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Enrique GRANADOS (1867-1916)
Jean-Philippe Collard (piano)
rec. 2019, Grande Salle, Arsenal-Metz en Scènes

The French pianist Jean-Philippe Collard is, not surprisingly, most associated with music of his own country, but here he turns to the Spaniard Granados and his crowning achievement, the piano suite Goyescas. Actually, there was a good deal of interplay between France and Spain at the time: Granados studied and lived for a number of years in Paris, as did his compatriot Albéniz, while French composers of the time were fascinated by Spain and its music. Goyescas was, as the name implies, inspired by the works of the Spanish painter Goya, but Granados apparently did not have any specific works in mind, despite the titles he gave his pieces.

Granados was a piano virtuoso and Goyescas is technically very demanding. Ideas which start out quite simply are soon festooned with decorations, subordinate parts and intricate piano writing of all kinds. The player needs to hold the thread and keep the rhythm going while allowing enough flexibility to let the music sing and dance. From the first piece, the flamboyant Los Requiebros (The Compliments), Collard displays his skill. You feel that he is playing very freely and expressively, and so he is, but he is also following minutely the composer’s directions, which are full of such directions as ten. un poco followed by poco accel ma sub riten. and then Capriccioso e molto rall.

In the second piece Coloquio en la reja (Conversation at the window), a much quieter work, I noticed the occasional desynchronization of the hands. This is not obtrusive, and I was able to confirm that Granados himself also occasionally did this, for he made some player-piano rolls. I was particularly impressed by Collard’s fluidity in this piece.

El fandango de candil (Fandango by candlelight) is a splendidly exciting piece using an insistent rhythmic motif which needs to be preserved steadily throughout complex figuration with decoration going on both above and below. Collard is very good at clarifying the texture, though I felt that his rhythm did not quite have the snap and bite that de Larrocha displays in her classic recording.

Quejas ó la maja y el ruiseñor (Laments or The maiden and the nightingale) is the best-known piece in the suite, with its attractive melancholy (it is marked Andante melancólico), though once again the texture becomes very elaborate, in a way more Lisztian than French and requiring three staves for its notation. It ends with a very Lisztian cadenza.

El amor y la muerte (Balada) (Ballad of love and death) is a long a dramatic piece with rapidly changing moods, sometimes fiery, sometimes pensive and melancholic with some very quiet writing and some towering climaxes. The challenge here is to hold it all together, which Collard does admirably.

Finally, the Epilogo (Serenata del espectro) (Epilogue: Serenade to a Spectre), marked Allegretto misterioso, has something of an expressionist feeling about it but eventually issues in a long melody, once again in the middle of the texture, nicely brought out by Collard.

Some recordings of Goyescas also add an additional piece, El pelele: scena Goyesca (The puppet: Goya scene), which the composer wrote some years later. Collard does not do so, which is a shame as there would have been room for it, and it makes a good pendant to the main work. However, although for me no one will ever replace de Larrocha in this repertoire – her second Decca recording is now available as a Presto CD – it is good to hear another version, and Collard is fully in command of this music. I hope he goes on to give us his account of Albeniz’s Iberia.

Stephen Barber

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