OCTOBER 2017 | Albéniz Piano Music Vol. 9 | BIS 2173OCTOBER 2017 | Albéniz Piano Music Vol. 9 | BIS 2173
By RAY PICOT
Miguel Baselga’s traversal of Albéniz’s complete piano music for BIS ends with the newly-released Volume 9. The series started in 1998 with the individual four books from Iberia appearing on the first volumes, accompanied by less well-known pieces and then in successive releases exploring the remainder of the composer’s wide ranging oeuvre, including works for piano and orchestra. Baselga was acknowledged from the start as a breath of fresh air in this repertoire with his vivacious playing and idiomatic flair, perfectly capturing the moments of virtuosity and subtlety. It should be acknowledged that there may be pieces missing from these volumes, which is largely due to the difficulty musicologists face when the composer did not catalogue or reference his music and frequently used different titles. However, this set covers the most important of the known pieces, and does so with intelligence and understanding of the composer’s aims. The booklet notes are also of consistent quality.
Albéniz could write music with a Spanish flavour, exhibiting a succinct melodic charm, so that the pieces rarely outstayed their welcome. He was also at home composing music that was more closely associated with a contemporary central-European salon style. Nowadays we seem more accepting of this apparent stylistic divergence, and it is very interesting presenting the music comparatively in each of the volumes rather than grouping all of one type together. That is not to say that we do not encounter music of the exalted quality of Iberia, but the journey is a worthwhile and fascinating one. Baselga understands this and plays the music as it is written without overplaying the simplicity and charm. He is a subtle virtuoso who choses to beguile rather than bluster, aided by a a natural sounding recording. To be honest I could have picked any of these volumes (last year I picked out his Spanish Rhapsody as my favourite interpretation, including the choice of orchestral version) but this concluding one confirms that the pianist never loses faith in the music, remaining an inspired and erudite guide.
Volume 9 focuses on what was the composer’s own acknowledged first period of the 1880’s. We see Albéniz settling in with his young family in Madrid, though not without traumas, and getting himself known as a pianist/composer, though one who fearlessly presented Bach and Scarlatti alongside his contemporaries including Wagner. He experimented with a range of musical forms, mostly miniatures, including sonatas and suites, often with poetic connotations, and clearly influenced by Chopin, Schumann and Mendelssohn. At this time his writing is suited for the smaller audiences of the affluent Madrid salons rather than large concert halls. The music is not groundbreaking but we find the composer discovering his own voice, and producing works of an attractive and perhaps immediate appeal, also suitable for the amateur market, and opening himself up to the folk styles and dance rhythms of his own country.
The first big success was with his Suite espagnole in January 1886, which was followed by another piece with a strong Spanish character, Recuerdos de viaje (Memories of Trip) a year later, which opens this album. The suite is not widely performed complete these days, with individual movements mostly appearing in recitals. However, the Suite, with its seven modest movements lasts about 25 minutes and represents a not inconsiderable achievement. The miniatures are all attractively written with a light touch, and a recognisable Spanish character that would no doubt have given the young composer a useful addition to his developing recital programmes. The suite contains popular Spanish dances and uses clearly recognisable effects, including the strumming of the guitar. The sixth piece is the better known, Rumores de la caleta, written as a delightful malagueña, captured as if freshy minted by Baselga.
The album includes three titled minuets written in 1886 and 1888, all of quite different character, and of modest and unobtrusive charm, one of which was intended for an unfinished Sonata, as was the Scherzo also featured, though this is of a more dramatic character. The Tango which follows conveys a delightful Spanish charm, though the underlying feeling is more Cuban, which Baselga conveys with understated conviction.
The remaining pieces explore more poetic forms. Reves (Dreams) of 1890 comprises three short and expressive miniatures, perhaps anticipating Mompou, which are quite delightful and deserve to better known. Two mazurka-style works written in 1886 under a pseudonym betray a fondness for Chopin, and show how well Albéniz understood this popular dance form.
A most interesting piece, and the latest on this album, is a piece simply titled Improvisation taken from a phonographic cylinder recorded by Albéniz in August 1903, being one of three that he made at a friend’s house, and reconstructed by Milton Laufer. The other two appear respectively in the previous two volumes. The purpose of these recordings is not known, but this charming 'allegretto' may have been intended for use in the composer's operas, zarzuelas or songs. It is nevertheless a fascinating addition to the composer’s catalogue, and a glimpse into the composer’s musical workshop.
The music is played throughout this album (and the whole series) with great affection and understanding by Miguel Baselga, marking an interesting end to an excellent series. I wait with great interest to see where he next takes us on his musical travels.
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