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alternatively Crotchet

Isaac Albéniz (1860-1909)
Recuerdos de viaje (1886-7) [30:01]
I.   En el mar [04:30]
II.  Leyenda [04:17]
III.Alborada [04:48]
IV.En la alambra [04:14]
V. Puerta de tierra [03:47]
VI.Rumores de la caleta [04:01]
VII.En la playa [04:23]
Espagne (Souvenirs) (1896-7) [10:40]
I.  Prélude [06:47]
II. Asturias [03:53]
Azulejos (completed by Granados) (1909) [10:06]
La Vega, ‘Fantaisie espagnole’ (1897) [15:32]
Navarra (fragment, completed by D. de Séverac) (1909) [06:16]
Guillermo González (piano)
rec. 14-17 November, 2004, Real Conservatorio de Música de Madrid


Experience Classicsonline

As a performer, Albéniz was a musical prodigy. His first public appearance as a pianist was made at the age of four - dressed, apparently, in Scottish costume! - playing duets with his seven year old sister Clementina, before an excited audience. As a youngster he made his way around Spain giving impromptu recitals (and watching the bull-fights he loved). He had many adventures in both Spain and Southern America – or so we are told – as an improbably youthful touring pianist. He entertained American audiences by playing - sometimes with crossed hands - with his back turned to the keyboard!

For all the wealth of his own early history as a performer and his exposure to a huge variety of musical experiences, Albéniz was actually relatively slow to find his real voice as a composer. Much of his early work for piano might, if one is honest, be confused with the salon pieces of many other ultimately lesser composers. Quite rightly, this second disc Naxos series of his (complete?) piano music, mixes the relative slightness of his early work with the full splendour of his considerable later achievement. Of course in a life which, as a serious composer, was little more than twenty five years long, terms such as ‘early’ and ‘late’ are pretty relative. But that his music matured enormously during that period – and that it might well have gone on to even greater heights but for his early death – is surely undeniable.

On the present disc the Recuerdos de viaje are ‘early’ works; the seven pieces which make up this musical album of images from the composer’s travels (real or imagined) are, if truth be told, fairly slight for the most part. The booklet notes by Montserrat Bergadá refer to the Recuerdos as “a miscellaneous collection in the form of postcards”, and that gets it about right. They incorporate some Spanish elements, but their essential musical idiom belongs in the tradition of Central European romantic pianism. The results are pretty but slight, music which doesn’t offer very much nourishment after a few hearings. This is superior salon music; several of the pieces became ‘hits’ on pianola rolls. The most memorable pieces are perhaps the mildly infectious bolero ‘Puerto de tierra’, and ‘Rumores de la caleta’ – an engaging malagueńa.

The other, later, pieces on the disc offer far more musical substance. Especially fine is La Vega, a long and truly poetic nocturne, tonally adventurous, full of sophisticated polyphonic writing. The American writer and photographer Carl van Vechten wrote (in his 1926 book Excavations) that in this piece “the composer evoked the spirit of the plain of Granada, lying tranquil under the high stars, sleeping to the murmur of brooks and to the soft sweep of the breeze over the gardens and groves of blooming orange trees” and that doesn’t seem an inappropriately fanciful response to a lovely, subtle, suggestive piece, beautifully played here by Guillermo González.

Also very  fine and interesting are the two pieces left unfinished at Albéniz’s death, and written (after Albéniz’ masterpiece Iberia) during his final illness: Azaluejos and Navarra. Azaluejos (the title refers to a kind of glazed tile) was completed by Granados – perhaps with a bit too much self indulgence and a certain lack of the subtlety that Albéniz himself might have brought to the task; Navarra was left only a few bars short of completion and was completed with less self-indulgence! by Déodat de Séverac. Both offer tantalising hints of the music we might have been treated to post-Iberia had Albéniz lived to write it.

Granados said of Albéniz’s music that it had “a very nervous tranquillity”; that it was characterised by “an elegance that smiles with sadness”. There is something of such qualities to be heard in the best music here – and those qualities are not by any means wholly absent even from the Recuerdos de viaje.

Guillermo González leaves one in no doubt whatsoever that he is a pianist well-equipped – both technically and imaginatively – to interpret Albéniz’s work. There is little to quibble at in these performances, and much that commands the listener’s contented assent and provokes his satisfied pleasure.

Glyn Pursglove

see also Review by John France


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