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Manuel de FALLA (1876-1946)
El Amor Brujo - extracts (arr. de Falla) (1915) [12:59]
Homenaje (1920) [3:07]
Fantasía Baetica (1919) [13:43]
Canción (1900) [2:13]
Serenata Andaluza (1900) [4:10]
Quatro Piezas Españolas (1906-1908) [15:49]
El Sombrero de Tres Picos - extracts (arr. de Falla) (1916-1919)
Pour le Tombeau de Paul Dukas (1935) [3:48]
Francis POULENC (1899-1963)
Novelette No. 3 in E minor on a theme of M. de Falla (1960)
Jason Cutmore (piano)
rec. April 2007, SUNY Purchase College, Purchase, NY, USA
CRC 2952 [68:10]
Young Canadian pianist Jason Cutmore must surely have spent much time and thought preparing for this recording. This included a lengthy research trip to Spain, delivering lectures on Spanish music, and even publishing an article on de Falla's music in the American Music Teacher magazine. And this is all to the good. He comes across not as a dry scholar illustrating his theories but as a powerful virtuoso, clearly in love with Spanish music and sincerely sharing this love with us. One gem after another is played brilliantly. This disc should be sold with the "Repeat All" button attached.
Manuel de Falla's every note is Spain itself. I bet he could write down a C-major scale so that it would sound Spanish to the bone. And oh, those rhythms! Most pieces here belong to the early period of the composer's life, when his style was very folkloric. If the only Spanish piano music you know is the Albéniz Iberia and Granados Goyescas - impressionistic, with transparent textures, where a single note can be a statement - you will find a different style on this disc. De Falla's piano music of this period is fairly conservative harmonically speaking, ruled by rhythms, taut and muscular.
Besides the expected transcriptions from El Amor Brujo and El Sombrero de Tres Picos, all masterfully arranged by the composer, a star of the program is the expansive, kaleidoscopic Fantasía Baetica. It is the composer’s farewell to his flamenco years. It’s very far from being a pleasant romantic fantasy. The music is sometimes fierce and coarse, even caustic; gestures are wide and wild. In Jason Cutmore's words, "it captures, with unapologetic starkness, the harshness and severity of Andalusian gipsy music". The piece has multiple layers, all masterfully presented by the pianist.
Not a star but a constellation - Quatro Piezas Españolas - are pure delight. Each piece summons up the spirit of a different region of Greater Spain (including Cuba). The colors are more saturated than in the Albéniz Iberia, and have the rhythmic urgency of another de Falla masterpiece, Nights in the Gardens of Spain. The disc also contains several smaller pieces, each presented as a miniature marvel. I am not sure that the Serenata Andaluza, being a serenade, really should be so hurried (4:10 vs. de Larrocha’s 5:45), but it is still good; just mentally rename it Danza Andaluza. The last piece is a tribute from de Falla's friend, Francis Poulenc. It is based on a theme from the opening track Pantomime and is wrapped in Poulenc's signature melancholy. This serves as a poignant conclusion to the program.
It seems logical to compare these recordings with those of the First Lady of Spanish music - Alicia de Larrocha. I found comparable sets on EMI (D103806, rec.1958) and RCA (“Spanish Serenade” 61389-2, rec.1992). All these are first class, and I can’t say Cutmore has found something remarkable that de Larrocha had not said already. Her 1958 playing is brilliant and youthfully vigorous. However, the balance of the recording is not ideal, giving preference to the treble and lacking in the bass. The result is not as three-dimensional as it could have been. De Larrocha’s 1992 Spanish roads are bumpy. Sometimes the piano sounds watery, and fortissimos are rough.
So, not dismissing these definitive recordings, Cutmore competes with them on the highest level, and is free of the abovementioned drawbacks. Also, his program is very well designed, which adds to the listening pleasure. The recording is perfect, with depth and atmosphere. The piano sound is full-voiced. Very informative liner-notes (English only) are by Jason Cutmore himself and show some profundity. I'm out of superlatives by now, so I'll just finish by saying: I love this disc.
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