of fiddling about would be necessary, for example, to find the individual pieces – six of them in twenty-six minutes – of the Escenas Romanticas, especially when here, as elsewhere, the titles of the individual pieces do not appear in the accompanying documentation.

This slightly disappointing aspect of the presentation apart, we have here a most rewarding collection, and, at the Brilliant price, the kind of astonishing bargain collectors are dangerously likely to want to take for granted.

William Hedley

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Complete Track Listing
CD1
Piano Works vol. 1
Goyescas
Los majos enamorados
Book I
1. Los requiebros [8:43]
2. Coloquio en la reja [13:42]
3. El fandango de Candil [6:33]
4. Quejas o la Maja y el Ruisenor [7:36]
Book II
5. El amor y la Muerte (Balada) [15:42]
6. Epilogo (Serenata del espectro) [8:04]
7. El Pelele [4:36]
 
CD2
Piano Works vol. 2
12 Spanish Dances Op. 37
1. No. 1 Galante [2:36]
2. No. 2 Oriental [2:32]
3. No. 3 Fandango [3:42]
4. No. 4 Villanesca [5:26]
5. No. 5 Andaluza (Playera) [4:41]
6. No. 6 Rondella aragonesa [2:42]
7. No. 7 Valenciana (Calasera) [4:39]
8. No. 8 Sardana [3:48]
9. No. 9 Romantica [4:24]
10. No. 10 Melancolica [4:24]
11. No. 11 Arabesca [6:09]
12. No. 12 Bolero [5:08]
Total: 55:37
 
CD3
Piano Works vol. 3
1. Allegro de Concierto [8:45]
2. Valses Poeticos [14:47]
3. Capricho Español Op. 39 [5:25]
4. Rapsodia Aragonesa [6:50]
5. Carezza-Vals Op. 38 [6:52]
6. Oriental-Cancion Variada Intermedio y Final [10:45]
7. Dos Impromptus: [6:00]
Total: 60:06
 
CD4
Piano Works vol. 4
1. Moresque y Arabe [6:40]
2. Cuentos de la juventud Op. 1 [15:57]
3. Sardana [4:42]
4. Bocetos [12:54]
5. Mazurka Op. 2 [2:08]
6. Barcarola Op. 45 [3:10]
7. Los Soldados de Cartón [1:35]
8. A la Pradera [3:05]
9. Danza caracteristica [5:30]
10. A la Cubana Op. 36 [4:15]
Escenas Poeticas
11. Recuerdo de Paises Lejanos [3:51]
12. El Angel de los Claustros [4:12]
13. Cancion de Margarita [1:45]
14. Suenos del Poeta [6:47]
Total: 75:32
 
CD5
Piano Works vol. 5
1. Escenas Romanticas [26:23]
2. Seis piezas sobre cantos populares Españoles [26:02]
Preludio-Anoranza-Ecos de la Parranda-Vascongada
3. Danza lenta [2:31]
4. Aparación [2:42]
5. Cartas de amor valses intimos Op. 44 [3:42]
Libro de Horas
6. En el jardin [2:00]
7. El invierno [4:54]
8. Al suplicio [4:03]
Total: 74:27
 
CD6
Piano Works vol. 6
1. Impromptu Op. 39 [5:20]
2. Seis Estudios expresivos [14:09]
3. Marche militaire [3:15]
4. Estudio Op. Posth. [3:03]
5. Elisenda [5:58]
6. Paisaje Op. 35 [6:08]
7. Marchas Militares: No. 1 [2:57]
8. Marchas Militares: No. 2 [2:38]
Escenas Poeticas
9. Berceuse [4:56]
10. Eva y Walter [3:28]
11. Danza de la Rosa [1:37]
Total: 54:04



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