, August 2011
This is the second of at least three volumes by Naxos of the piano and chamber music of Rodolfo Halffter. Volume 1 was recently and enthusiastically reviewed here, whereas volume 3, featuring his three works for string quartet and his cello sonata, is currently available as a download from ClassicsOnline.com, with physical release scheduled for July. Apart from María Elena Barrientos, who played the piano sonatas, all the soloists on the first volume also appear on this one.
One of Halffter’s five brothers, Ernesto (1905–89), and their nephew Cristóbal (b.1930), are both composers, and both have had full CDs of their works published by Naxos. Of Prussian descent—hence the Germanic-looking surname—all three were born in Madrid, and whilst Ernesto and Cristóbal remained there, Rodolfo emigrated to Mexico, where he took citizenship in 1939. Though he was aided by Carlos Chávez among others, there is nothing particularly Mexican-sounding about Halffter’s music. In fact, his basically melodic-tonal style is more along the lines of Manuel de Falla, whom he knew, and at times reminiscent of that of his brother Ernesto. Naxos too have decided that Halffter’s music is not Mexican, issuing this disc in their growing ‘Spanish Classics’ range.
By comparison with the first volume, this slightly longer disc has a little more variety of music—hardly surprising given the fact that the works span 50 years. Quite what Naxos’s rationale there was is unclear: why not publish the works chronologically or by instrumentation? Anyway, this is probably an easier-going introduction to Halffter’s music, with the pieces for solo strings especially—the Giga for guitar, op.3, the 3 Piezas Breves for harp, op.13a and the Capricho for violin, op.40—all making for straightforward listening. The Giga and 3 Piezas in particular are a very evocative, relaxing way to spend a few minutes.
The 3 Piezas are in fact the last three of the four movements of Homenaje a Antonio Machado for piano, transcribed and slightly altered for the harp by María Rosa Calvo Manzano—presumably with Halffter’s blessing, though the notes do not say. Nor do they give any hint as to why the first movement of the Homenaje was never transcribed—more’s the pity, because it is the best of the four.
The ultra-compact 2 Sonatas de El Escorial, op.2 came about through the encouragement of Manuel de Falla, and are a tribute to Antonio Soler, who spent part of his life at the El Escorial monastery in Granada; a sparkling mid-20th century take on his music.
Laberinto, op.34 is subtitled ‘4 Intentos de Acertar con la Salida’ (‘4 Attempts to Find the Exit’). Atonal and, according to the notes, employing aleatoric elements, this work is likely to have the least immediate appeal of all on this CD, but it is by no means heavy going. The neutrally-titled Secuencia op.39 is a three-part work, serialist, but discreetly dressed by Halffter to produce surprisingly accessible results which, in the middle movement especially, even appear to incorporate nationalistic elements.
The Epinicio, op.42 for flute “and piano” is a companion piece to …Huésped de las Nieblas (Rimas sin Palabras), op.44, but has been wilfully separated from it, the latter appearing on volume 1 on its own. As with Secuencia, this piece’s reliance on serialism does not detract from its general prettiness, although the multiphonics do give some curious sound effects. Absurdly, this is listed and described in the notes as being for flute and piano—but no one told the pianist, who did not show up! In fact the work was originally scored for solo flute, with the piano part being tacked on later by Halffter.
Though all have their colour and interest, and attest to the imagination of a musical moderate, perhaps the best work on the disc is the 1935 Divertimento op.7a, scored for wind quintet (flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon and trumpet) and string quartet. This is a kind of miniaturised version in four movements of Halffter’s ballet from the same year, Don Lindo de Almería, published as his op.7 and one of his best known works. The Divertimento itself was not published until 1990, and Halffter’s motivation for writing it remains unknown. The final section, Tempo di marcia, feels slightly tacked on, but otherwise it is an appealing, jaunty work rather in the style of Stravinsky’s Pulcinella Suite.
Once again, the sound quality on this studio recording is very good—only the Capricho has a very faint but noticeable hum all the way through. Inside the booklet, the liner notes are good and some of the soloists even get a small, old Eastern bloc-style photograph. Performances are solid, warm and enthusiastic—colour photos for all in volume 3 maybe?