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music that will be new to most people

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Joaquín TURINA (1882-1949)
Piano Music - Volume 11
Verbena madrileña (Madrid Fair), op.42 (1926-27) [20:12]
En la zapateria (At the Shoemaker’s) op.71 (1932) [10:50]
Linterna mágica (Magic Lantern) op.101 (1945) [9:04]
El circo (The Circus) op.68 (1931) [9:48]
Radio Madrid, op.62 (1931) [10:16]
Jordi Masó (piano)
rec. Auditorium, Jafre, Spain, 2014
NAXOS 8.573401 [60:30]

A great place to begin exploring this thoroughly captivating CD is with the Wagnerian ‘En la zapateria’ (At the Shoemakers), op.71. This work, composed in 1932, is no ponderous re-working of the German’s opera music. However, the opening number does include a brief quote from the Prelude to Act 3 of Die Meistersinger as well as pinching part of the tune sung by Hans Sachs, cobbler in Nuremberg. I do wish that Naxos had included translations of the various movements in their track-listings: I will provide them here. The mood changes as Turina explores different shoes and their owners. First up are the ‘Los brodequines de la marquesa’ (Laced Boots of the Marquise), with its stately tune and hat tips to a long forgotten court dance. The next piece is written in folk-dance-style and pictures the ‘Calzados de campesinos’ (Peasants Shoes). ‘Sandalias griegas’ (Greek Shoes) are musically described by use of the ‘ancient modes’ and bare fifth chords. I loved the beautifully contrived ‘scène de ballet’ created for the ‘Los zapatos de la bailarina’ (Ballerina’s Shoes) with swirls and pirouettes: a delightful miniature. The liner-notes fail to mention the next number, ‘Los zapatos de una mujer bonita’ (Shoes of a Pretty Woman). This is imbued with typically sultry music. The final image is ‘Las zapatillas del torero’ (The Toreador’s Shoes) which cleverly depicts the excitement, colour and splendour — whether we approve or not — of the bullfight.

I listened next to Linterna mágica (Magic Lantern), op.101 which was composed late in Turina’s life. Clearly the title is a throwback to an earlier cinematographic technology –talkies and Technicolor were in full swing by 1945. What the composer does in this piece is to imagine the skills of the ‘old’ pianists who used to accompany the ‘silent’ movies. This is a big work. The opening ‘Preludio’ has Debussy as its inspiration. This is followed by the evocative El misterio del jardín (The Mystery of the Garden). For me this is one of the most satisfying examples of impressionistic music written by any composer. The finale is Turina wearing his heart on his sleeve with a great Chopinesque waltz, Vals romántico. He does not parody, just allows the sweep of the dance to capture the listener’s mind: it is a timeless waltz.

In 1931 Turina composed a suite of music entitled Radio Madrid, op.62. It consists of four short movements which the composer submitted was ‘a suite for piano that describes a radio broadcast’. The opening ‘Prólogo’ gently pokes fun at the producers and announcers preparing to make their broadcast. Suddenly the ‘red light’ goes on and the music bursts into life. The liner-notes suggest that part of the prologue, a little contrapuntal section, mimics the conversation between the announcers. The three subsequent movements are ‘Retransmision I. Los estudiantes de Santiago’ (Students of Santiago), ‘Retransmision II. Carretera castellana’ (Spanish Highway) and ‘Retransmision III. Fiesta en Sevilla’ (Fiesta in Seville). This finale is the most dramatic and satisfying piece in this suite. There is little to connect these movements in mood: yet they do not really bear performance separately. The notes quote the composer admitting that the Suite is ‘somewhat disparate in feel and atmosphere, (but) unified by the mysterious chords and the motif that represents the announcers’.

In the same year, Turina completed his El Circo (Circus Suite), op.68. This was ostensibly written for children, however the technique and the sheer craftsmanship of each movement go way beyond the requirements of didactic music. The notes amusingly suggest that Turina’s ‘imagination runs riot’ as he expounds six pictures or images of the circus. The suite opens with a fanfare, ‘Trompeteria’ (Trumpets), promising exciting and death-defying events to follow. The first of these performances are the high wire ‘Equilibristas’ (Tight-rope walkers). The next movement, ‘Amazona’ (horsewomen) imagines horses cantering rather energetically around the ring. Yet there are a few pauses here and there to allow the riders to show off their skill and undoubted beauty. ‘El perro sabio’ (The Smart Dogs?) is a whimsical little piece that is both enigmatic and wistful. All circuses have clowns (Payasos) and Turina’s is no exception. This boisterous little toccata complete with glissandi is exhilarating. The final picture is of the ‘Trapecios volantes’ (Flying Trapeze Artists), swinging high in the tent. In those days there was no safety-net. Turina uses arpeggios to create an aerial mood for this music. It is probably the most technically difficult piece in this set. It would be a precocious child indeed who could ‘pull off’ the Circus Suite with flair and technical exactitude.

The last work I explored was Verbena madrileña (Madrid Fair) which is the most involved and demanding work on this disc. This five movement suite was composed between 1926-7 and was dedicated to the composer’s friend, pianist and teacher Lucas Moreno (1900–73). The music has the influence of Debussy and Ravel, but also features considerable Spanish colouring in each section. The opening movement ‘La verbena’ (The Fair) depicts the fair itself with music that is stirring and at times reflective. The impressionistic mood of the pensive ‘Columpios’ (Swings) is a surprising take on this attraction. I loved ‘Caballitos’ (Horses) with its complex of rhythms: it is full of vitality and excitement. The notes do not mention the ‘Cortejo procesional’ (Grand Parade) which is the longest of these pieces. It paints a variety of images as the pageant passes. Think of all possible themes for floats, men and women on stilts, giants and dragons and the listener will have some idea of the amazing diversity of this movement. A lovely poignant tune acts as a connecting thread. The final piece is a ‘Baile castizo’ (Spanish Dance), with ‘castizo’ implying that it is the ‘real thing’. This is a lovely suite that is not quite as overblown as its title and the movements may suggest: it is a Fair looked at with older eyes and a certain sad hindsight.

The recording is ideal, with all the detail of Masó’s playing clearly captured. The liner-notes are by Justo Romero with the English translation by Susannah Howe. I noted above the lack of translation of individual movements and the odd missing commentary on some individual movements.

Jordi Masó has continued to impress with his playing and his commitment to Turina’s music. I understand that there are probably another five volumes to be released in order to conclude this cycle of Turina’s piano music. It is an exciting project that has revealed many hidden treasures. As I have got to know Turina’s music, I have become increasingly impressed: I rate him alongside Debussy, Ravel, Albeniz and Granados. Even if other listeners do not agree with me on this assessment, it is certain that they will discover a wealth of interest in this volume (and the others) of Joaquin Turina’s piano music.

John France

Reviews of earlier volumes in the series
Volume 1
Volume 2
Volume 4



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