Isaac ALBÉNIZ (1860-1909)
Piano Music - Vol. 6
Rapsodia Española for piano and orchestra, T16 (edited by Jacinto Torres)(1886-1887) [11:21]
Navarra, T106 (completed by Pilar Bayona) (1906-1908) [5:42]
Piano Sonata No 5, T85 (1888) [18:56]
Troisième Suite ancienne, T76 (1887) [6:12]
Azulejos, T107 (completed by Enrique Granados) (1909) [7:00]
Piano Concerto No.1, T17 ‘Concierto Fantástico’ (1887) [25:10]
Miguel Baselga (piano)
Tenerife Symphony Orchestra/Lü Jia
rec. December 2007, Auditorio y palacio de congresos, Zaragoza, Spain (solo pieces); July 2009, Auditorio de Tenerife, Santa Cruz de Tenerife, Spain (rhapsody and concerto)
BIS BIS-CD-1743 [75:43]
The Luxembourg-born pianist Miguel Baselga has now recorded six well-regarded discs of solo piano music by Albéniz, the latest of which includes works for piano and orchestra. In typical BIS fashion the band chosen is the Tenerife Symphony, which celebrates its 75th anniversary this year, under Shanghai-born Lü Jia. This strategy of employing little-known ensembles is a risky one, but in the case of the Singapore Symphony it paid off handsomely. Indeed, the latter’s Seascapes - review - was one of my Recordings of the Year for 2007. Kees Bakels and the Malaysian Philharmonic’s Rimsky-Korsakov collection (BIS-CD-1667) is just as desirable, proof - if it were needed - that second-rank need not mean second-rate.
Rapsodia Española, originally written for two pianos and usually heard in one of several versions for piano and orchestra, is presented here in a completion by Spanish musicologist Jacinto Torres. Both the band and soloist make a striking impression in the brooding first bars of the piece, Baselga wonderfully fluent and rhythmically sophisticated. The piano sound is warm and detailed, the bass especially well caught, the brief orchestral tuttis suitably powerful. But it’s the soloist who really impresses, with rollicking rhythms and variegated colours. Yes, the orchestra is a little uncouth at times, but they certainly add terrific swing to the demonic dance that begins at 10:17.
An intoxicating start to this recital, and an ideal curtain raiser to the glitter and glitz of the unfinished Navarra, presented here in a version by Spanish pianist Pilar Bayona. One usually hears the somewhat anodyne orchestration by Déodat de Séverac - as played in the recently reviewed Ansermet reissue from Eloquence - but whichever version one prefers there’s no denying the virtuosity of this one. Baselga is simply dazzling, producing bright cascades of sound that will surely gladden the hearts of all Lisztians. As the late Paul Shoemaker remarked in his review of Volume 5, this is pianism of the highest order, and very well recorded to boot.
The Piano Sonata No. 5 also has strong links to the virtuoso pianist-composers of the 19th-century; in his liner-notes Jean-Paul Vachon characterises the opening Allegro as Schumannesque, although its reach and cool, free-flowing harmonies seem closer to Chopin at times. As for the tiny Minuet, it’s anything but a genteel interlude; indeed, Baselga despatches it with devilish glee. The real gem, though, is the ensuing Rêverie, with its nod to the north. There’s an ease to the playing here, a command, that’s most impressive, the music’s pointilliste elements rendered with great precision and inner feeling. As for the final Allegro, rhythms are superbly articulated, the BIS engineers conveying the crystalline quality of Baselga’s playing without allowing the sound to harden or become brittle.
Albéniz looks back to an earlier century - the 18th - with theTroisième Suite ancienne, whose Minuet and Gavotte are played with a genuine feel for late Baroque style and proportions. The latter is especially fine, the bones of the stately dance fleshed out with writing of great lucidity and charm. As for Azulejos -another unfinished work, this time completed by Enrique Granados - Baselga uncovers a remarkable amount of detail and colour, the music’s gentle ebb and flow adroitly managed. Daringly, he has replaced Granados’s ending with one of his own; it’s seamlessly done, the piece ending with the lightest of flourishes.
The brighter acoustic of the Auditorio de Tenerife - not such an issue in the Rapsodia - is something of a disappointment after the warm, velvety sound captured in the Auditorio y palacio de congresos, Zaragoza. The orchestral sound is certainly a tad aggressive, but at least the piano is well placed in the mix. Baselga seems fractionally less involved in this concerto, although as always detail and colour are high on his list of musical priorities. Rêverie is a real joy, even if the orchestral interjections are a little coarse. And despite some delectable rhythms in the closing Allegro, I feel the band is the weakest element here.
Ironically, Miguel Baselga first registered on my radar when I heard that his recording of Manuel de Falla’s Pour le tombeau de Couperin (BIS-CD-773) was passed off as a performance by the infamous Joyce Hatto. A compliment of sorts, I suppose, but anyone listening to this new disc will recognise Baselga as a pianist of great range and sophistication. So, even though Alicia De Larrocha will always be favoured in this repertoire, she may just have met her match.  

Dan Morgan
Alicia De Larrocha may just have met her match.