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Enrique GRANADOS (1867-1916)
Goyescas - Los majos enamorados (complete)
Alexander Boyd (piano)
rec. St Bartholomew's Church, Brighton, UK, 2017
Stereo 24/192 (as reviewed) and 24/96
CLAUDIO BD-A CR6039-6 [53:35]

Enrique Granados was a leading pianist, teacher and composer in the late 19th and early 20th centuries and Goyescas is probably the best known of his compositions. After giving the first performance in 1911 he went on the compose an opera of the same name, which used many of the melodic ideas in expanded and augmented form. It was given its successful premiere at the Metropolitan Opera in New York in 1916 but has since received very few performances. The composer and his wife were casualties of the torpedo attack on the SS Sussex in the English Channel not long afterwards. Granados was only 49 and very much at the height of an active professional life in both Europe and the United States. His work list is dominated by music for piano, but there are a good number of songs, orchestral works and indeed several operas.

Goyescas, a two-part cycle of six substantial pieces (or seven, if one includes El Pelele, not included here) is one of the largest piano works of the 20th century. It is surprising that comparatively few pianists have recorded it, because it is a fine and absorbing work, covering a wide range of feeling as well as pianistic challenges. It is, at times, solemn, melancholy, tender, amorous and lively in its moods and distinctly Spanish in its lyricism and rhythms. It shares some of these characteristics with the other important piano composition of the period, Albeniz's Iberia, and well deserves to stand as its equal. Granados declared Goyescas to be 'a work for all time' making clear his confidence in its quality. Those who favour Debussy's and Ravel's piano music owe it to themselves to hear these pieces. Indeed Debussy said of him that, "He carried the mind of a genius whom no one could easily forget."

The long-standing leader in the field is Alicia de Larrocha, whose Decca recording from the 1970s is still available, along with her earlier Hispavox performance from the early 1960s. Other pianists have always to be measured against her subtle and insightful versions. As I noted in his two discs of Iberia in 2016 and 2017, Boyd is a fine player and the fact that he is less well known than some of the competition should not put off potential purchasers. He does not sound like de Larrocha but his more measured approach to these scores and his disinclination to bend with the rhythms as she does, does not make these performances any less attractive; rather it adds a gravitas to this 'work for all time' that the composer would surely have endorsed. It is interesting to note that the composer's own piano-roll of Los requiebros is a full minute shorter than either modern pianist. Technically Boyd is well able to encompass the challenges and, as I often say, Claudio Records provides much the most impressive sound, even in comparison with de Larrocha's vintage Decca.

Alexander Boyd is on a project to record the Spanish piano repertoire and this is Volume 3 of the series. The first two volumes contained Albéniz's Iberia. The soloist confirms there is more to come including El Pelele mentioned above. The liner notes by fellow pianist Gemma Kateb are very informative.

Dave Billinge


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