, July 2005
"Solo piano music represents a large portion of Granados's compositional output of which a considerable amount has never been recorded. The Naxos undertaking to record all of it is therefore an important event. Having reached volume eight, the composer's most well known works have already been committed to disc, the policy having been to get the series off to a good start with the better works. As we come to the tail end of the enterprise there is little left except early works written when the composer was in his late teens and early twenties; one-off purchasers of this disc need to be warned that it does not contain a representative cross-section of the Granados piano music. Nevertheless, the disc is not without charm and there is interest in that two-thirds of all the pieces are receiving world premiere recordings.
The trouble with listening to music by a composer who has not yet fully realised his own voice is that it is almost impossible not to be constantly reminded of the work of other musicians. In my case, on hearing the first and third pieces, both salon–style waltzes, it was Scott Joplin, Granados’s direct contemporary that came to mind. This may seem bizarre but if you can imagine a triple time rag with modulations and structure similar to Joplin, then you will know what I mean. There cannot have been a direct influence but it does suggest the existence of a Western 19th century generic piano salon style that was being adapted to different national traditions. Only a few years after these pieces were written, both composers were being published and selling well on both sides of the Atlantic. Ironically, it was returning from America during the first war that Granados and his wife were killed, their ship being torpedoed by a German submarine.
Other music betrays real influences. The sixth piece, Royal March, derives from Schumann’s repeating block chords style and the one after that, Cardboard soldiers, with its stereotypical augmented seconds, is a nod to the so-called orient. What that really means is a Muslim influence coming to Spain via North Africa.
Among the twenty two pieces that comprise the Álbum de melodías, there are specific tributes to Chopin, Beethoven and Wagner, and their names are incorporated in the titles, one of them simply called Beethoven. Chopin gets pastiche Mazurka and Wagner is represented by some Tristanesque chromaticisms in a short and formless piece. The Album manuscript was, apparently, a kind of wide-ranging scrap book of musical jottings. Not just musical. It included aphorisms of Granados’ own written in margins, and a few sketches. Some of the pieces were unfinished (not included here) and others disconcertingly end in a different key from that in which they started. The Pianist, Douglas Riva, in his booklet note regards Primavera as the finest piece in the collection. At less than two minutes it is a little pianistic gem consisting of a simple, beautifully-shaped melody with a flowing, Mendelssohnian accompaniment.
For some time it has been the pianist, Alicia de Larrocha, who has been associated with the proselytising of Granados’s piano music. Douglas Riva, who knows her and has worked with her, brings a slightly different manner to the music that is perhaps straighter and more steady. I like his playing. He makes no attempt to make a case for these youthful pieces by overplaying them. The music is not characterised by ostentation or rhetoric but often by restrained and subtle textures. The great critic/writer, Ernest Newman, was an early supporter of Granados and said that playing through some of his piano music was, "like a joyous wading knee-deep through beds of gorgeous flowers - always with a sure way through and the clearest of light and air around us". Douglas Riva respectfully shows us that Granados’ special textural qualities are foreshadowed in much of this early work.
A disc of considerable interest in terms of Granados’s early development but also enjoyable in its own right."