About this Recording
8.573263 - GRANADOS, E.: Orchestral Works, Vol. 1 - Suite sobre cantos gallegos / Torrijos (Barcelona Symphony and Catalonia National Orchestra, Gonzalez)
English  Spanish 

Enrique Granados (1867–1916)
Orchestral Works • 1

 

Like Chopin, Liszt, Rachmaninov and his fellow countryman Isaac Albéniz, Catalan composer Enrique Granados (1867–1916) was very much a composer-pianist. A virtuoso performer, he focused much of his attention on his own instrument. Of his extensive catalogue of piano works, the best-known is Goyescas, the suite he completed in 1911 and which soon earned its status as an undisputed masterpiece of Spanish piano music, alongside Albéniz’s luminous Iberia (1905–08) and Falla’s revolutionary Fantasía bética (1919).

This album, however, focuses on the lesser-known Granados—the Granados who left the piano behind and threw himself into the complex world of the orchestra. Like Albéniz and so many other composer-pianists, he did not acquit himself in orchestral music with quite the same level of skill and virtuosity that he displayed when writing for the keyboard. Nevertheless, his musical intelligence, instinct, inspiration and sheer hard work enabled him to write works such as those appearing on this pioneering recording, which deserve to be revived and enjoyed by today’s music-lovers.

When it came to the piano, Granados was inspired by Chopin, Liszt, Schumann and Grieg, but the influences in his orchestral writing include both Wagner—who was much admired by the Catalan modernists of the time—and the composers he met and spent time with in Paris, between 1887 and 1889—men such as Debussy, D’Indy, Dukas, Fauré and Camille Saint-Saëns, with whom he became close friends. This weird and wonderful amalgam led to his developing a very personal neo-Romantic aesthetic, tinged with the musical nationalism that was by then emerging in Spain. His teacher, the eminent Catalan folk specialist Felipe Pedrell (who also taught Albéniz and Falla), was entirely right when he praised his pupil’s facility for “creating works that combine different musical styles”. He was equally on the mark when he said that “if Albéniz is marked by inspiration and Falla by hard work and mastery, Granados is a man of poetry”.

Naxos has now joined forces with the Orquestra Simfònica de Barcelona i Nacional de Catalunya to mark the centenary of Granados’s premature death with a series of albums of his orchestral music. The composer died at sea—in the English Channel, on 24th March 1916. He was on his way home from New York, where he had been attending the world première of his opera Goyescas at the Metropolitan Opera, when the ship he was sailing on was torpedoed by a German U-boat during World War I.

All three works in this first volume bear witness to the varied range of influences that fed into his compositions. Both the opening piece, the Marcha de los vencidos, and the closing Suite sobre cantos gallegos date from 1899, the year in which both also received their first performance under the baton of Joan Lamote de Grignon, at a concert held on 31st October as part of a series promoted by Barcelona’s Philharmonic Society. Granados was 32 years old and already a recognised composer, having had his first brush with success when he conducted the première of his opera María del Carmen at Madrid’s Teatro de Parish on 12th November 1898. Four years earlier, in 1894, he had written the five numbers that make up his suite of incidental music for Torrijos, composed for orchestra and chorus.

Written in a rigorous minor mode and with overt medieval resonances, the Marcha de los vencidos (March of the Defeated) begins with an introduction reminiscent of the processional marches so typical of Holy Week in Spain. After this dark and enigmatic beginning, the soundscape is transformed by bright fanfares that have an age-old feel and evoke the painful trudging of the “defeated” in some unspecified battle. The central section contains episodes of melodic intensity and grandiloquence, in which the dominant presence of the brass and melodious woodwind solos anticipate the atmospheric Spaghetti Western soundtracks of Nino Rota and Ennio Morricone. The score ends, also in cinematic fashion, on an unexpectedly buoyant major chord which cuts short the mournful atmosphere that has prevailed throughout the work.

Granados’s incidental music for the play Torrijos¹ sets texts by the Valencian writer and journalist Fernando Periquet (1873–1940) who, years later, wrote the libretto for Goyescas and the texts of the Colección de tonadillas en estilo antiguo (1911–15). The scenes from Torrijos reflect both Granados’s talent for lyrical writing and his love of the stage—he was closely involved in the flourishing theatre world of Barcelona at the turn of the 20th century. This is vivid, narrative music, with touches of verismo and no pretensions other than a desire to illustrate and enhance the on-stage action. The score calls for pairs of woodwind, horns, trumpets and three trombones, timpani, percussion, harp and strings. Of its five numbers, three—the first, second and fourth—are also for chorus. Both the straightforward four-part vocal writing and the harmonies and modulations reveal an idiom that is innocent and conservative, occasionally slipping into naivety and cliché, but also displaying the fresh, flowing inspiration that characterises all of Granados’s music.

The Suite sobre cantos gallegos (Suite on Galician Songs) is the most substantial and ambitious work on this album. It is also one of the rare works in which Granados draws on folk motifs, following the advice of his teacher Pedrell. Each of its four movements evokes a different aspect or landscape of Galicia, using melodies and dance rhythms from the region to do so. In the first movement, Canto de la mañana (Morning Song), also known as En la montaña (On the mountain), the oboe plays the leading role, imitating the sound of the gaita—the bagpipes typical of the region—and plays a melody very closely related to the theme of Grieg’s Morning Mood (the opening movement of Peer Gynt, Suite No. 1, published in 1875).

The second movement is a Galician dance in scherzo form, set in motion by the bassoon with a skipping theme that then makes several reappearances as a bridge between different passages and which is played by the clarinet, flute and oboe in turn, while the strings provide accompaniment. A resounding drumroll leads into the lively rhythmical episode that forms the basis of the central section, with lyrical moments that are powerfully evocative and in which the strings come to the fore, enhanced by regular ascending arpeggios from the harp.

As Galician as the gaita is morriña, a word defined as meaning “sadness or melancholy, particularly nostalgia for one’s homeland”. Both the word and the sentiment are characteristic of Galicia and its people but the Catalan Granados shows his fellow feeling with them in taking this as the title of his third movement, a beautiful interlude full of yearning, in which the oboe again appears as the gaita’s ideal alter ego. These five minutes of peace and introspection provide a perfect contrast with both the lyrical brilliance of the second movement and the light and energy of the festive finale.

© Justo Romero
English translation by Susannah Howe

¹ In 1831, General José María Torrijos led an ill-fated attempt to bring down the absolutist regime of Ferdinand VII. Having sailed from England, via Gibraltar, he and his small band of followers landed on the coast not far from Málaga, where they found themselves the victims of an ambush. They were shot nine days later.


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