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Dan Morgan
MusicWeb International, 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.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, February 2008

It is strange that the composer often referred to as the most important in 19th century Spain now resides in the concert repertoire by two popular piano works, Goyescas and the Twelve Spanish Dances. Douglas Riva has been redressing that situation in a series of recordings that covers the complete piano output of Granados, this the tenth and final volume containing many crumbs from the master’s table. But it does introduce to disc many pieces previously unrecorded including the extensive En la aldea (In the Village), a series of ten short pieces for piano duo that passes through sunrise, a wedding scene, siesta, and finally to sunset. The remaining tracks are cameos, many owing something to Chopin, and ends with a movement from Iberia by Isaac Albeniz arranged by Granados. Riva is the leading expert in the music of Granados, and having in the past lavished so much praise on his playing, I do find the opening track - a piano version of the Intermezzo from the opera Goyescas - sounding wooden, and while much of the disc is totally enjoyable, I do not have that feeling of evangelical zeal Riva has previously shown. But do not let me turn you away from such delights as the tongue-in-cheek Marchas militares or the delicacy of La Berceuse. In the music for four hands Riva is joined by another of Naxos’s fine pianists, Jordi Maso. The recording was made last year in Naxos’s favourite UK piano location and is a masterpiece of natural piano sound. A final word of thanks to Riva for this valuable series.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, June 2007

Herbert Howells was a student of Stanford and Charles Wood at London's Royal College of Music, yet, as this disc clearly exhibits, it was the influence of Vaughan Williams - twenty years his senior - that was to colour much of his music. You can almost feel the hand of the older composer guiding Howells in Hymnus paradisi a superb choral score that still needs far more performances on the international scene. Sir Patrick Spens, however, is a real find, the history of the work starting with Howells writing his first big choral work at the age of 25 to the words of a well-known Scottish ballad relating the story of the famous sailor. It was many years later before it was published, and then the only known performance was given by student performers in Newcastle in 1930. So this recording is the first professional performance, and a very worthy one it proves to be. Musically it abounds in brightly lit colours, but there are also moments of quiet, London's Bach Choir fabulous when the music is reduced to a whisper and complements their very solid and superb tonal quality in the more outgoing moments. I am not going to say this is a neglected masterpiece, but it comes very close. Hymnus paradisi is the combination of two works, the first one intended as a conventional Requiem, the second, written three years later, remembering his son who died at the age of nine. His musical response was deeply felt but was intended only for his own ears. It was eleven years later when the Three Choirs Festival asked him for a new work that Howells revealed the existence of a score that combined the two. Reluctant at first, he was persuaded by distinguished colleagues to have it performed, the result being one of the finest English choral works in the second half of the 20th century. If it harks back stylistically, its strongly melodic character and innate Englishness making for a deeply moving piece perfectly orchestrated. Here with all three soloists on stage - Sir Patrick only calls for a baritone - the diction, projection and pure beauty of tone will surely never be challenged on disc, while the Bach Choir is again everything you could wish for. Add the Bournemouth orchestra playing for David Hill as if these works are part of their standard repertoire, and you have a disc you cannot afford to miss.

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