Enrique GRANADOS (1867-1916) Complete Piano Music
Thomas Rajna (piano)
rec. Rosslyn Hill Chapel and Command Studios, London, no date given, first released 1974-1976
Only available separately CRD 3301/3321/3322/3323/3335/3336/3337 [7 CDs: 6:39:35]
These recordings are something like old friends for me as I had a few of the original issues on vinyl in my collection and remember enjoying them greatly.
For most people Goyescas is Enrique Granados’ true master-work, and so it is for me. However, it is the Goyescas opera which I find the most engaging and not the set of piano pieces, which take up the first volume in this CRD sequence, although they do come a close second. Indeed in his book “The Music of Spain” (p.163), Gilbert Chase asserts that “For those who like to have their music provided with literary background, the libretto of Goyescas may serve as a programmatic guide to the piano suite of the same name, complementing the descriptive titles that Granados himself gave to these pieces, which bear the collective subtitle Los Majos Enamorados (The Majo in Love).” It is a real shame therefore that my copy of the opera (Tritó TD0002) contains no English translation of the booklet notes or of the libretto.
The Goyescas set comprises six pieces inspired by the artwork of the Spanish painter, Francisco Goya (1746-1828), reflecting the artist's turbulent life during the Napoleonic occupation of Spain.
They were composed between 1909 and 1911; and contain some of Granados’ most difficult, or even fiendish, piano writing, although Thomas Rajna seems to be more than equal to any of the challenges that the suite sets the pianist. This volume also contains El Pelele, which is a companion piece to Goyescas, although published separately. It depicts the ‘Maja’ or maiden, tossing a straw-filled puppet of a man up in a blanket. This piece is usually played, as here, after the suite, although in the story portrayed by the artwork it actually serves as a kind of prelude to the other paintings. This is one of the most difficult pieces to play but again Rajna is more than up to the task.
Volume two presents the Spanish Dances Op. 7. These pieces were composed at various times between 1888 and 1890 to support Granados’ career as a piano virtuoso. They were only collected together and published as a set of four books later. Colourful and attractive, they are a forerunner perhaps to Albéniz’s
Iberia. The four books present the character of Spanish dance and folk music, with Book II being my favourite. I remember that I nearly wore out the LP that I had of this recording, I enjoyed it so much. They are often discussed as the precursor to the growth of Spanish nationalism in the music of the twentieth century. I have enjoyed reacquainting myself with Rajna’s wonderful recording of these dances.
The third CD in this series offers the Escenas Romanticas which deserve to be better known. This set of short pieces shows the influence of northern European music upon Granados, and in particular that of Schumann, Chopin and even Fauré, which he manages to mix with music of a more Spanish flavour. The suite was composed around 1903-5, although it was not published until after the composer’s death, and has, as the name suggests, a more romantic nature. Also on this disc is Seis Piezas Sobre Cantos Populares Españoles. This is a suite of seven pieces, published around 1900, but thought to be earlier. Once again the music shows the influence of Schumann and Chopin whilst retaining the popular themes of Spanish music. The doyen of Spanish piano, Alicia de Larrocha, famously recorded these two works (Decca London 410 288), but Rajna’s performance giving me as much pleasure and enjoyment as that more famous disc. My only complaint is that both suites are presented as a single track. A series of individual tracks would have been more helpful.
The fourth CD begins with the difficult sounding Allegro de Concierto from 1903-4. There seems to be plenty of versions of this on YouTube, more than seems to be available on disc. The work also features on Alicia de Larrocha’s CD mentioned above. Her version is slightly quicker than Rajna’s but both recordings having their virtues. This is followed by the Valses Poeticos, which appears to have been composed around 1886-7, which was the time when he moved from Barcelona to Paris in order to further his studies. There he took piano lessons with Charles-Wilfrid de Bériot, who was a piano teacher at the Paris Conservatoire. Granados gives to these seven waltz fragments a character all his own, one which is coloured by Spain.
CD five starts out a little differently in that it presents the Piano Quintet of 1895, a wonderfully compact example of the genre. Here Rajna is joined by the Alberni Quartet in a performance which betters that of the LOM Piano Trio and friends for Naxos (8.572262), the CRD CD having a greater sense of ensemble. The CD also includes several piano works with the second suite of EscenasPoeticas deserving special mention due to one of its pieces referring to Goyescas. See also review of this disc by Stephen Barber.
The final two discs could be argued to contain the least important examples from Granados’ output and yet .... True, these pieces don’t live up to the heady heights of Goyescas, but then again what does? There is still music on both discs that deserves mention, including his Op. 1, Cuentos de la Juventud, which translates as ‘Stories of Youth’ and dates from about 1906. Here Granados is once again influenced by Schumann, if only in the musical concept rather than stylistically. Kinderszenen springs to mind, although the Granados pieces are less enlightened than the Schumann. Despite this score, with the rest of the shorter pieces on CD six, merits getting to know. The same can be said of the pieces on the final disc. Here the Seis Estudios Expresivos and the first suite of EscenasPoeticas stand out from the rest, although both discs are very pleasing and make for enjoyable listening. The last CD also contains Dos Marchas Militares (piano 4 hands). Here the name of the second pianist is not mentioned, other than that the music is performed by “Thomas Rajna and his partner”. The documentation does not say whether the partner is Rajna's wife, Ann, or if he has some other keyboard partner.
Throughout this series Rajna, a composer as well as a pianist, gives to Granados' music a real sense of Spanishness, and this despite his being Hungarian by birth and now living in South Africa. He uses all his interpretational skills to bring this music to life. For instance, in the Goyescas it is as if Rajna is interpreting Goya’s paintings as well as Granados’ music. There is real artistry in his playing and he applies this to every score whether great or small. In his hands even the small pieces are given a starring role. No longer are these works solely for the completist, but instead stand as an integral part of his output. These discs are highly recommendable with each offering the listener some delightful listening.
The recording quality is very good. Yes, the sessions date from the first half of the 1970s but the sound has a pleasing tone that is much more than just serviceable. The accompanying notes by Bryce Morrison and Roy Carter are excellent and informative. This set can also be had as a Brilliant Classics box set, but I prefer the separate discs, and not only because the Piano Quintet is not represented in the Brilliant box. In fact some of these recordings are the equal, and in some ways better, than those of Alicia de Larrocha, so can be used to fill gaps in any collection of Granados’ music on record.
Los requiebros [9:14]
Coloquio en la reja [13:42]
El fandango del Candil [6:33]
Quejas o la Maja y el Ruiseñor [7:36]
El Amore y la Muerte [15:42]
El Pelele [4:36]
Piano Quintet in G minor [15:10] Danza Característica [5:30] A la Cubana op. 36 [4:15] Escenas Poeticas 2nd Series [12:56] Aparición [2:47] Cartas de Amor - Valses Intimos op. 44 [3:48] Libro de Horas [11:15]
Moresque y Arabe [6:40]
Cuentos de la juventud, op. 1 [15:57]
Mazurka, op. 2 [2:08]
Barcarola, op. 45 [3:10]
Los Soldados de Cartón [1:35]
A la Pradera [3:05]
Impromptu Op. 39 [5:20]
Seis estudios expresivos [14:09]
Marche militaire [3:15]
Estudio, Op. Posth. [3:03]
Elisenda – Pequeña Suite – El Jardi [5:58]
Paisaje op. 35 [6:08]
Dos Marchas Militares I (piano 4 hands) [2:57]
Dos Marchas Militares II (piano 4 hands) [2:38]
Escenas Poeticas 1st Series
Eva y Walter [3:28]
Danza de la Rosa [1:35]