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Ad Illam
Maurice RAVEL (1875-1937)
Prélude M.65 (1913) [1:24]
Frédéric CHOPIN (1810-1849)
Five Preludes, Op 28 (1835-39) [8:16]
Lili BOULANGER (1893-1918)
Prélude in D-flat major (1911) [2:15]
Frédéric CHOPIN (1810-1849)
Berceuse, Op 57 (1843-44) [4:33]
Alberto García DEMESTRES (b. 1960)
Annas Erwachen (1983) [2:10]
Wiegenlied für Anna (2000) [1:33]
Nadia BOULANGER (1887-1979)
Vers la vie nouvelle (1918) [4:12]
Astor PIAZZOLLA (1921-1992)
Three Preludes (1987) [14:16]
Susana GÓMEZ VÁZQUEZ (b. 1995)
Ella [6:07]
Albeto GINASTERA (1916-1983)
Piano Sonata No 1, Op 22 (1952) [14:58]
Susana Gómez Vázquez (piano)
rec. 26-27 October 2020 Auditorio de Zaragoza, Sala Mozart, Zaragoza, Spain
Recorded in SACD 5.0 Surround, SACD Stereo & CD Stereo
EUDORA EUD-SACD-2104 [59:56]

There appears to be a recent trend of discs using the theme of female composers or the female muse as a unifying thread for mixed recitals. Here, Spanish pianist Susana Gómez Vázquez repeats the formula on her new recital disc titled Ad Illam (for her). The idea is that all of the music was written for, dedicated to, written by or inspired by women – stretching the definition slightly apparently since two of the three Piazzolla Preludes were named after that great Argentinian composer’s dogs. That is fine as far as it goes but does not guarantee a logical or coherent musical programme. Certainly it is unusual for a Chopin pensive Berceuse to share a ‘platform’ with the muscular Ginastera 1st Sonata.

Of course the skill of the programme planner and performer is to illuminate connections where none seemed initially apparent. Gómez Vázquez is a multi-award winning pianist (according to her biography in the liner) but I had not encountered her playing before. Clearly she is a technically able player but I must admit I did not find this recital to be that engaging or convincing as either a whole or as individual works. Aside from the uniqueness of the programme, most of the music here exists on disc in several or - for Chopin and Ravel certainly – probably hundreds of alternative versions. Neither technically or expressively do I find Gómez Vázquez to be a compelling interpreter. The lyrical Ravel and Chopin preludes are performed within a haze of the sustain pedal that for me blurs both melodic and harmonic lines to damaging effect. Clearly this is a considered musical choice but one to which I do not respond.

I am always pleased to hear any music by the ferociously talented Lili Boulanger and in fact her Prélude in D-flat major is a remarkable gem for a seventeen year old to write. Both this and the Chopin Berceuse that follows it do respond to Gómez Vázquez’s slightly fey approach and are probably for me the highlight of the disc. Boulanger’s sister Nadia is represented by the concentrated and powerful Vers la vie Nouvelle. I first/previously encountered this work as part of the label Hortus’ series of discs focussing on music written in response to World War I. This four minute work gave the Hortus disc its title. The pianist there was Anne de Fornel playing an 1892 Pleyel and although performance lengths are nearly identical it has to be said de Fornel is the more certain guide than Gómez Vázquez. The work is prefaced by the following; "In the weighty atmosphere doubt, discouragement have seeped in. But far away, clear pure sounds rise up, and towards hope in a better life mankind walks confident, gentle and solemn." To my ear de Fornel tells the story implicit in that text more evocatively than Gómez Vázquez.

There are three premiere recordings included; two brief works by the Catalan composer Alberto Garciá Demestres and Gómez Vázquez’s own Ella ("Ella soy yo" - I am she). The Demestres works are attractive miniatures in the similar pensive languorous mood and harmonic language of the Ravel. Likewise Gómez Vázquez’s Ella which adds some minor novelty with the pianist speaking some text while playing and also doubling the melodic line by humming. The musical landscape is again broodingly impressionistic building to a central impassioned climax. The musical material is built around a repeating obsessive melodic cell which Gómez Vázquez the composer does well to maintain interest in across the six minutes of music. According to the liner “Ella gives voice.... to those extremes of emotion we all feel, men and women, but are often too afraid to show”. No basis for such a sweeping generalised statement is given. Mentioning the liner – it is written by Gómez Vázquez and is presented in English and Spanish only. I must admit I think the written style has got rather lost in the translation from the original Spanish and what remains in the English version is a rather florid often faintly incomprehensible stream of consciousness rather than a coherent guide to the music or the motivation behind the programme – we do learn however that; “Ginastera employs a modern musical language to convey an unmistakable ‘gaucho’ aroma”. Aside from the biography the liner is graced with several photographs of the pianist alone in what looks like a deserted departure hall aside from one image of her playing an invisible piano, the meaning for which deserts me.

Framing Gómez Vázquez’s work are two pieces by giants of music from Latin America. First there are Astor Piazzolla’s Three Preludes. I am a huge admirer of Piazzolla’s music and his very unique musical voice. That said there are times when he chooses a style that could almost be termed “lounge-Latin”. The melodies and harmony hark back to an earlier age and verge on the sentimental. The central part of the second prelude moves into a more energetic style briefly but otherwise these works do inhabit the world of the night club and sentimental cabaret. Gómez Vázquez’s soft-edged performing style rather emphasises the schmoozing element in the music not wholly to its benefit. Much the same can be said of the performance of Ginastera’s Piano Sonata No 1 which completes the programme. Here Gómez Vázquez proves she has the technique if not the temperament for this always impressive and powerful work. In isolation this is an enjoyable performance but listening to other versions at hand – Fernando Viani’s 2-disc survey of the complete Ginastera piano works on Naxos or Santiago Rodriguez on Elan are both far more compelling. Take Rodriguez in the second movement Presto misterioso - Rodriguez is only a few seconds quicker but the clarity of his playing and the eruptive power he commands as required transcends Gómez Vázquez’s skilled but ultimately rather contained performance.

This Eudora disc is presented as a hybrid SACD offering 5.0 surround sound as well as the usual stereo layers in both standard CD and SACD formats. I listened to the stereo SACD layer. Gómez Vázquez plays a Steinway but I must admit the instrument/sound as recorded is good without being in any sense demonstration quality. The piano does not sound as rich or full-toned as many I have heard – the 1892 Pleyel mentioned earlier sounds better to my ear in direct comparison. Running to a few seconds shy of an hour’s music this is ultimately a rather underwhelming disc in terms of the programme, the actual recording and its execution.

Nick Barnard

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