, May 2008
‘ Granados ... basks in the glow of his heritage; his music is life-affirming and immensely satisfying.’ Don Satz’s assessment of Volume 6 of this admirable series could just as easily apply to this final instalment. Indeed, In the Village turned out to be an ideal review disc for a warm summer’s day – a real tonic and, for me, a major discovery too.
The Madrid newspaper El Pais has dubbed American-born Douglas Riva ‘one of the principal apostles of Granados’s music’. In the pieces for four hands and the one for two pianos he is joined by Barcelona-born Jordi Masó, who has recorded important discs of music by Roberto Gerhard and Federico Mompou, among others, and is now recording the music of Joaquin Turina.
Given these prodigious talents and the sympathetic acoustic of Potton Hall in Suffolk this disc has much in its favour. Certainly the Intermezzo, transcribed from Granados’s opera Goyescas, is a very promising start, warmly expressive and with some delectable rhythms. Potton Hall works its magic, too, adding just enough glow to the sound without clouding inner detail. Rhythmically this piece has its roots in Spain, yet melodically and harmonically it’s clearly part of a much wider European – and late Romantic – piano tradition.
Of the early works the four Melodias and two Mazurkas are world premiere recordings. Listening to the disarming simplicity of ‘Youth’ and ‘Melody No. 2’ it’s hard to fathom why these mellifluous miniatures are neglected on disc. And the two ‘fan’ pieces – Spanish ladies of the period always carried fans and invited selected gentlemen to autograph them – have a demure elegance that Riva and the Naxos engineers capture to perfection. Meanwhile, in the first of the Chopin-inspired mazurkas Granados mixes military hauteur with guitar-like flourishes, offering a fresh – and refreshing – take on this overworked dance form. Ditto the A minor mazurka which, although it’s surprisingly lyrical, still has that distinctive rhythm at its heart.
Rather like the Intermezzo the Andantino espressivo has a free-flowing charm and lyricism that is most beguiling. There is something natural and unforced about Riva’s phrasing and dynamic shading that is most impressive. As if that weren’t enough in Andalucia-Petenera, the Fisherman’s Song and La Berceuse he displays a sense of restraint and scale that is all too rare among pianists today.
Remarkably all the pieces we’ve heard so far – with the exception of the Intermezzo and Anadantino espressivo – are world premiere recordings. And of the 3 Marchas militares only the first has been recorded before. These pieces are bold and thrusting but even here Riva doesn’t allow the music to become overbearing or sound repetitive. Surely there is a jaunty Joplinesque feel to some of the rhythms in the B minor march, although Chopin is clearly the model here. The other two marches are surprisingly subtle and lightly sprung, Riva bringing out all the nuances in the writing.
In the Village is the most substantial piece on the disc. Its 10 sections embrace village life from dawn ‘til dusk. Masó’s gentle trills add to the evocative ‘Sunrise’ and he gives extra weight to the bell-like figures of ‘Morning Prayers’. In ‘Cortège – Wedding March’ there is a nicely judged mix of solemnity and jubilation, the quiet dignity of ‘Prayers’ evoked in music of great simplicity.
Granados brings real languor to the drooping, drowsy melodies of ‘The Siesta’, adding some shimmering trills for effect. And as we move towards evening there is an invigorating ‘Pastoral Dance’ and a Lisztian ‘Final’ before the cooling breezes and muted colours of ‘Sunset’. As picturesque music goes these are enchanting pieces, full of atmosphere.
Masó stays in harness for the 2 Marchas militares, the first of which startles with its Tchaikovskian flavour. That said the extra pair of hands allows Granados to come up with some piquant harmonies that are utterly individual. On a disc full of goodies these two marches are worth singling out for their mix of charm and infectious high spirits. Once again I couldn’t help but think of early Joplin at this point. Splendid stuff.
These marches are a hard act to follow, surely? Well, yes; although the extravagant Albéniz transcription for two pianos is very accomplished and the pianists bring out all its gaudy colours this is more of an out-and-out showpiece than anything else on the disc. There’s nothing wrong with that of course, and it brings this collection to an exhilarating close.
This is one of the most enjoyable and rewarding piano discs I’ve heard this year. It’s a scandal that much of this music isn’t better known and Naxos must be commended for committing it to disc. More than that, it was canny of them to entrust this project to Riva and Masó, whose playing is as illuminating and idiomatic as one could hope for.
Verdict: an essential purchase for all pianophiles.