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James Miller
Fanfare, June 2001

"Although Iberia is sometimes thought of as a sort of portrait of Spain in general, the suite deals mainly with southern Spain, and Andalusia in particular. It is possible that Albéniz would have added more pieces to the suite. It has been claimed that he had planned a piece about Valencia as the 12th one but never composed it. He didn't quite complete 'Navarra', a piece dealing with a northern district of the country, which may have been intended for inclusion if the number of sections had been expanded. From the beginning, even Albéniz realized that his difficult music might benefit from orchestration-10 fingers are barely enough to cope with it; but, although he was an excellent orchestrator, he delayed until it was too late. In the grip of his final illness, he asked a colleague, conductor Enrique Fernández Arbós, to take on the job. One effect of Arbós's assent was that Ravel was discouraged from doing something with it when he contacted Albéniz's publisher several years later. Shortly thereafter, perhaps with some prodding, Arbós, in 1927, published an Iberia Suite consisting of orchestrations of five of the 12 piano originals (the Naxos annotator says he orchestrated nine of them, which would be nice if true, but is probably a mistake). Frustrated by Arbós's failure to complete the job, the composer's heirs eventually asked composer/conductor Carlos Surinach to orchestrate the remaining seven, which he did during the mid 50s...

"Now, here's Naxos with a different orchestration by one Peter Breiner, described in the annotations only as 'the gifted Slovak-born Peter Breiner.' Faced with an established orchestration (at least in the five Arbós pieces), Breiner has made the wise decision not to concede all the good effects to his predecessors: In other words, if some Arbós or Surinach touch sounds inevitable and right, he isn't embarrassed to use it too. This doesn't happen much at all, but when it does it doesn't bother me one bit, and it's always to the music's advantage. I will even go so far as to say that I marginally prefer his Almeria, which is dreamier and more nocturnal than Surinach's."

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