JANUARY 2018 | Anniversaries, Birthdays and Celebrations: Looking Back to Lobo, Estevez, Granados, Albeniz and Mignone

JANUARY 2018 | Anniversaries, Birthdays and Celebrations: Looking Back to Lobo, Estevez, Granados, Albeniz and Mignone


To refresh the New Year in this edition I have selected a handful of CD releases, some new, that mark some special celebrations and events in our musical calendar over the last 14 months.

Though the best music is supposed to stand alone, free of outside influence, the setting can undoubtably enhance the experience. That was the case when the Spanish early music ensemble, La Grande Chapelle, performed during our 2017 Echoes Festival, amongst a sea of wonderful paintings at The Wallace Collection in November. A mixed voice choir of 7, under the direction of Albert Recasens, offered an exquisite rendition of Alfonso Lobo’s Missa ‘Beat Dei genitrix’ interspersed by motets, as music from the time of El Greco, and specifically the 400th anniversary of the composer. It has taken time for Lobo’s music to be fully appreciated, but there now seems to be acceptance that along with the better-known Tomás Luis de Victoria, Lobo brought about a true flowering of Spanish music that has sounded down the years. The programme reflected on the aesthetic affinities between Lobo and El Greco and there is certainly an austerity which marks him out from his contemporaries. There are some fine recordings of Lobo’s polyphonic masterpieces, but this mass was perfectly handled in the hands of these musicians. I feel bound to recommend without reservation the recording they made for their own Lauda Music (LAU013) coupled with the very fine Missa ‘Prudentes Virgines’, and interspersed with motets on which the music was based, by Lobo's teacher Francisco Guerrero. Released in 2013 this fine recording has garnered many awards reflecting the quality of music and performance, using the most up-to-date editions.

Another interesting programme was played last October by Clara Rodríguez, where she explored the music of the Caribbean, two months later she has just released her latest recording, Americas Without Frontiers (Nimbus Alliance NI6346) which takes us around the area explored in the concert and beyond. Whilst I’ve only had the CD a very short time, its impact is immediate and positive, though treading in some familiar areas from this pianist’s discography, the album is an altogether new experience. Rather imaginatively Clara Rodríguez bookends the album with some idiomatic arrangements which incorporate subtle percussion. These also pop up in places across the programme, though they never jar, but rather point up the unique interface in South American and Caribbean art music and more popular styles. Listening to Nazareth firstly on solo piano and then with the percussion is inspired, and you wonder why this is not done more often. Whilst there are some names of composers who will be unfamiliar, the choice of music is perfect, as one dance rhythm slips into another. There are also extra-musical concepts behind the album, which are interesting and shows how well connected Ms Rodríguez is with the world in which this music was created. A very important connection is made in this album to the 2016 centenary of the Venezuelan, Antonio Estévez, with the wonderfully idiomatic 17 Pieces infantiles, which resulted in the composer being given the National Music Award in 1957. These are fascinating short pieces which sound beguilingly simple in Clara Rodriquez' hands, which I am sure they are not! The individual pieces exhibit many mood changes, breathing a distinctive indigenous air, but always tuneful and interesting. They are played with affection and consummate virtuosity and represent some of the composer’s best work for the piano, and it is surprising they are not better known. Another highlight for me was the selection of 5 Studies by Ariel Ramírez, which, like his wonderful Alfonsina y el mar, effortlessly conjure the area of Río de la Plata. Across the album, familiar pieces breathe a new air in transformed surroundings and with such dedicated performances. In short this is a disc to enjoy and savour by afficionados and newcomers to a fascinating repertoire, of which Clara Rodríguez is an undisputed champion.

We have celebrated the anniversaries of Enrique Granados across 2016 and 2017 with a fascinating clutch of discs that have been very well received by public and critics alike. However, I turn the clock back again to 2016 and our celebration of Granados and Music from the Time of Goya in November, when as part of his world tour, José Menor gave a masterful performance of the entire piano suite Goyescas. With the music thoroughly under his fingers, this rising star of Spanish pianism has now released a studio recording of the entire work accompanied by a selection of pieces that mostly predate the suite that also evoke the concept of Goya, as envisaged by this master romantic. He includes a world premiere, Crepúsculo ('Twilight') based on a single manuscript and conjectured to be a preliminary sketch for the suite. In his extensive and interesting booklet notes José Menor draws us into this now lost world. However, it is through his playing that the music speaks so eloquently. The interpretation is utterly involving and dramatic, but never loses sight of the many moments of delicacy and reflection. The piano is particularly well-recorded and gives the impression that you are experiencing the music live, as Menor carries the listener along the musical ebb and flow of this romantic and utterly Spanish suite. Of course Goyescas is such a major work that it attracts many different interpretations, but this one surely ranks with the finest and deserves the widest currency. The recording is released on the Ibs Classical label (IBS82017), a relatively new label from Spain with a fascinating and growing catalogue.

On the subject of interesting new record labels. I’ve recently sung the praises of releases on the British label Somm, and once again it has triumphed with a fabulous and unexpected partnership of piano concertos by Isaac Albéniz and Francisco Mignone (SOMMCD 265), and the connection here is the latter’s 120th anniversary. This is simply another ‘must’ for your collection and one which boasts one of the best piano concertos to emerge from Brazil played by the pianist Clelia Iruzun, the conductor Jac van Steen and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. Although not the main fayre on this recording, let me start with the most familiar, namely Albéniz’ Piano Concerto Op. 78 also known as the 'Concierto fantástico'. A veritable ‘cinderella’ of the romantic piano genre, it has suffered much through comparison and aspects of its orchestration, but any lingering doubts are swept away with the sheer virtuosity and élan that these artists bring to the piece, that it almost feels like a new discovery. The overall timing is typical of many other recordings, but it's the sheer verve of the interpretation and the depth of the recording that wins you over. However, the main course is the Mignone Piano Concerto written in 1958, recorded twice in the 1960s, releases which unaccountably sunk without trace. But then comes along an extraordinary artist like Ms Iruzun who not only knew the composer from her childhood and latterly his widow and pianist, Maria Josephina, and who has recently recorded a selection of solo piano works of Mignone and the third of the Fantasias brasileiras for piano and orchestra (both for the Lorelt label). Iruzun is clearly someone who understands the intentions of the composer and therefore is ideal to give us what should become the reference recording of this great work. The concerto marries orchestral mastery with a grand pianist virtuosity, but no mere note-spining. The opening is extraordinary with typical folkloric-inspired and dissonant figurations before being carried forth by the orchestral strings in a moment not far removed from Rachmaninov’s famous 2nd concerto. But the composer was by this time the master of his art and one is carried along by the sheer invention of the music, the melodies and his absorption of cosmopolitan and nationalist influences. Although the four Fantasias are very good, this piece comes across as the composer’s pinnacle of this genre which deserves a renewed life in the concert hall. But let us start here and enjoy this wonderful disc, complete with attractive piano solo pendants. After this album one can but wonder what Ms Iruzun has planned for us next.



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