The attractive picture on the CD’s cover is of Salamanca Cathedral.
Why Salamanca? Well that was where Bretón
was born in somewhat humble circumstances. However ‘the boy done
good’ you might say. At a very young age he trained in Madrid
and later became a significant figure there as director of the
Conservatoire and as a leading light in the composition of zarzuela,
the hour long entertainment based on Spanish stories and culture.
He wrote orchestral works, including three symphonies and much
chamber music. It seems odd that little of his music has been
recorded although I seem to recall a few pieces in the early 1990s
on Marco Polo. He is almost entirely unknown outside Spain.
Orpella who plays violin in the LOM Piano Trio writes in his
rather brief booklet notes that Bretón “labored hard to re-energize
the world of Spanish music and took particular pains to introduce
the idea of an original, nationalistic opera”. He goes on to
say that “ironically, he was criticized for not being Spanish
enough”. Writing about the Piano Trio Orpella comments that
Bretón attempts to “leave aside the light atmosphere of the
zarzuelas, and write instead in a manner closer to the German
or Italian style”. Bretón had studied in Rome where he gained a scholarship;
consequently he can be seen as truly international composer.
find the Piano Trio, although immensely charming and beautifully
composed, somewhat disappointing. I suspect that it was the
expectation that we might have something a little more Spanish
in flavour. Instead I found myself finding its opening almost
classical. Its slow movement seems influenced by Saint-Saëns
whom Bretón much admired, its finale being Dvořákian. Only
its Scherzo seeming a little more original. Yet there is more
if one digs a little deeper. There are some quite interesting
key shifts and Spanish melodies have indeed been subtly introduced.
I noted a distinctly Spanish feel to the Scherzo and trio (is
it in 6/8 or 3/4?). These have been intermixed with the styles
of the composers mentioned above so that an originality is created.
A sense of real enjoyment propels the listener forward, although
I do find the first movement a little prolix. Amongst the work’s
especial attractions would be the opening cello cantilena to
the second movement, answered by the violin and then in conversation
LOM Piano Trio seems in very good form and obviously enjoys
the music. The recording is beautifully balanced and realistic.
There are a couple of photos of them in the booklet and we are
told that they recorded a disc completely devoted to Shostakovich
in 2007 but I can find no other reference of it.
other work here is even more attractive. The ‘Cuatro piezas
españolas’ divides up as follows. Number 1 is entitled ‘Danza
Oriental’. Its opening melody on the piano and then cello is
certainly searching for something ‘oriental’ but there is little
sense in this performance of a dance. The ‘Scherzo Andalusia’
hits the Spanish mark which Bretón has exhorted his own pupils
to explore. It comes as no surprise that Manual de Falla was
one of those pupils but by 1911 the teacher had learned more
than a little from the pupil. Third comes a ‘Bolero’. A steady
dance in ¾ time - nothing like Ravel, by the way. Bolero is
a word which covers many styles of Spanish dance and song. Bretón’s
version has a contrasting central section in the major key.
I instantly fell in love with the last movement ‘Polo Gitano’
where de Falla and Andalucian folk music seem to be so close.
The long opening violin note evokes the Flamenco singer as she
starts her incantation, the piano enhancing the effect with
its moto perpetuo bounding rhythm. Sadly, the movement
appears too short and one is left wanting more. Surely however
this is the idiom Bretón was aiming at.
is obviously not an earth-shattering release but it is an extremely
civilized one. I shall certainly try to investigate more of
Tomas Bretón’s music. My only regret is that I feel somewhat
cheated at having a mere fifty-three minutes of music even at
Naxos’s wonderful bargain price.
see also Review
by Jonathan Woolf