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Manuel de FALLA (1876-1946)
Piano Music, Vol. 1
Nocturno (c.1896) [4:12]
Serenata (c.1900) [3:20]
Serenata andaluza (c.1900) [4:39]
Allegro de concierto (1903-1904) [9:20]
Homenaje a Claude Debussy (1920) [2:42]
Sobre la tumba de Paul Dukas, (1935) [4:00]
4 piezas españolas, (1906-1909) [16:29]
Suite from ‘El amor brujo’ (1915) [12:38]
Daniel Ligorio (piano)
rec. Estudios Moraleda, Barcelona, February, March 2005. DDD
NAXOS 8.555065 [57:20]


I have three concerns with this CD. First of all I find the piano sound be rather hard. It has been described elsewhere as ‘boxy,’ however I feel that it is generally unsympathetic and tends to detract from the magical feel of much of this music. I am reminded of the old Percy Grainger musical instruction “clatteringly.” And that leads me to my second concern. Much of de Falla’s music is touched by impressionism and is also influenced by Chopin. The enchantment of these influences seems to be lacking in the interpretation by Daniel Ligorio.

My last concern is simply that I do not feel that all of de Falla’s piano music is a vital part of the repertoire. There is no major work here that claims our attention and only a few that could be described as belonging to the Essential de Falla. There is nothing here to compare to his wonderful ballet suites and the songs. Unlike Debussy, Ravel and John Ireland his piano music is largely incidental to his immense reputation. This present series is for ‘completists.’ 

The present CD provides the listener with a selection of works covering forty years of the composer’s career. The earliest are the ‘salon’ pieces such as the Nocturno and the two Serenatas. These were composed when de Falla was studying at the Madrid Conservatory. The Nocturno is more Chopin than Sunny Spain. Yet even here the piano sound does not have a liquid quality that such an influence would suggest. The Serenata andaluza should be pure ‘Spanish.’ Yet to my ear it never quite gives the listener the impression that she is in Andalusia or anywhere South of the Seine. 

The most impressive work on this CD is the 4 piezas españolas (Four Spanish Pieces). These have become an integral part of the standard Iberian piano repertoire. I agree with the programme notes that they successfully blend an innate Spanish nationalism with the subtlety and sensuality of French impressionism. These are essential works. The music refers to places in Spain or within the Spanish ambit. Andaluza and Aragonesa have definite ‘folk’ rhythms and melodies whereas the Cubana and the Montañesa are romantic and picturesque. 
The Allegro de Concierto is a strange work; there is a definite Spanish feel to it – seen through the lens of Schumann. Interestingly, Ligorio writes that “as a result of Falla’s inexperience, (it is) slightly lacking in thematic development, its technical complexity sometimes overpower(s)ing the flow of the music.” This work has been lost in the mists of time and perhaps deserves to be left there.

In 1907 de Falla moved to Paris and soon came under the spell of Paul Dukas and Claude Debussy. The short Homenaje to the latter composer was transcribed from an original composition for guitar by the composer. It could be seen as a bad pastiche of Debussy writing Spanish style music!

The Pour le tombeau de Paul Dukas is the most advanced work on this CD. It pushes toward atonal harmonies and a style that is far removed from fiestas and flamenco. It is a deep and tragic work that is central to, yet almost atypical of, Falla’s output.

I am not totally convinced by the Suite from El amor brujo – Love the Magician. I accept that the Ritual Fire Dance is a pot-boiler and has often been played at recitals. It has been transcribed by many composers and pianists. The added value of this present recording is that Daniel Ligorio has used the composers own unfinished transcriptions as the basis for his recording. The Fire Dance does seem to lack a little bit of ‘fire’ but the other three movements of this suite are certainly an interesting, if not essential, addition to the repertoire.

The sleeve-notes leaves much to be desired. I would have thought that de Falla’s piano music deserved more than a 1000 words of biographical and technical description. However we have a brief sketch which really does not do justice to the composer’s achievement.

This is a useful release that promises to provide the listener with a complete conspectus of all Manuel de Falla’s works for piano – both published and in manuscript. This will obviously include transcriptions of the better known orchestral works. I am not sure how many volumes there will be but I guess that it may only stretch to two. I understand that the second volume has already been released. This appears to be mainly transcriptions.

As one last thought, it is unusual for a Naxos disc to weigh in at under the hour – perhaps the ‘essential’ works could have been squeezed onto one CD?

John France 

see also Review by Gary Higginson


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