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A Tribute to Danny Granados Johannes BRAHMS (1883-1897)
Clarinet Quintet in B minor, Op.115 [37:02] Osvaldo GOLIJOV (b.1960)
Lullaby and Doina [6:44] Astor PIAZZOLLA (1921-1992)
La Muerte del angel [3:40]
Allegro tangabile [3:04]
Milonga para tres [7:17]
Danny Granados (clarinet),
Judy Dines (flute), Erik Gronfor (bass), Pablo Zinger (piano)
Fidelis String Quartet
rec. 2011, Geary Performance Studio, Melcher Center for Public Broadcasting, Houston, USA DELOS DE3562 [63:41]
This album was released in memory of Danny Granados, who at the time of his death in May 2018, was Chief Financial Officer of the Houston Symphony Orchestra. He had, however, trained as a clarinettist and served as an orchestral player with several US orchestras and was also a member of the Quintet of the Americas. As a tribute, we have his recording of one of the mainstays of the clarinet chamber repertory in a performance which dates back to 2011.
It is easy to listen to this through the prism of sadness at a life cut short in its prime (Granados was in his early 50s when he succumbed to cancer) and through the veil of affection for an obviously passionate supporter of performing musicians; his musical life is affectionately described in a booklet tribute by his brother. But shorn of such sentiment and nostalgia, this performance still stands proud on its own terms; whatever else he was, Granados was clearly a gifted clarinettist with a strong empathy for the nostalgic sentimentality of the Brahms work. This is an affectionate and at times passionate performance in which Granados’ eloquence on the clarinet is perfectly supported by some lovely playing from the four members of the Houston Symphony Orchestra who, together, form the Fidelis String Quartet. This is a performance high on sensitivity and expressiveness, and apart from a slightly hard-edged sound, stands happily in the company of some of the best recorded performances of the work.
What makes this disc particularly interesting for those for whom the name Danny Granados has no significance, are the works which go alongside the Brahms. It was Granados’s choice to combine them in a single programme on the basis that the financial struggles Brahms experienced as a young man, which obliged him to play the piano in “brothels in his native city of Hamburg”, were not dissimilar to those whose early lives were spent around the “dark and squalid brothels” of Buenos Aires. “This recording”, Granados wrote in his original note for the programme, “is a celebration of the best that can come from such humble, yet true beginnings”. On paper that argument makes good sense, but the juxtaposition of the Brahms with four Tangos by Piazzolla also works surprisingly well on purely musical terms.
I’m not so sure about the Golijov Lullaby and Doina, taken from the soundtrack to the 2001 movie The Man Who Cried. The story of the romance between a Gypsy man and a Jewish woman obviously afforded Golijov with a wonderful opportunity to combine Hebrew melodies and Gypsy gestures, and the combined forces of strings and wind here offer up a haunting and potent brew of pathos-laden musical ideas. Coming hot on the heels of the Brahms, however, it all seems so very blatant and obvious, with none of the eloquence or subtlety of the Quintet. This is, nevertheless, a powerful display of chamber playing.
Piazzolla’s Tangos seem to survive whatever arrangers throw at them, and Pablo Zinger has been particularly generous in the additions he has superimposed on the three Tangos he has arranged; as well he might, he was Musical Director of the 1987 New York show “Tango Apasionado” in which capacity he worked alongside Piazzolla. There is no question that his arrangements bring a whole new dimension to this music, and a dimension which really works given the enthusiastic and powerfully committed performance from these various Houston musicians (with Zinger himself driving it all along on from the piano). His sensitive version of the famous Libertango gives a beautifully fluid cadenza to Granados who plays it with supreme eloquence and a wonderful freedom of movement. The one Tango not arranged by Zinger is Carlos Fanzinetti’s arrangement of Allegro tangabile (derived from the oratorio Maria de Buenos Aires). This is a great showcase for the virtuosity of both Granados and Zinger, as it drives itself manically along at a tempo few true tango dancers would ever be able to maintain.