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Eduardo del Pueyo (piano) The Complete Philips Recordings
rec. 1955-1959, Paris and Amsterdam
Mono and stereo ELOQUENCE 484 0193 [5 CDs: 348 mins]
It is just over twenty years since Philips released a two-CD set of Eduardo del Pueyo’s Spanish repertoire in their Early Years series. Devotees of the pianist have had to wait a long time for the reissue of that long-deleted edition. It has finally made a welcome return as part of a five-CD set, courtesy of Decca Eloquence. It features the remaining Philips recordings which the pianist set down on six LPs between 1956 and 1959.
Del Pueyo was born in 1905 in Zaragoza, the capital of Spain’s north-eastern Aragon region, and died in 1986 in Brussels. He was an alumnus of the Madrid Conservatory, where he won a first prize at the age of only fourteen. A year later he relocated to Paris to further his studies. For twelve years he studied composition with Raoul Laparro and Amadeo de Montrichard. In 1927 he gave a commemorative concert to mark the centenary of Beethoven’s death, featuring three of the named sonatas, the Pathétique, Appassionata and Hammerklavier. He later spent four years studying piano with Juana Bosch, a pupil of Marie Jaëll, and consolidated his technique. In 1935 he moved to Brussels and resumed a concert career. He became something of a Beethoven specialist, performing his first sonata cycle in 1938. His repertoire, however, ranged from Bach to Stravinsky, with a fair smattering of Spanish music. His meagre discography contains concertos by Beethoven, Liszt, Ravel (left hand), and music by Spanish composers. It seems that he was not a great fan of the recording studio. He preferred live events, and the inspiration he drew from the presence of an audience.
At the end of the 1920s, del Pueyo took a ten-year break to “relearn the piano from first principles”, inspired by Marie Jaëll’s teaching and method. He totally immersed himself in the Beethoven piano sonatas, and it was with these that he made a return to the concert stage in 1938. In the 1960s he fulfilled a long ambition to record a complete cycle in Germany for CBS. For some reason, the set was never released by American CBS, and had to wait several years for an appearance in a limited-edition lavish clothbound box on the French Pavane label. This was released on CD in 2017, and I had the pleasure of reviewing it. The seven sonatas we have here were set down in 1958-1959 by Philips, the only concession the company would make to the pianist’s desire for a complete cycle.
Apart from the Waldstein and Op. 31 No. 3, all recordings are in mono. The two sonatas in stereo have a brighter sound and a more vivid depth and presence. I did a head to head comparison of three named sonatas (Pathétique, Appassionata and Waldstein) of the earlier Philips inscriptions and the later cycle on Pavane. Del Pueyo's approach had changed to some degree. There is greater probing in the later recordings. The slow movements are more measured, and the tempi tightened. On occasion, I prefer the greater sense of abandon in the earlier readings. This is especially so in the finale of the Appassionata, where the pianist’s risk-taking and exuberance work to the work’s advantage. The finale of the Moonlight also benefits from this more freewheeling approach.
The Franck and Bach, recorded in the Bachzaal, Amsterdam in October 1959, brought to an end the Philips contract. These final recordings were in stereo, which confers a rich bloom on the sound. The Bachzaal’s fine acoustic and a superbly voiced and regulated piano add positively to the experience. There is a noble, poised and refined reading of Franck’s Prélude, Chorale et Fugue, with a fine sense of architecture and structure. In Bach’s Italian Concerto, the outer movements have energy and drive, whilst the central Andante has a reverential serenity.
On CD 4 there is the complete suite, twelve pieces, of Granados’s Danzas Espanolas. These wonderfully evocative pieces call for a strong sense of rhythm and a stylish free-flowing rubato. Del Pueyo, for me, captures fully that elusive “Spanish soul”. Oriental (No. 2) is dreamy and hypnotic, in total contrast to Zarabanda (No. 3) with its catchy prance. The jazzy undercurrents in Danza triste (no. 10) are perfectly expressed. The Goyescas are a suite of seven pieces composed between 1909 and 1912, inspired by the paintings of Goya. Del Pueyo’s readings have sufficient sweep and passion. He manages to keep the decks clear, achieving clarity in the rich, thickly-textured harmonies. El amor y la muerte (No. 5) is my particular favorite, full of fleeting moods, yearning and passion – one of the finest versions of this piece I have heard.
De Falla described his Nights in the Gardens of Spain as “Symphonic impressions”, a three-movement work, each depicting a garden in Spain. Del Pueyo and the Orchestre des Concerts Lamoureux under Jean Martinon fully immerse themselves into the exotic, sultry Andalusian world of this colourful work. The pianist contours the many changes of mood, especially in the final section “En los Jardines de la Sierra de Córdoba”, where the flamenco-like rhythms are masterfully realized. I would place thus compelling reading in the same class as those by Alicia de Larrocha and Martha Argerich.
Sincerity and respect for the musical text were del Pueyo’s mantras. He had a formidable technique but, as the great musician he was, this was put in the service of the music. The recordings sound well for their age, and the piano tone emerges with iridescence. The colour reproductions of the six LPs from which these recordings derive are of interest. The notes include a personal reminiscence by the pianist’s pupil Jean-Claude Teboul.
Stephen Greenbank Contents CD 1 [77:01] César FRANCK (1822-1890) Prélude, Chorale et Fugue [22:49] Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Italian Concerto in F major, BWV 971 [13:30]
Partita No. 1 in B flat major, BWV 825 [15:13] Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827) Piano Sonata No. 21 in C major, Op. 53 ‘Waldstein’ [25:03]