Isaac ALBÉNIZ (1860 -1909)
Iberia: Book 1 (1906) [17:49]
Iberia: Book 2 (1907) [22:13]
Yoram Ish–Hurwitz (piano)
rec. 21 – 22 March 2007 and 28 October 2008 (Rondeña only), Galaxy Studios Mol, Belgium. DDD
TURTLE RECORDS TR 75529 [40:15]

Isaac ALBÉNIZ (1860 -1909)
Iberia: Book 3 (1908) [20:33]
Iberia: Book 4 (1909) [22:46]
Yoram Ish–Hurwitz (piano)
rec. 21 – 22 March 2007 (El Albaicin only) and 22 and 23 June 2009, Galaxy Studios Mol, Belgium. DDD
TURTLE RECORDS TR 75530 [43:22]

Born in 1860, in Camprodon, Albéniz proved himself to be a child prodigy and gave his first performance when only 4! His concert career started when he was 9 and at 12 he stowed away on a ship bound for Buenos Aires. He gave concerts in New York and San Francisco and travelled to Leipzig where he studied at the Conservatoire for a short time. By the time he was 15 he had given concerts worldwide and when 20 went to Budapest to study with Liszt, only to find that he was in Weimar! It was his meeting with composer and teacher Felipe Pedrell which inspired in him the need to create a Spanish music.

Albéniz wrote much piano music, the majority of which celebrated his homeland. Of this body of work the most important are the four books of 12 pieces which make up the cycle Iberia, which was written, and premiered between 1906 and 1909. It’s a true virtuoso work, and it requires a pianist with a big technique to be able to bring it off successfully and make sense of the music. Ish–Hurwitz can certainly play these works.

Book 1 starts very well, Evocación, but Ish–Hurwitz insists on employing a constant rubato which is interesting at first but, because it is always used in the same way on the same kind of material, it becomes annoying. Also, any fermata which is longer than a bar in duration, Ish–Hurwitz cuts down and thus spoils the proportions so carefully worked out by the composer. El puerto suffers similar problems, although they are not as pronounced, but the pianist tends to exaggerate the tempo changes and some strange tempi are chosen. The most successful movement is the last, Fête-dieu à Seville which describes the Corpus Christi Day procession in Seville. It’s a big, colourful piece, and Ish–Hurwitz is perfectly at home here. It’s a very fine piece of playing and interpretation.

The performance of the second book follows that of the first. Rondeña and Almería (the first two movements) are well played but there is an over-abundance of rubato and, particularly in the middle piece, Ish–Hurwitz has a habit of anticipating a ritardando and thus drawing out the slowing down of the music. However, the big tune of Almería and its accompaniment are well done. The most successful movement, again, is the last, Triana, a bouncy, dance-like piece which Ish–Hurwitz plays straight and most enjoyably. From what I have heard so far it seems that Ish–Hurwitz is happier with the fast music, seeming to feel that he must “interpret” the slower pieces.

Book Three is the most successful so far, mainly because all three pieces are fast or fastish and thus Ish–Hurwitz doesn’t have time to pull the music around, and indulge in rubati and rallentandi at the expense of the forward movement of the music. Book 4 is more of the same but here the pianist’s delight in putting on the brakes and elongating rallentandi starts to show itself again. And by now this is very mannered. Also, in Jerez, the middle piece of the 4th Book, at bar 165 Ish–Hurwitz launches into a section which doesn’t appear in my copy of the music – bought a couple of weeks ago and a supposedly correct edition. There may be some scholarship, about which I know nothing, to account for this, but there is no mention of it in the notes.

I am sad to say, in the long run, I cannot warm to this performance of Iberia simply because Ish–Hurwitz is too inconsistent in his approach to the music. He is a fine pianist, one cannot deny that, but his interpretation is too wayward. I do wonder how much of Ish–Hurwitz’s rubati was demanded by his ability to simply get his fingers around the notes and thus they are not interpretive rubati but a means by which to achieve the playing of the notes. Iberia is a fiendishly difficult work to play.

If you’re after Iberia you cannot go wrong with either of Alicia de Larrocha’s recordings – my favourite is her earlier one for EMI (Great Recordings of the Century 361 5142) where the two CDs are very generously filled with Granados’s Goyescas. That’s a real bargain, Ish–Hurwitz only gives an Iberia of two discs of very short measure.

Bob Briggs