Joaquín TURINA (1882-1949)
Piano Quartet in A minor, Op.67 (1931) [16:15]
Violin Sonata No.2 in G major, Op.82 Sonata espagnola (1933-34) [15:01]
Escena andaluza, Op.7 for viola and piano quintet (1912) [12:14]
Piano Trio No.1, Op.35 (1926) [20:49]
La oración del torero, Op.34 for string quartet (1925) [7:53]
The Nash Ensemble (Marianne Thorsen (violin), Laura Samuel (violin, Escena andaluza), Lawrence Power (viola), Vicci Wardman (viola, Escena andaluza), Paul Watkins (cello), Ian Brown (piano))
rec. 17-19 December 2010, Henry Wood Hall, London. DDD
HYPERION CDA67889 [72:14]
If you ever wished Ravel wrote more chamber music, this might be a recording for you. This is very French music built out of Spanish elements. It is not the music of verbs and events, but of the feeling of the moment, atmosphere and fragrances. It is quite Impressionistic, and with its subtle Iberian scent it resembles Ravel the most. Also, its soft, reserved emotion may remind you of the chamber music of Gabriel Fauré, especially his two piano quintets. Though the sonority and the technique may have come from the North, the rest is intrinsically Spanish. Turina’s andalucismo is very natural: he breathes it like air. That’s why the music is not shallow and does not sound “postcard Spanish”. On the other hand, it does not seem to me to be the kind of music you could listen to in Repeat mode. It is somewhat heavy, and you need a break from it after a while. The pressure is not strong, but it is rather constant.
The Piano Quartet opens with a cold, resolute introduction, which leads into a big Romantic movement in the style of César Franck. This music could not be written by anyone but a Spanish composer. The middle movement starts as a fiery, accentuated Iberian scherzo - but these are just the parentheses around a dark and pensive middle part. A Gypsy introduction leads to an urgent, Brahmsian finale. Diverse episodes pass in front of us over the throbbing Spanish pulse. The solemn triumphant ending returns to the main subject of the first movement. The overall residual feeling of the quartet is profound yet hefty, like after some of Franck’s music. It is well wrought, but in an academic manner, as if the form dictated the contents. Such works can be good, but they rarely stand out in the crowd.
Turina’s Second Violin Sonata has a nickname Sonata espagnola, so we come prepared. The first movement is a rhapsodic set of subtle variations, with wide gestures, a generally contented mood, yet with outbursts of passion. The second movement is a light-footed scherzo, full of twists and accents. Next comes a promise of a slow movement, but it is just a songlike introduction to the Allegro moderato finale, which sounds like something between a bolero and a malagueña. The style resembles de Falla and, as often in Spanish music, the pride and the tenderness mix and interleave. The music is affirmative and bright. The sonata as a whole is not especially memorable.
Escena andaluza is more interesting, and not only because its form is less standard. It also has more memorable music and distinctive effects. The solo viola is placed against the background of a piano quintet - an inventive solution, which results in a songlike, not concertante sound. The music is at times tender, at times ecstatic, with a fascinating shifting of episodes, the freshness of perfumed air, in places reminiscent of the string quartets of Ravel and Debussy. The two parts have descriptive names - Crépuscule du soir (“The Evening Twilight”) and À la fenêtre (“At the Window”).
Piano Trio No.1 starts with a slow prelude, cool and atmospheric. This leads into a sunny, joyous fugue, whose theme sounds like a faster version of Siegfried Idyll. The slow movement is a set of variations and, Turina being Turina, the variations take the form of Spanish dances, although the theme itself looks quite neutral. The dances come from different regions of Spain: we hear the muñeira, the schotis, the zortziko, the jota and the soleares. The first subject of the finale is jumpy and cheerful, in the French manner; the second subject is pure honey. The themes from the first movement reappear to close the structure. The music is densely built, with many attractive details. This is probably the least Spanish-sounding track on this disc. The ending is triumphant.
The last work is called La oración del torero (“The Bullfighter’s Prayer”). Turina composed it after he witnessed toreadors praying in a small chapel before going out to the arena. The music gradually brings us from the buzz of the world, the worries and the fear, to calmness and religious certainty. The tension gives way to light. The prayer is heartfelt. This tenderness is virile - after all, we are talking toreros. In the end, the music dissolves into white light. This attractive piece was written for a laúd quartet - the laúd is a mandolin-like Spanish folkloric instrument. We hear it in composer’s own arrangement for string quartet.
The writing for all combinations of instruments is masterful, producing beautiful textures. That said, overall, I was not much encouraged by the music to return and listen again. It is well crafted and can serve as a handbook on the diversity of musical andalucismo - which had not in Turina’s days become a cliché. I can’t help but think that Granados or de Falla could have found something to make this music not only Spanish, but distinctive, something that would make one want to return to it more often.
None of this is the fault of the performances which are expressive and spirited. The musicians are completely at ease with the fast tempi and the intricate weave of rhythms. The piano blends well with the strings. In some places I wished that the reading had been more transparent: it is more energetic than atmospheric. This could be the effect of the recording, which is warm yet close, maybe too close, at the expense of the airiness. There can be more magic and perfume found in this music. The liner-note is well-written and provides an engaging historical and musical analysis, in English, French and German.
Turina’s style is very uniform, and probably should be consumed in smallish doses. It was especially good to hear the attractive Escena andaluza and the poignant La oración del torero.
This is very French music built out of Spanish elements.