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Isaac ALBÉNIZ (1860-1909)
Rapsodia Espańola Op. 70 [12:51]
Suite from The Magic Opal (Overture [8:46]; Prelude to Act II [2:11]; Ballet, Act II [3:39])
Piano Concerto No. 1, Op. 78 Concierto fantástico [24:43]
Suite Espańola (Castilla (Seguidillas) [2:50]; Granada (Serenata) [6:12]; Sevilla (Sevillanas) [4:52]; Asturias (Leyenda) [7:05]; Aragón (Fantasía) [5:11])
Martin Roscoe (piano)
BBC Philharmonic/Juanjo Mena
rec. MediaCityUK, Salford, England, 17 September, 30 November, 1 December 2015.
CHANDOS CHAN10897 [79:42]

The problem with the orchestral music of Isaac Albéniz is that most of it was not orchestrated by the composer himself. In fact that's not much of a problem, especially when it is so expertly arranged as it is here, with every colour of the orchestra shining through. As the booklet states “Albéniz would have been amazed but surely not displeased.”

The disc opens with the Rapsodia espańola as orchestrated two years after the composer’s death by George Enescu. This is a wonderful piece of orchestration with the original suiting the gypsy character of Enescu’s style. The result is a twelve minute tour de force for piano and orchestra, one in which the Spanish elements music come well to the fore. The piano plays an important role in this piece, and here Martin Roscoe gives a stellar performance.

The next three pieces form the Suite from ‘The Magic Opal’. These are the only pieces that seem to be orchestrated by the composer. They are new to me. The Suite comes from a comic opera that tells the story of an opal ring that causes members of the opposite sex to become infatuated with the wearer. The three pieces display Albéniz’s deep roots in Spanish music with the influence of his homeland clearly in evidence; this despite the story being set in Greece. The Suite is a delight and a very welcome addition to my collection of Albéniz’s music.

The main piece here is the Piano Concerto No. 1, which was orchestrated during the composer’s lifetime by J. Trayter (Tomás Bretón y Hernández). Although the concerto is described as No. 1, this three movement work was the only one that Albéniz actually composed, although he did plan at least one other. Whilst the Concerto is not as overtly Spanish in nature as the Rapsodia espańola, there are clear nationalistic elements in this music which Martin Roscoe proves very adept at bringing out. I have been collecting Bis’s excellent series of Albéniz’s piano music and Volume 6 (BIS-CD-1743) contains both the concertante works featured on this disc. Whilst I hold Miguel Baselga’s performance of these pieces in high regard, I find Roscoe’s performance and that of the BBC Philharmonic preferable.

The final work is the Suite espańola, here arranged and orchestrated by Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos. More than one person has attempted to orchestrate these five wonderful depictions of Spanish life but none seems to bring out the sparkle and élan that Frühbeck de Burgos achieves. The booklet points to his having added a few notes and counterpoints here and there to emphasise specific passages. This can be forgiven when the result is so wonderful.

I have already praised Martin Roscoe’s performance, but the BBC Philharmonic under their Spanish conductor Juanjo Mena should be equally praised. Mena has the BBC Phil sounding more Spanish than most Spanish orchestras in this music. Gerald Larner’s booklet notes are extremely informative and aid the enjoyment of this wonderful disc which also has excellent sound.

Stuart Sillitoe



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