Isaac ALBENIZ (1860-1909)
Piano Music Vol. 7
Chant’s d’Espagne T101 (1892/97) [20:21]
6 Mazurkas de Salon T68 (1887) [19:20]
Deseo – estudio de concierto, T53 (c.1885) [8:01]
L’Automne Waltz, T96 (1890) [11:51]
Marcha Militar, T45 (c.1869) [2:01]
Improvisation, T115B (1903) [1:55]
Yvonne en Visite, T104 (1908) [6:14]
Miguel Baselga (piano)
rec. December 2010, Auditorio y palacio de congresos, Zaragoza, Spain
Isaac Albeniz needs little introduction to readers of these pages. However, one important fact must always be borne in mind when approaching his piano music. The oeuvre divides largely into two main stylistic entities. The first of these are those by which he has gained considerable fame – the Spanish works. These include the great masterpieces such as Iberia and España. However, there is a considerable body of music that owes its being to the late nineteenth century corpus of salon music. These early works often have little to do with Spanish folk music and are more likely to nod to Chopin and Liszt. Additionally there was a transitional phase when Albeniz began to make use of the Spanish idiom from a largely parochial standpoint. The present CD has examples of all three ‘periods’.
The earliest work on this disc is ‘Marcha Militar’ which dates from around 1869. It is also the earliest of the composer’s music to have survived. Albeniz was only nine years old when he wrote it. There is a good tale told about the origins of this work which the careful reader of the excellent liner-notes will enjoy. It is not a bad little piece really, however it hardly foretells what was to come from the composer’s pen.
Chronologically, the next work is Deseo - estudio de concierto which was dedicated to the composer’s wife. Franz Liszt and his Hungarian’s ‘Etudes de Concert’ and the Fantasia après un lecture du Dante are almost certainly the models for this highly virtuosic piece. Nevertheless, it is hardly one of Albeniz’s best efforts and is well summed up by the present pianist. He suggests that it is ‘a highly virtuosic pianistic trifle’. It is well worth having for completeness; however I doubt that it will gain a hold in the repertoire. Deseo is translated as ‘desire’.
I have always loved the Mazurkas de Salon which balances the commercial requirements of the salon and recital room with the need to provide quality ‘teaching’ pieces. These six numbers were written for the composer to use whilst teaching the daughters of the wealthy. The original piano score of these delightful numbers is reputed to have a cover picture showing visiting cards with the corner turned down and bearing the name of the dedicatees. The six young ladies were Isabel, Casilda, Aurora, Sofia, Christa and Maria. It is fair to suggest that each of these pieces was specially tailored to suit the personality and the technical ability of these young ladies. From a musical point of view, Chopin is never far away, however they are not pastiche. Albeniz imbues each dance with a beauty and poignancy that is entirely his own. They were composed around 1887.
Three years later, Albeniz presented the gorgeous L’Automne Waltz. It would be easy to define this piece simply as a reversion to ‘salon’ music, especially coming after some of his ‘Spanish’ influenced pieces such as Recuerdos de viaje and España. However there is nothing trivial about this music. This is a waltz of the highest sophistication and technical creativity. It is written in three sections, preceded by a lugubrious introduction, with each section written in a different key. The coda is impressive with lots of references back to earlier material. It is a perfect example of why a work of this type should be kept in the repertoire and not consigned to history.
Ever since hearing my school-friend Alan Kitchen playing Cordoba from the Chants d’Espagne, in 1971, I have wanted a complete recording of this fine work. Strangely no recording ever came my way. Nearly forty years on I have discovered a version that moves, impresses and fulfils all my expectations of the piece. I can battle my way through parts of this suite on my piano; however there is nothing to beat a superb professional recording.
The Cantos de España, to give the work its Spanish title was originally conceived as a suite of three movements – the Prelude, Orientale and Sous le Palmier. These were published in 1892. In 1898 two further movements were added Cordoba and Seguidillas. The liner-notes sum up the work’s musical style with a quotation from Walter Aaron Clark who wrote that ‘the suite represents the furthest advance in Albeniz’s Spanish style to date in its seriousness, harmonic richness, and formal variety’. The work has the sights, sounds and location of Andalusia as its inspiration.
The opening Prelude is full of exuberance and excitement. This is better-known in the version for guitar, however it sounds well on the piano and the predominantly Flamenco sound of the first and last sections mimics the guitar well. The Orientale, in spite of its name, is based on tunes from Andalusia. This is a moody piece in comparison to the preceding Prelude. Sous le Palmier is written with the rhythm of the habañera, which is a dance originating in Cuba. The piece balances good humour with a touch of melancholy. Cordoba, which I discovered all those years ago, is a little tone poem. It opens with the sound of the bells of the town churches. This is followed by a hymn. The spell is broken by an outburst of flamenco dancing and a big romantic tune. The work closes with a reminiscence of the hymn tune before concluding with a final dance. Seguidillas is once again pure Andalusian folk music with the dance rhythms being complemented by brief ‘coplas’.
Altogether a great work and a superb performance. I am glad to say that my school friend is still making music both on the piano and the organ. I am extremely grateful to him for introducing me to Albeniz’s music.
The Improvisation is an interesting little piece. Only published in 2009, it was transcribed by Milton Laufer from a wax cylinder recorded by the composer in 1903. The work is a short two-minute study of dance rhythms that the composer was planning to use. It is a lively, vibrant piece of work that explores syncopation, alternating rhythms and unison writing in the manner of a recitative. The music of España is called to mind. There were three improvisations recorded and this present one is the first. So there are good things to look forward to in subsequent volumes of Albeniz’s ‘complete’ piano music!
Yvonne en visite! is simply charming. It was composed the year before the composer’s death and forms part of a collection of pieces for ‘children young and old’ assembled by the professors of the Schola Cantorum in Paris. Albeniz’s contribution was a musical depiction of events in the life of Yvonne Guidé who was the daughter of Guillaume Guidé, co-director of the Théâtre de la Monnaie in Brussels. With a Satie-like commentary written into the piano score the composer describes the visit of the young pianist and her being made to perform in front of Albeniz. The poor child is nervous and makes a number of mistakes. Her mother becomes more and more annoyed with her and threatens her with ten days of Hanon – which was a terrifying book of piano exercises ‘popular’ at that time. The work is in two short movements – La révérence and Joyeuse rencontre et quelques pénibles événements (Joyful meeting and painful events!).
I enjoyed this CD and would recommend it to all enthusiasts of Isaac Albeniz’s piano music. It presents an excellent balance of masterpieces, salon music of the very best quality and some unknown quantities. The playing is superb. Miguel Baselga is always sympathetic to this music – whether it is technically difficult or within the grasp of Grade 6-ers like myself. He is never condescending towards the Mazurkas and the Waltz and plays them with attention and obvious love and enthusiasm. The liner-notes written by Jean-Pascal Vachon are informative and provide all the information required for a good understanding of each of these pieces. The sound quality is excellent as would be expected from BIS.
Finally, some of these pieces are recorded elsewhere, however as far as I am aware, the Marcha, the Improvisation and Deseo are not currently in the CD catalogues, apart from the present disc. The other works have precious few recordings available. This apparent lack of interest does not imply that any of this music lacks quality, interest or inspiration: many of these works are little masterpieces.
An excellent balance of masterpieces, salon music of the very best quality and some unknown quantities. The playing is superb.