Manuel de FALLA (1876-1946)
Complete Piano Works
Nocturno (1896) [3:54]
Mazurka (1899) [4:17]
Serenata Andaluza (1900) [4:33]
Canción (1900) [2:14]
Vals-Capricho (1900) [2:52]
Cortejo de Gnomos (1901) [2:15]
Serenata (1901) [3:41]
Allegro di Concierto (1903/1904) [8:17]
Cuatro Piezas Espag˝olas (1906/1909) [15:16]
Fantasía Baetica (1919) [12:19]
Canto de los Remueros de Volga (1922) [3:20]
Pour le Tombeau de Paul Dukas (1935) [3:36]
Azumi Nishizawa (piano)
rec. Conservatorio Profesional de Musica de Getafe (Madrid) 27-29 January 2010. DDD.
VERSO VRS 2089 [67:23]

Let’s get one thing clear from the start. The composer under discussion is Falla, and certainly not de Falla. A Spanish musician once told me that referring to the composer as de Falla was like referring to Beethoven as von Beethoven, so, from now on, Falla it is.

Issues such as this, the complete works of…, can be a blessing as much as a curse. Thirty years ago, Roger Wright said to me that Percy Grainger was the one composer whose every note was worthwhile. I wonder if he still thinks this to be so, in light of the juvenilia Chandos dug up, and recorded, as part of their Percy Grainger Edition. I doubt it, for some of those early pieces were mere page-fillers and shed no new light on that most fascinating of composers. Likewise this Complete Piano Works of Falla. The first eight tracks contain works written long before Falla had found his style - even La Vida Breve, written after these pieces, isn’t the real Falla - he still had some way to go. So what can we learn from these early pieces? The answer, I am afraid, is nothing more than it took Falla some time to find his style. They are fairly negligible pieces, lacking a personality and real substance. Even the Allegro di Concierto, which should be a virtuoso exercise in pianism is a rather dull concoction. Compare it with Granados’s work of the same title, and written a few years later, and weep. So, whilst I am grateful to have heard these pieces, I feel that there is no need to hear any of them again.

There is one other problem with recording these works. By the time we reach Aragonesa, the first of the Four Spanish Pieces and the first mature Falla piano work, it fails to make the impact it should for it appears cheapened by what has preceded it. Ms Nishizawa starts this set in a very withdrawn way, but as the suite progresses she builds her playing so that by the time we reach Andaluza, the final piece, she fully aware of the colours the music possesses and she is in control of her performance. There is a ‘but’, I’m afraid. I have the feeling that Ms Nishizawa, despite her superb technique, is a lyrical, rather than a dramatic musician, for she can achieve the most beautiful “sung” line but a passage such as the opening of the Fantasía Baetica doesn’t have the required weight or attack. The big climax never materialises and the ending fails to catch fire.

Canto de los Remueros de Volga is an arrangement of the Song of the Volga Boatman, which was undertaken as a piece to be auctioned on behalf of Russian refugees. Like the early pieces it tells us nothing about Falla and is pleasant but no more than that. Pour le Tombeau de Paul Dukas was written for an edition of the Revue Musicale, as had his Homenaje pour le tombeau de Claude Debussy fifteen years earlier. And here’s a point. Although the Debussy Tombeau was written for guitar, Falla did make an arrangement of it for piano, and one wonders why it isn’t included on this disk. Ms Nishizawa’s performance of the Falla Tombeau is stately.

These performances are lovely but I do miss some real strength in the playing. All the well known pieces need stronger interpretations than Ms Nishizawa gives them. There are many recordings of all the works here which give a better view of the music, some of them by Alicia De Larrocha, and I would recommend seeking those out.

Bob Briggs

The well known pieces need stronger interpretations.