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España - Classical Masterpieces
see end of review for details
The performers include Alfonso Moreno, Enrique Batíz, Eduardo Mata, Mompou, Nicanor Zabaleta
rec. 1966-2002
BRILLIANT CLASSICS 9147 [20 CDs: c. 22:00:00]

Experience Classicsonline

There's a lot here so in the interests of completing this appraisal with reasonable promptitude this is written on a sample listen basis.

What we have is a sweeping cross-section of the music of Spain. Well, yes and no. It restricts itself to the iconic Spanish-born greats and to the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. It avoids foreigners' staples so there’s no Ravel, Debussy, Bizet, Rimsky-Korsakov, Liszt, Ibert or Glinka or, for that matter, Berners, Walton, Sorabji, Bliss or Bax. It embraces melody, avoids dissonance and all the things we once associated with the word 'modernity' - perhaps ‘avant-garde’ would be a better choice. It also gives a wide berth to the Spanish contemporary scene as advocated so well by Columna Musica.

The twenty discs are laid out in a coffret or wallet. Each is in its own stiff card pocket with a front design uniform with the box. The only track details - composers, works, timings and origins – are on the back of the card sleeve. The design of the box and the lack of any real paper documentation is no great shakes but then the price offsets any transient dismay you may suffer.

In quick overview what you get is 5 CDs of Falla, 3 CDs each of Albeniz (by Esteban Sanchez, 1968-72), Mompou, Rodrigo and zarzuela (two Berganza discs and one Carreras), and 2 CDs of Granados (Thomas Rajna from CRD, 1976). Sticking out like a sore thumb is one CD comprising a so-called Zabaleta harp portrait. Zabaleta is or was Spain’s and DG’s harp grandee. The music on the Zabaleta disc is not Spanish – transcriptions for harp of concertos by Bach and Handel – pleasant stuff but hardly compelling (rec. 1966, 1978). These discursions are not isolated: on CD6 we hear the Mexican composer, Julián Orbón’s Himnus – Orbón was one of Mata’s teachers. Everything is licensed to Brilliant with the sources being variously Dorian, Ensayo (the majority), CRD and Deutsche Grammophon.

The music mixes mainstream and unusual. Rodrigo's lissom Aranjuez and drab Gentilhombre rub shoulders with the same composer's entertaining Concierto Para Una Fiesta (ASV, 1980, 1985) in a rather treble-strong recording by Moreno. It has also just been reissued by itself on Regis RRC1360. There are two CDs of the Rodrigo piano solos (Albert Guinovart) and guitar solos (Ignacio Rodes, Carles Trepat) - the latter two being full DDD recordings from 2002 made by Ediciones Joaquín Rodrigo. That's a good contrast for a start.

The five Falla CDs are just as stimulating. They open with a rarity in the shape of the elusive complete La Vida Breve opera recorded by Eduardo Mata in Venezuela in 1993. There are two discs of Falla piano solos including a smattering of transcriptions from the orchestral fireworks. The piano solos are sensitively addressed by Benita Meshulam who made these recordings in 2004. Back to Dorian for two other Falla orchestral discs. Further Venezuelan forces are again conducted by Mata in 1993-94. The assortment is tangy and by no means simple-minded. Master Peter's Puppet Show, the exotic Psyche, the Harpsichord Concerto, the whole of El Amor Brujo, all five orchestral Homenjaes (almost Stravinskian in their polished brilliance and concision) and three snippets from El Sombrero (not a patch, it must be said, on the recent EMI and HDTT reissued from Frühbeck de Burgos). We end with another nice rarity - Berio's orchestration of Falla's Siete Canciones Españolas vibrantly sung by Marta Senn who also sings the mezzo lead in La Vida Breve as well as the floridly resinous vocalist in El Amor Brujo. Mata is a master of instrumental colour and his Falla selection is gloriously stimulating. However for true classic versions in this box we must turn to Rajna's iridescent Goyescas (when will someone track down the Mario Miranda masters of Goyescas used by Saga for his 1970s cycle; has anyone MP3-ed those two Saga LPs?) and Mompou's superb playing of his own Musica Callada - the quintessence of the cool, the apophthegmatic and the limpid.

There are no liner-notes and no texts. It's the price you pay for such an inexpensive yet stimulating and well thought through package.

The recordings date variously from 1966 to 2002 – analogue and digital.

Brilliant Classics will I hope continue to explore the back catalogue. Am I the only one to hanker after a box of ASV-Sanctuary’s Russian music series – the one piloted by Loris Tjeknavorian and the Armenian Philharmonic?

This is a stimulating varied collection of Iberiana. At extraordinary super-bargain price it will satisfy the enquiring minds of experts and of those mildly curious about the music of Spain.

Rob Barnett

CD 1 Joaquín Rodrigo - Guitar Concertos
CD 2 Joaquín Rodrigo - Piano Music
CD 3 Joaquín Rodrigo - Works for Guitar Solo
CD 4 Manuel de Falla - Orchestral Works
CD 5 Manuel de Falla - Orchestral Works
CD 6 Manuel de Falla - Orchestral Works
CD 7 Manuel de Falla - Piano Works
CD 8 Manuel de Falla - Piano Works
CD 9 Isaac Albeniz - Piano Music
CD 10 Isaac Albeniz - Piano Music
CD 11 Isaac Albeniz - Piano Music
CD 12 Enrique Granados - Piano Works
CD 13 Enrique Granados - Piano Works
CD 14 Federico Mompou - Piano Works
CD 15 Federico Mompou - Piano Works
CD 16 Federico Mompou - Piano Works
CD 17 A Portrait of Nicanor Zabaleta – harp concertos by Bach and Handel
CD 18 Zarzuela - José Carreras, tenor
CD 19 Zarzuela - Teresa Berganza, soprano
CD 20 Zarzuela - Teresa Berganza, soprano











































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