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Oleg Ledeniov
MusicWeb International, December 2010

Spanish music is very special. It has so many characteristic elements—rhythmic, melodic, harmonic. One can use them to create long musical works where each measure is unmistakably Spanish, and nothing is repetitive or boring. Yet, it’s not enough to master the technical side and just mix the elements. The real magic happens when you add a subtle, elusive component that can be called “the Spanish soul”. Although the output of Enrique Granados may not be “Spanish through and through”, his first masterpiece, the collection of twelve Danzas Españolas, certainly falls into that category.

Breaking the dozen into four sets of three can help to understand the overall pattern. Each triad has a fast-slow-fast structure, where each part is usually in ternary form. Broadly speaking the first movement of each such small “suite” has a grander, more solemn character; the second is darker, slower, and often mystic; the third is happy and celebratory.

The pieces are not that different in appearance: after all, these are dances, not just a set of lyric pieces à la Grieg. From the Schumanesque opening chords of No.1 we move to the silver sadness of No.2, with its mysterious flickering light. No.3 is proud, with castanets and a distinct separation of “male” and “female” episodes. Rustic bells fill the bucolic atmosphere of the tranquil No.4. No.5 is the most famous, probably the best-known piece by Granados. It is dark and passionate, with gypsy rhythms. No.6 has a sensual middle episode, framed by two outer episodes of increasing celebration, with a swirling accelerando. No.7 is sunny and feminine, a bit coquettish. It’s like a colorful merry-go-round that does not want to stop. No.8 is solemn and festive, reaching moments of golden ecstasy. No.9 is like a mazurka, with an attractive swing. It compensates in enthusiasm for what it lacks in refinement. The pieces from the last triad share a certain feeling of a wide and uniform canvas: the gentle hurry of No.10, with its five-note ostinato; the nocturnal spices of No.11, with oriental notes; and the mysterious yet lively No.12.

The playing of Douglas Riva exudes authority. This is not surprising, knowing that he was the Assistant Director of the critical edition of the Complete Works for Piano of Granados, where Alicia de Larrocha was the Director. Accordingly, his approach to this music is rather similar to that of de Larrocha. The most noticeable difference is in the rubato. Where de Larrocha lets the music “roll”, very evenly—Riva uses pauses and moments of slowing down, in order to place the accents. Both approaches work well: they are just different. Sometimes, as in No.7, Riva shows a more masculine view, while de Larrocha’s style is more feminine. No.2 sounds more mesmerizing in de Larrocha’s hands, where the forward movement is smoother. Riva’s No.11 is very atmospheric and has a lot of space. His Andaluza is simple, and the slightly torn rhythms that he uses add to the “gypsy” feeling. Overall, Riva’s playing simultaneously evokes two impressions: authentic and modern.

As a bonus, Riva adds a transcription from a piano roll that Granados recorded in New York in 1916, just before his tragic death. This is an improvisation on a Valencian jota, but you won’t hear the busy merriment normally associated with a jota. Instead, the music is very poetic and gentle. It is an unhurried landscape painting, very different from the bright and accentuated Danzas.

The recording quality here is excellent. The insert note is by Douglas Riva himself. Being one of the most prominent Granados scholars living, Riva compresses into two small pages a great deal of information and reflection.

These are splendid performances of beautiful music. The featured works stand well together, and listening to the entire disc as a whole is a very pleasant experience.

Brent Auerbach
American Record Guide, September 2010

In addition to serving as Assistant Director of a Granados critical edition, Riva has recorded the composer’s complete piano works on Naxos. As is often the case for these encyclopedic projects, the results are eminently listenable...The sound is clean, warm, attractive, and intimate...By way of expressive swaying in the melody and an overall sharp energy in the crushed-note accompaniment, the ‘Andaluza’ smolders seductively. In its grace and dramatic treatment of all the whimsical elements, the ‘Valenciana’ will have you smiling. The 11th dance, ‘Arabesca’, is the most interesting work by far. It was up to Granados to determine the bizarre form, with its unpredictable alternation of formal elements, and up to Riva to use touch and timing to establish the proper, questioning mood. The product of their collaboration in this one special case is a vivid musical landscape that—though no program is indicated—conjures up the sensation of wandering in a dark, ethereal landscape...perhaps a catacomb.

Ballet Review, June 2010

Granados’ early Danzas Españolas, completed when he was only twenty-three, already capture the sounds and feel of Spanish dance. Indeed, the fifth, often called Andaluza, with its insinuating rhythms and declamatory melody, may well be his best-known composition. But there’s real variety in these twelve pieces that is captured in Riva’s idiomatic performances, if not with quite the subtle grace of Alicia de Larocha. (Riva is editing Granados’complete works for piano with de Larocha as well as recording all of them for Naxos.) A welcome encore is the transcription of an improvisation caught on a piano roll only weeks before Granados’ boat was torpedoed in 1916, suggesting what we lost.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, May 2010

When Douglas Riva began his award-winning cycle of Granados’s piano music, the Naxos catalogue already contained the Danzas españolas. Now he records it again to complete his own cycle. Granados enjoyed a life as one of Europe’s foremost concert pianists, with a subsidiary career as a conductor and composer when he and his wife were drowned in passenger ship sunk by the German’s in the First World War. Most of his mature studies had taken place in Barcelona, but when completed he spent two years in Paris. Back in his homeland it was the publication of the twelve Danzas españolas that brought the twenty-two year old musician to international recognition. They were not tourist pictures of Spain, many of the dances being rather quiet, at times sultry, and often wistful. Most are not difficult to play, many are easy, and few offer the performer any outgoing virtuosity. Yet in Riva’s hands they are totally alluring, the naive quality of the Fourth dance here turned into a lengthy statement of poetic beauty. That contrasts with the popular Fifth where the mood is more outgoing, and the rather quirky Eighth and Tenth dances, the final Bolero never having sounded so totally happy on disc. There have been other recordings, notably those from the 1970’s by Alicia de Larrocha, but Riva is clearly the modern first choice. The release is completed by the Improvisacion sobre la jota valenciana, transcribed from a piano roll made by Granados. He was celebrated in the art of improvisation, and in 1916 imprinted one for the Duo-Art Reproducing Piano. It has been one of life’s joys to hear Riva throughout the cycle.

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