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Isaac ALBÉNIZ (1860-1909)
Piano Music - Volume 8
Seconde Suite Espagnole T90 (c.1889) [9:45]
Seis Danzas Españolas T78 (c.1887) [22:03]
Estudio Impromptu T50 (c.1883) [4:51]
Les Saisons T100 (1892) [8:37]
Mazurka de Salón T81 (1887) [5:49]
Recuerdos (Mazurka) T80 (1887) [5:04]
Improvisation T115 C (1903) [2:08]
Champagne (Carte Blanche) T83 (1887) [5:05]
Berceuse T114 bis (1890) [1:50]
Miguel Baselga (piano)
rec. March 2013, Auditorio y palacio de congresos, Zaragoza, Spain
Full Track-List at end of review
BIS BIS-1973 [67:07]

The music of Albéniz is usually divided into three distinct phases. The first is characterised by his many pieces composed in the salon style. The second phase is represented by music seen as being more Spanish in nature. The third contains his more mature and unique works, those that have rightly made his name, such as Iberia. Add to these his operas including Merlin (review ~ review) and Henry Clifford.
 
The present disc centres on music from the second period, with most of the pieces being composed during the latter half of the 1880s. The impetus for this change in musical emphasis came after Albéniz had met the teacher and composer, Felipe Pedrell, in 1883. Pedrell was a leading advocate of the development of a Spanish cultural and musical identity. It was he who persuaded Albéniz to compose more Spanish-orientated music. It has been argued that if it had not been for Albéniz’s meeting with Pedrell he would not have developed the later style which led to his mature masterpieces.
 
The disc sets off with the Seconde Suite espagnole. It makes an ideal opener, as the two pieces embody the two major changes in the composer's compositional style, as identified by his biographer, Pola Baytleman. They mark out this second phase and comprise a reliance on the dance rhythms of Spain and the use of the cante jondo. The latter is the musical line used in flamenco music to portray the more dramatic elements. The result is full of Iberian rhythms and Spanish sunshine. Whilst these two pieces are not as famous or as musically complex as the first suite, they still offer the listener a taste of Spain. The suite has had somewhat of a mixed life, with some editors including two extra short works. Here the suite is recorded in its original two movement form.
 
This is followed by the Seis Danzas españolas, which, as the name implies, is a set of six pieces that depict dance rhythms not only from Spain but also from Cuba. These would seem to have been for the purpose of teaching, as not only are they easier, some more difficult than others, but five of them are also dedicated to five of his students. It’s as if they were composed with each of the students’ abilities in mind. Whilst Spanish in nature, these are less overtly nationalistic than the Suite espagnole. Here the emphasis is on the dance rhythm rather than any specific theme. The resulting pieces are still wonderful and full of Hispanic flavour.
 
The other items have amongst them some real gems. These offer the listener a combination of Albéniz’s new nationalistic style with salon manners — charming short pieces. Les Saisons is something different: it is a set of four miniatures. They last only eight and a half minutes in total. When originally published in London they were entitled Album of Miniatures, with each of the movements allotted a title referring to one of the seasons. It was only after the French edition was published in Paris, later the same year, that the work was given the name by which it has become known. Each of the short pieces is linked in more than just theme, as they can be seen to have linking key signatures too: A Major for Spring, D Major for Summer, A minor for Autumn and D minor for Winter. They are also less Spanish in flavour than the rest of the music. This is especially true of the beautiful L’Automne, which seems to have more in common with French impressionistic music, and Debussy in particular, than anything relating to Spain.
 
When referring to the performances, one really has to compare this set with the one on Naxos, which while running a few discs behind, is Bis main competitor on this occasion. Although not all the works recorded by Bis have been recorded by Naxos, and vice versa, enough have. This present cycle benefits from a single pianist, Miguel Baselga, whose playing throughout is excellent. Naxos are by now on their third pianist; their first, Guillermo González, being the pick of them. The Naxos pianists do however seem a little reserved by comparison with Baselga whose tempos are generally quicker than those of his competitors. This gives Baselga the edge, as it imparts to his playing an added excitement and Spanishness. It is this that wins through in the end. Both sets are recorded well, although the Bis engineers have conferred on Baselga a slight advantage. The same cannot be said about the booklet essays. Whilst the Naxos ones are good, the ones that accompany the Bis discs are more in depth and informative. They give excellent insights into both composer and music.
 
Stuart Sillitoe
  
Reviews of other volumes in this series: Vol. 4 ~ Vol. 5 ~ Vol. 6 ~ Vol. 7
 
Reviews of Naxos Albeniz series: Vol. 2 ~ Vol. 3 ~ Vol. 4 
 
Full Track-List
Seconde Suite espagnole, T 90
1. Zaragoza. Allegro [3:20]
2. Sevilla. Allegretto [6:23]
Seis Danzas españolas, T 78
1. [Moderato [3:07]
2. Allegretto [4:56]
3. Allegretto [3:43]
4. Staccato [3:44]
5. Rubato [3:01]
6. Moderato [3:20]
Estudio impromptu, T 50 [4:51]
Les Saisons, T 100
1. Le Printemps. Allegretto [1:58]
2. L:Été. Allegro [2:25]
3. L:Automne. Andantino [2:25]
4. L:Hiver. Allegretto [1:41]
Mazurka de salón, T 81 [5:49]
Recuerdos (Mazurka), T 80 [5:04]
Improvisation, T 115 C [2:08]
Champagne (Carte blanche), vals de salón, T 83 [5:05]
Berceuse, T 114 bis [1:50]