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Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Prelude and Fuge no.6 in E Flat minor (BWV 853) from Well-Tempered Clavier [10:19]
Cesar FRANCK (1822-1890)
Prelude, Chorale et Fuge FWV 21 (1884) [20:15]
Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918)
Preludes, II, VI, VII, VIII, X (1909-1910) [27:59]
Henri DUTILLEUX (1916-2013)
Chorale et Variations (from Sonata Op.1) (1946-8) [10:46]
Johann Sebastian BACH 1685-1750 (arr. Ferruccio BUSONI (1866-1924))
Chorale-Prelude “Wachet, auf, ruft uns die Stimme”, BWV 645 [4:15]
Antonio Galera (piano)
rec. 2018, Auditorio Manuel de Falla (Granada), Spain.
IBS CLASSICAL IBS152019 [68:58]

This very promising debut recital comes from young Spanish pianist Antonio Galera Lopez, to give him his full name. He has been a prize-winner of several competitions, including the “Yamaha Music Foundation of Europe” award. His national career has brought him performances in major halls and festivals in Spain with apparent great response. Galera was invited to participate at the prestigious Scherzo Foundation Young Artists series to make his debut recital at Teatros del Canal in Madrid. Strongly devoted to the music of Spanish composers, he received the “Best Spanish Music Performance” award at the 2013 “Iturbi Prize Competition”. He also has a performing career in France, Belgium, Italy, Portugal, Greece, Lithuania, Canada, USA, México, Dominican Republic and Taiwan. I was interested that he’d played at Balliol College Music Society Oxford, which our family has attended since the 1920s. The Society welcomed him for the first concert of the Hilary (Spring) Term 2018 with a programme that included Chopin, de Falla and Granados. He is regularly invited to work as a piano instructor in Europe and America, where he maintains an intense and successful schedule of recitals and concerts. His repertoire covers a wide range of periods and styles.

A little research revealed that Galera has previously contributed four short pieces “Pinceladas sonoras para un Poeta” (Sound Brushstrokes for a Poet), from an album “Pinceladas Sonoras” of music by Obras de Mariangeles Sánchez Benimeli on Liquen Records. Entitled, in translation, The Abrupt, Shy, Romantic and Rabbiatic; I sampled these from a streaming site and they are very descriptive. Galera shows finesse and ability to play music very different from the conventional programme here, but clearly with a dedicated Spanish spirit.

I was pleased to find inside the Digipak, a booklet with photos and notes in Spanish and English. These are by journalist and writer Elvira Lindo, who first met Galera in 2011, thinking he was no more than a child who with caring sensitivity played a Mozart sonata. Seven years on and I’m sure he has matured but there’s certainly abundant caring sensitivity in his playing. His playing of the Bach Prelude and Fuge is beguiling and avoids any of the mannerisms of maverick genius Glenn Gould. There’s more of the intimacy of Andras Schiff who apart from the legendary Dinu Lipatti and Edwin Fischer is my favourite Bach pianist. He then plays the Prelude, Chorale et Fugue FWV 21 by the great French organist and composer César Franck where he seems very much aware of Franck’s structure in the serious Prelude and the lighter Fugue. Unsurprisingly, Franck originally wrote it for the organ but it translates very aptly to the piano. There are, I am aware many recordings of this work, though not I suspect as many as the Bach. I enjoyed the playing here very much.

In the notes Lindo points out that these Preludes by Debussy could be placed alongside Debussy’s other works in which he does not use this name (Images or Estampes), in which the constituent vignettes are linked by a generic title that is much more evocative than the so easily overlooked Preludes. On this disc Galera plays extracts from Book One and I find his playing very idiomatic. My shelves harbour distinguished recordings from Maurizio Pollini, Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli (both DG), Monique Haas (Erato - review) and Noriko Ogawa (BIS), the latter an excellent set reviewed by Christopher Howell. They all have fine individual qualities as does Galera here. The Eighth Prelude “La fille aux cheveux de lin” ( The girl with the flaxen hair) is played with feeling. La cathédrale engloutie” (The Sunken Cathedral - Prelude 10) is also featured. I was interested in hearing this in its original version having recently reviewed Stokowski’s orchestration on Pristine. It is an extraordinary illustrative work and the playing here is sonorous and glowing.

With the music of Henri Dutilleux, I confess that I struggle. In 1998, I heard a String Quartet in concert in Ambleside and found it unappealing. Unfortunately I feel fairly similar about his “Choral et Variations” (from Sonata Op.1) but it is sympathetically played. It will appeal to lovers of this distinguished French composer. In his favourable review of the sonata by Akanè Makita on a Brilliant collection, Leslie Wright tells us that the third movement is a theme and variations on a chorale that, with its heavy, pounding chords, reminds one of Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition. It then takes off with a toccata-like section requiring much virtuosity. Here Mr Wright was reminded of Prokofiev. He concludes that the movement is built well and sustains interest in its variety. It certainly has variety and shows another strength to Galera. This is very appropriate for this debut disc; his calling card so to speak. The final piece is entirely appropriate in Busoni’s arrangement of Bach’s Chorale Prelude “Wachet, auf” which I’ve sung in a church choir at Midnight Communion on Christmas Eve. Busoni’s arrangement is certainly demanding for the pianist but it doesn’t phase Galera who plays it with sensitivity and with a force worthy of a Lipatti. It makes for a delightful end to a very pleasing and well recorded recital.

This is a most auspicious first recital. It was a delight to listen to and I look forward to more, very soon. I also hope that we will see him play in this country. Certainly, it’s a prelude to what I trust will be a very successful career.
David R Dunsmore

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