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Joaquín NIN (1879-1949)
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]

Experience Classicsonline

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 performances.
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 whole.
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 tone quality.
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.

Gary Higginson

See also reviews by Bob Briggs and Jonathan Woolf


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