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Miguel Baselga - Vals Café
Anatoli LIADOV (1855-1914)
The Musical Snuffbox (c.1893) [1:58]
Andrei SCHULZ-EVLER (1852-1905)
Concert Arabesque on themes by Johan Strauss [12:31]
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Waltz No.15, Op.39 (1865) [1:27]
Johann STRAUSS Jr. (1825-1899)
Frühlingsstimmen (c.1883) arr. (1925) Ignaz FRIEDMAN (1882-1948) [10:40]
Franz LISZT (1811-1886)
Soirées de Vienne, After Schubert, No. 7 (1852) [6:21]
Soirées de Vienne, After Schubert, No. 6 (1852) [6:23]
Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918)
La plus que lente (1910) [4:22]
Maurice RAVEL (1875-1937)
La valse (1920) arr. Miguel BASELGA (b.1966) [11:28]
Miguel Baselga (piano)
rec. Auditorio del Zaragoza, 25-27 July 2005. DDD


Experience Classicsonline

The Spanish pianist Miguel Baselga - actually born in Luxembourg, though his family is Aragonese - has rightly attracted a good deal of praise for his recordings of de Falla (see review) and Albeniz (see sample review). Here he turns his attention to a well chosen and well organised sequence of piano waltzes though not all of them started out as works for the piano. He plays with the same vigour and delicacy that he brought to his recordings of those two Spanish masters.

Liadov’s familiar Snuffbox glints and tinkles with attractive freshness, the score’s instruction that it be played ‘automaticamente’ not precluding some rhythmic subtleties from Baselga. For all that, a sense of dazzling artifice is created, which serves as a kind of point of reference for everything that follows. The Concert Arabesque on Themes from ‘On the Beautiful Blue Danube’ introduces Strausses into the proceedings – at least Johan Strauss as richly encased in elaborate figurations – more like a Fabergé egg than a snuffbox – by Andrei Schultz-Evler. I remember Jonathan Woolf, in the course of discussing the famous recordings by Joseph Lhevinne, describing this Concert Arabesque as “ridiculous but intoxicating”. Precisely! And Baselga does something like full justice to both those elements.

After such absurdly jewelled encrustations, there is a delightful naturalness in both the music and the performance of Brahms’ Op. 39 No.15 waltz, utterly inviting, played with a very even touch and elegant legato at its close. The pendulum swings back towards the gilding of lilies with Friedman’s charming - and yet more than slightly irritating! - version of Frühlingsstimmen. For all the unforced panache with which it is played there is - to borrow the CD’s café metaphor - so much cream in the cake that it is hard to eat it all at one sitting! Liszt’s pastiches of two of Schubert’s waltzes are rather easier to digest – and constitute much healthier musical food. Baselga’s playing here has a real elegance and technical ease which are a joy to hear, the rhythms irresistibly dancing. In Debussy’s La plus que lente the shifts of tone and colour are exquisite, Baselga’s playing eloquently bringing out the ‘distancing’ of Debussy’s treatment of the waltz, written at a point of removal, both geographically and historically, from this quintessentially Viennese form. Debussy’s parody tiptoes the boundary lines between affection and mockery, sentiment and sentimentality, a balancing act well articulated by Baselga. In La Valse - played here in Baselga’s own arrangement - Ravel uses the dance form as means to social comment and personal reaction to the first World War and its destruction of old familiarities. The crowded ballroom evoked at the beginning of the piece, full of social artifice, is finally propelled to quasi-apocalyptic destruction. Good as Baselga’s work is here, it has to be admitted that La Valse makes yet more impact in its original orchestral form. Still, what might have been a mere anthology is far more, as Baselga’s programme begins with a music box and ends - at least metaphorically - in explosions. The waltz as symbol of social attitudes and assumptions is at least as important here as the waltz understood purely as a musical form. Baselga’s programme planning is as intelligent as his work at the keyboard.

The CD’s title alludes to café life, and Richard Llorca in the booklet notes suggests that “Miguel Baselga transports us to [a] world so typical of the nineteenth century … of the waltzes; of the cafés and of those long afternoons sitting at a marble table listening to piano music; or while having an informal gathering and savouring an endless cup of coffee or a cup of orujo (liquor distilled from grape refuse)”. Maybe - I can’t speak for the pleasures, or otherwise, of orujo - but I suspect that few, if any, cafés ever boasted a pianist as subtle and accomplished as Miguel Baselga. His reading of this music, his ability to give meaning even to the pieces which are really rather slight - but not to claim excessive meaning for them - is compelling. It is certainly best appreciated without the distraction of rattling coffee (or orujo) cups or the buzz of conversation. It deserves no less than one’s full attention – and rewards it amply.

Glyn Pursglove



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