, May 2009
I ended my review of Volume 2 of this cycle of Isaac Albéniz’s piano works [8.570553] by insisting that it was essential to have an easily available ‘complete’ edition of this music. I looked forward to subsequent releases and was confident that Guillermo González was the man to realise this task. Although it has been more than eighteen months since that last disc was issued, it is good to see that neither Naxos nor González have let me down. Although this present CD explores pieces that are relatively unknown to recital goers who may happen on the odd work by Albéniz, these are three hugely entertaining, eternally varying and technically competent works. They are essential to all lovers of Spanish music in particular, and nineteenth-century piano music in general.
There is an interesting balance on this particular CD between music that was quite definitely written to fulfil a demand for salon music or the recital room and that designed to satisfy the repertoire needs of the composer’s pupils.
The Mazurkas de Salón seems to reflect both of these requirements—having been especially written for Albéniz's teaching work with the daughters of the wealthy. The programme notes point out that the sheet music covers of each of these mazurkas shows a calling card with the corner turned down, and the name of their dedicatee. These were, Isabel, Casilda, Aurora, Sofia, Christa and Maria. As Noel Coward once said, “I wonder what happened to them”? Yet there is nothing dry or didactic about these mazurkas: they are not ‘teaching pieces’ as such. I guess that his pupils must have been at a reasonably high standard if they were able to play them at all well. It is hardly surprising that they nod to Chopin: anyone writing a mazurka must owe the great Polish composer some debt. Yet, these are not pastiche—Albéniz brings a freshness and an interest to these six attractive dances that is wholly personal. The Mazurkas were composed around 1885.
The 6 Pequeños Valses immediately appealed to me. Perhaps the fact that I can battle my way through a couple of them on the piano makes them particularly attractive! They were composed when Albéniz was about twenty years old and represent the “height of his romantic phase”. During this period he “produced quantities of études, pavanes, mazurkas, barcarolles and other salon pieces.” For these he was paid five pesetas a page by his publisher Romero.
These ‘Little Waltzes’ look to Chopin, yet every so often shafts of Spanish sunshine sparkle across the score. They are short but beautifully structured pieces that do not stretch the pianist’s ability, but certainly entertain the listener. They can be played individually, but I guess that ideally they should be performed as a group.
Perhaps the most important work on this CD is the 6 Danzas españolas. These are once again pieces that are probably more suited to the salon than the recital room. Yet with a big difference. It is in these pieces that the first intimations of the composer’s fascination with a genuine Spanish idiom were first revealed. Out is the pervading influence of Chopin and Schumann and in are the nationalistic dance forms and rhythms of Spain and Cuba, which was a Spanish colony at that time.
The story of the composer’s engagement with Spanish folk-music bears retelling. In 1881 he went on a tour of Cuba, Mexico and Argentina. He returned to Spain for a further gruelling series of performances—in Aragon, Navarre and the Basque Country. It was during this tour that he met the guitarist ‘El Lucena’. This musician introduced Albéniz to the subtleties of Andalusian guitar music. From this time onwards he began to use this sound-scape in many, but not all of his compositions. It was this “guitar-like strumming’ as re-interpreted for the piano that was to inspire a number of French composers, including Debussy and Ravel.
The 6 Danzas españolas are quite involved from a technical and compositional perspective. They are slightly less approachable than the other two sets of pieces on this disc—yet they reveal their charms and delights to anyone who is prepared to listen carefully and perhaps hear them more than once. They were composed some time between 1881 and 1887…This is a great CD that explores some impressive music that is technically superb in both the sound quality and the performance. González succeeds in making these pieces both moving and attractive…sheer enjoyment and technical accomplishment.