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Enrique GRANADOS (1867-1916)
Marcha de los vencidos (March of the Defeated) (1899) [7:03]
Torrijos: Incidental Music (1894) [17:28]
Suite sobre cantos gallegos (Suite on Galician Songs) (1899) [30:17]
Cor Madrigal/Mireia Barrera
Barcelona Symphony Orchestra/Pablo González
rec. Audition Hall, Barcelona, Spain, 9, 12 July 2013
NAXOS 8.573263 [54:47]

Many listeners will be familiar with Granados’ piano music. One or two of his pieces have become ‘pop’ favourites such as the Danza andaluza, Op.37, no.5. Conversely, Granados’ catalogue is considerable, with works in a variety of genres including a fair number of chamber pieces, stage-works, songs and orchestral music. It may surprise readers to know that he wrote the first movement of a symphony which remains unpublished and incomplete.

The present CD explores three works from the orchestral repertoire, all of which are ‘world premiere recordings’. Any reviewer of this recording is beholden to Justo Romero for his introduction to this music in the readable and helpful liner-notes.

A few brief notes on the composer and his music may be of interest. Enrique Granados Y Campiña was born in the Catalan city of Lleida on 27 July 1867. His musical education was received locally with the band-master and then in Barcelona and Paris. As an accomplished pianist, he toured Europe with Jacques Thibaud, violinist and Pablo Casals, cellist. Granados gave many concert performances in Spain, including the premiere of Edvard Grieg’s Piano Concerto. Like many virtuosic pianists, he wrote much music for his own instrument. The most famous of these are the ‘Spanish Dances’ and his masterpiece, Goyescas, based on paintings and drawings by the artist Goya.

Granados founded the Society of Classical Concerts in Barcelona as well as the Granados Piano Academy. In 1916 he was aboard the RMS Sussex returning from the United States, when the ship was sunk by a German torpedo. Both Granados and his wife were drowned.

Enrique Granados was a nationalist composer. His style is a concatenation of Spanish folk rhythms and melodies, usually without direct quotation, tempered by the pianism and form of Schumann, Liszt, Chopin and Grieg.

This present disc opens with Marcha de los vencidos (March of the Defeated) which was composed in 1899. It is described as pre-empting some of the scores for ‘Spaghetti Westerns’ written by Nino Rota and Ennio Morricone. The work is introverted, with some lugubrious and austere music. Even the more positive middle-section is depressing, portraying ‘defeat’, in spite of melodic ‘intensity’ and ‘bright fanfares’. For some reason, the composer resolves the final chord in a major key. Perhaps, victory may spring from a rout? It is a well-scored work that has obvious technical competence. It is more of a film score than a concert-hall march.

The incidental music to the play Torrijos was composed in 1894. The play was written by the Valencian playwright and journalist Fernando Periquet (1873-1940). The liner-notes give a succinct plot overview:-

‘In 1831, General José María Torrijos led an ill-fated attempt to bring down the absolutist regime of Ferdinand VII. Having sailed from England, via Gibraltar, he and his small band of followers landed on the coast not far from Málaga, where they found themselves the victims of an ambush. They were shot nine days later.’

I loved this music. There is an impressionistic feel to some of it, bearing in mind it was composed a few years before Debussy popularised this style. The composer has introduced a chorus in the first, second and fourth sections of this work. The vocal writing, which is four-part harmony rather than contrapuntal, is straightforward and possibly naïve but it adds to the effectiveness of this often beautiful score. The burden of these poems is to be found in sea-songs encouraging the sailors to make for the shore. The liner-notes give the text and translation. In spite of the fact that this music has ‘no pretensions other than a desire to illustrate and enhance the on-stage action’ it is enjoyable in its own right. Not every piece of incidental, or even film, music can convincingly claim that.

Fernando Periquet was later to write the libretto for Granados’ opera based on Goyescas.

The final discovery on this CD is the Suite sobre cantos gallegos (Suite on Galician Songs) which was composed in 1899. The liner-notes point out that each of its four movements paints a picture of one or other aspect of the landscape of Galicia in North-Western Spain. The composer uses songs and melodies of the region. I am tempted to call them ‘symphonic dances’. The four movements are well balanced. The opening ‘Morning Song’ could have been written by Grieg: it is full of mountain mist and early sunshine. This is a substantial movement, lasting nearly ten minutes. The ‘scherzo’ has a lovely ‘skipping’ theme, played first on the bassoon. As the movement develops, Granados changes the mood with lively rhythms balanced with some introspective moments.

The slow movement is entitled ‘morriña’, which can mean ‘sadness or melancholy, particularly nostalgia for one’s homeland’. There is no doubt that Galicia has a Celtic heritage. The ‘melancholy’ is as potent as anything composed by a Scottish, Irish or Welsh composer. There is a definite ‘Celtic twilight’ in these pages. Heard ‘blind’, I could imagine the misty Western Highlands of Ardnamurchan or Morar in my mind’s eye.

The finale is a romp: described as ‘La fiesta’ it provides exactly what it says ‘on the tin’ although there are some quieter moments. Do not laugh, but occasionally, in this last movement, I caught something of Sir Arthur Sullivan’s music to The Gondoliers – an opera that I love.

I noted above that this is ‘more’ than a suite. If there was formal development, it could be classified as a symphony. So I do feel that 'Symphonic Dances' ‘would be a better description than 'Suite'. These ‘Songs’ demand to be a part of the orchestral repertoire throughout the classical world. They are well-written, superbly scored, often moving and sometimes quite uplifting.

This is an excellent opportunity to discover the music of Enrique Granados beyond the usual repertoire. The playing by the Barcelona Symphony Orchestra under Pablo González is superb. The choir bring their own magic to the incidental music for Torrijos. There is a lovely photograph of Barcelona on the CD cover: it is one of my favourite cities in Europe.

I note that this CD is billed as Orchestral Works Volume 1: so I hope that subsequent volumes will be forthcoming in the near future. I have looked at the listings of Granados’ orchestral music, and there are certainly a number of treats in store for the interested listener.

John France



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