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Isaac ALBENIZ (1860-1909)
Concerto No. 1 in A minor (‘Concierto Fantástico’) (1887) [25.22]
Granada (Suite Espagñola) (1886-87) [4.54]
Sevilla (Suite Espagñola) (1886-87) [4.23]
Francisco MIGNONE (1897-1986)
Concerto for Piano and Orchestra (1958) [27.41]
Valse de Esquina No. 1 (1938) [3.15]
Valse de Esquina No. 5 (1938) [2.31]
Clélia Iruzon (piano)
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/Jac van Steen
rec. 2016, Blackheath Concert Halls, London

Another interesting and enterprising album from SOMM.

Francisco Mignone was a student of Hector Villa-Lobos. He was of Italian extraction and he studied in Milan after being entranced by Villa-Lobos’s pioneering works that were essentially Brazilian in nature.

The soloist here, pianist Clélia Iruzon, is shown in the album booklet with composer, Mignone when she was 15 years old and he in his early 80s. She was very eager to record his Piano Concerto commenting, “It is a work of great breadth, originality and virtuosity…the writing is very difficult, full of rhythmical challenges for orchestra and soloist…”

Listening to the opening of the Mignone Piano Concerto one is immediately struck by its originality; it erupts immediately in wild discord. But this is a movement of sudden, swift shifts in mood and rhythm and tempo. Influences range from Liszt, and Rachmaninov to Gershwin and Stravinsky yet Mignone’s own idiosyncratic form overrides. The music is at once diamond hard and bombastic, and then tender, wistful and full of pathos (one is reminded of British romantic film music of the 1940s/50s at one point). The Andante opens darkly, growling and threatening. I was at one moment reminded of Bernard Herrmann’s Hangover Square music. Soon the woodwinds sound a note of pathos while the piano meanders soulfully. But crushing orchestral interjections force the piano into submission. It makes for an extraordinary Andante but the ear is captivated and held. The Allegretto brings relief from so much darkness. The piano skips lightly, comically even (my imagination conjoured up commedia dell’ arte scenes, and the circus and funfair) The piano seems to poke fun at and lambast the orchestra’s pomposity. There is sparkling piano material at about 04.00 with interesting ostinatos (there is considerable innovative imagination at work here) then at 05.16 the music is tender and contemplative with nods to Gershwin again. Clélia Iruzon is clearly dedicated to this colourful and challenging work and delivers a considered and thoroughly virtuosic performance with van Steen in admirable support through this most challenging of orchestral accompaniments.

Albeniz looked outwards from his native Spain, his compositions tending to reflecting the European styles of his time. Yet when he came under the influence of the Spanish composer and musicologist, Felip Pedrell whose ambition was to establish a Spanish school of composition, Albeniz turned to the emerging nationalism for inspiration but without wholly denying the established forms. His Concerto Fantastico demonstrates this duality. This concerto is far less demanding of performers and audience than the Mignone work. It is immediately accessible and appealing.

The imposing opening movement embraces Spanish idioms, subtly presented and placed harmoniously alongside conventional Northern-European-style writing. It is eminently melodic. In the opening movement, for example, at 04.26 there is a very catchy tune that is something akin to a lullaby. It is lusciously developed. The Andante central movement gently ripples along; this is music of considerable grace and charm and it combines the functions of Réverie and Scherzo. Mendelssohn’s music comes readily to mind. The concluding Allegro repeats the imposing nature of the work’s opening and again the influence of Mendelssohn is apparent. But it has to be said this movement is relatively weak in inspiration.

The rest of the programme is made up of short solo piano pieces, two by each composer. Mignone’s Valses intrigue: No. 1 is something of a lament, intense, complex and highly decorative and emotional while No. 5 is correspondingly graceful, delicate and wistful. Albeniz’s Suite Espagñole is represented by its ‘Granada’ and ‘Sevilla’ pieces; the former displaying a marked Spanish idiom in haunting, glistening music, the rhythms contoured in easy unforced stresses; the latter is a bright well-known, well-loved melody.

Ian Lace



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