, June 2007
This is the second and last volume of Naxos’s complete music for solo piano by Rodrigo. It is played by the superb Artur Pizarro. I was enthusiastic about Volume 1 a couple of years ago (see review), even chose it as one of my recordings of the year. I wasn’t alone in admiring it: both my colleagues Steve Arloff and Patrick Waller praised it and it was Editor’s choice in Gramophone. I have no reason to be less enthusiastic this time. Pizarro’s playing is certainly second to none, combining clarity with warmth and being unfailingly rhythmically alert. The music in itself also has much to offer being mostly written in a highly attractive tonal idiom with catchy melodic invention. It would have been a better idea to present the works in chronological order, making it easier to appreciate Rodrigo’s development over a time-span of almost 65 years. But this is a minor complaint and quite possibly the chosen sequence is more satisfying for pure listening without historical structure.
The opening Danza de la amapola, which marked Rodrigo’s return to composing for the piano after a break of twenty years, has unmistakable Spanish atmosphere and would make a nice encore. It is dedicated to the composer’s grand-daughter Cecilita. A generation earlier, in 1948, he composed El album de Cecilia for his daughter, who premiered it at the age of eleven in 1952. He called it ‘six pieces for small hands’ but it is far from easy to bring off with advanced polyphony and intricate rhythms. It is melodically attractive music, filled with pleasant surprises, as in the last piece, where the ‘little donkeys in Bethlehem’ trot along energetically on a path strewn with dissonant thorns. The three dances from Spain, composed in 1941, are also entertaining as well as delicately lyrical.
Sonatas de Castilla is a major work, lasting almost 25 minutes, and the opening Toccata is bravely dissonant. The five sonatas that follow allude to earlier epochs in music history: the first to Scarlatti, the dreamy No. 2 to the 16th century while the lively No. 3 is bolero-like and refers to the 19th century. After an excursion back to the Renaissance again the final sonata in A is a virtuoso piece in the tonadilla mould. Rodrigo, who was a virtuoso pianist, premiered this work in 1951.
Back to 1923 and the Suite para piano has a bitonal Preludio followed by an impressionist Siciliana. It is rounded of by a harmonically and rhythmically intricate ,i>Rigodón: a real virtuoso cracker!
An odd piece is Canción y danza, written in 1925 but never published or played until the premiere on the composer’s 95th birthday on 22 November 1996. It is easy to realize why. Rodrigo here experimented with dissonances, clusters and complex rhythms in the then modern style. However, since his natural tonal language was tonal and melodic he abandoned this idiom and left the music in the drawer. Large parts of the composition are sparse with few notes sprinkled seemingly at random, hesitant but in between giddy chords and breakneck somersaults.
The Preludio al gallo mañanero, also an early piece, imitates the morning cockerel. It is interestingly written in a kind of bitonality where the right hand plays on the white keys and the left hand on the black. It is a down-to-earth, even burlesque composition, which also became a stepping-stone for Rodrigo to public attention when he performed it in Paris in 1928. Not only did his career as a concert pianist blossom, he also became friends with Manuel de Falla, to whose honour this occasion was held when he received the Legion of Honour from the French Government.
The Tres Evocaciones were commissioned for the centenary of Joaquin Turina’s birth and here Rodrigo wanted to evoke impressions of Seville: the light first movement showing the fountains, the dark second illustrating Night on the Guadalquivir and the third depicting the joy and vitality when Triana wakes up in the morning.
The disc is filled with constantly invigorating, inspiring music, played in masterly fashion. It is a pity that Rodrigo didn’t compose more for the piano. A plea to Naxos: sign up Artur Pizarro for more recordings!