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The Piano Music: Danza Ibérica - En Sevilla una noche
de Mayo (1925) [7.38]; Mensaje a Claudio Debussy
- Boceto Sinfónico (1929) [7.14]; Cadena de Valses
- Evocation romantique (1927) [17.34]; Canto de cuna para
los huérfanos de España (1938) [6.37]; 1830 Variaciones
sobre un tema frivola (1934) [12.11]; Segunda danza Ibérica
(1938) [5.34]; Danza andaluza (1938) [4.39] Danza
murciana (1938) [5.41]
Martin Jones (piano)
rec. Wyastone, Monmouth, 30 November 2006, 14-15 May 2007
NIMBUS NI 5851 [67.15]
If I had thought of Joaquín Nin at all I would have considered
him mainly a composer of songs. Digging around in my CD collection
I find the great Marilyn Horne performing the Four Villancicos
Españolas on Decca in a 1960s version. But here we are introduced
to the piano music and with great conviction in some truly gripping
You will notice that we are dealing with a very short period
from 1925 to 1938 when the piano became a significant mode of
expression for Nin.
Let us look at these works in the order I heard them. As I sat
out on the balcony of a Seville hotel in the warmth of a late
April evening I decided to listen to the Danza Ibérica (tr.
1) and later the Three Andalucian Dances which end the
CD. Despite their sometimes almost aggressive sound-world the
exotic landscape of Andalucía which is, in a way, another country
from the rest of Spain, came to me. Down in the street below
I saw colourful scenes from local life. Ragged schoolgirls in
the gutters intense and sexual, weaving their hands like snakes;
the doomed bullfighter heading for Mass and the dangerously
handsome young man with an arm neatly circumscribing his dark-skinned
doll-like señorita in red and black with a silky hibiscus over
an ear and between the elliptical folds of her jet black hair.
The pink, late sunshine bounces off the walls with an electric
flare. The late evening odour of herbs and distantly cooking
meat and paella pervades the air. But did I really see these
things during those brief thirty minutes? Well, yes and no.
They can be sensed but I did not see them. I suspect that it
was much the same with Nin. My words are as much a phoney as
the music. Words and music - they are of the imagination. But
does that matter and why?
Nin was born in Cuba and died there. For a while he studied
in Barcelona but he also lived in Brussels and later Paris.
His Andalucía is as much a product of his imagination as are
my words. He was intoxicated by the land he believed to be there.
He is in a sense a fraud, a writer of pastiche. He is no more
Andalucian than Bizet or Chabrier. Indeed the whole CD can be
thought of as such. Oh yes, you might like the music, I certainly
do, but it’s almost as if Nin had made a mental list of all
of the tricks and fancies to be found in the ‘canto flamenco’
and in Southern Spanish music and at some point has used each
of them. Tricks of harmony, rhythm and melody are mixed in some
kind of order but at no point does Nin create a truly memorable
My balcony almost overlooked the square pictured on the CD cover.
This is modern Seville. Dancing does not spontaneously take
off in the streets. Apart from a few guitars the old Andalucian
music is rarely encountered. I so wanted to meet it, perhaps
just down the next ‘calle’. It didn’t happen.
A few days later, after visiting the Picasso museum in Malaga,
I listened next to Nin’s Cadena de valses ‘Chain of Waltzes’
and the two seemed to merge. Picasso it seems to me is a sentimental
artist in many ways and he can get obsessed with certain ideas
which he repeats over a series of works. They may be of small
children, guitars, nudes or when living in Paris, his blue or
rose periods. Nin likewise, from his Paris flat, is obsessed
in his work with a series of pastiches, sending “messages” in
something approaching the style of other Waltz-composers (Chopin,
Ravel, Schubert) but with a smattering of distinctly Spanish
flavour. Likewise Picasso, no matter what he paints or whichever
style he borrows, is ultimately always and distinctly himself.
The Mensaje (Message) a Claude Debussy takes various
characteristics of Debussy’s own Spanish pieces in Estampes
and the Preludes (for example La Soirée dans Grenade)
and mixes a slightly uncertain impressionism into a Spanish
‘ensalada’. It’s evocative but it makes no especial impression.
The 1830 Variations is another pastiche-type composition.
Nin greatly loved his grandmother who was born in 1830. This
work is in her memory. So to quote Calum MacDonald’s ideal and
fascinating booklet notes “... Nin writes throughout in the
idioms of the late 18th and early 19th
centuries, with scarcely a hint of actual time of composing,
and that he balances humour, tenderness and virtuosity in a
way that Schumann for example would have approved”. I have to
say that this piece meant little to me except for its natural
ease and attractiveness. I also see this, probably less controversially,
as another pastiche.
Nin had a difficult life mostly created by his own rather unpleasant
personality. Have you heard of his daughter Anaïs Nin? She was
born in France and seems to have had, if MacDonald is right,
a sexual relationship with her father after he had abandoned
his second wife. Her Wikipedia website does not to mention this.
She hitched up with Henry Miller and wrote copious books including
‘The House of Incest’ and has left several erotic diaries which
might be worth looking out for. Joaquin Nin’s son was the composer
Joaquin Nin-Culmell (1908-2004) some of whose music has been
recorded, I think by Marco Polo. He lived mostly in South America.
Now here's an admission. I don’t especially like Nimbus’s piano
recordings. This is nothing against Martin Jones who regularly
records for them, is a superb master and, as here, makes a convincing
case for any music he tackles. However the sound produced at
Wyastone I find too bright and almost, if I may be colloquial
‘twangy’. The complete Nimbus set of Debussy’s piano music (also
with Martin Jones) I disliked so much that I gave it away. The
same goes for their complete Beethoven Sonatas which I rarely
play. In addition I find that the volume needs to be at a higher
level of playback than on most other piano recordings. Sadly
that adjustment only serves to increase the brashness of the
That said, this is a fascinating disc and wonderfully played.
Nin is a little known voice in 20th century piano
music and on the evidence of this disc a real revelation.
See also reviews by Bob
Briggs and Jonathan Woolf
Gerard Hoffnung CDs
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