NOVEMBER 2017: Serebrier Conducts Granados | SOMM CD 0171NOVEMBER 2017: Serebrier Conducts Granados | SOMM CD 0171
By RAY PICOT
A strange title to this album, when only a third covers the music of Granados, though it is certainly centred around his time, if not the most typical fare. What we have is an interesting selection of Spanish music for string orchestra covering the 40 years from 1870, but mainly Romantic in expression. It has been some 20 years since Gerard Claret directed two CDs for Nimbus covering this genre (and they have worn very well) but here we have a different selection and a welcome slant on the end of the 19th century, which is little-explored in most concert and album programmes. The collection of 16 individual pieces is presented with sure direction by the eminent conductor, Jose Serebrier, who directs a very polished Concerto Malaga String Orchestra. For me this is a welcome return to the Hispanic repertoire that Maestro Serebrier knows so well - he was a council member of ILAMS for many years - though his last venture into this realm was his acclaimed recording of guitar concertos by Rodrigo, Villa-Lobos and Ponce in 2014 with Sharon Isbin.
The specific area of interest in this recording is the Catalan cultural flowering during this period known as ‘modernism’, which informed the arts and architecture particularly, in Barcelona. Granados was a very important contributor but he wrote nothing for string orchestra, which is true of various composers whose music is included here, and we open with two arranged pieces from Danzas españolas - 'Andaluza' and 'Oriental', which have a delightful sheen in their orchestral garb. 'El himno de los muertos' and the 'Intermezzo' from the opera Goyescas, also in arrangements that preserve a restrained coloration, suit the music well. The composer’s own Pequeña romanza for string quartet, though quite slight, holds up well on the larger sound canvas. All is played with great sensitivity and attention to detail.
This is followed by two short pieces by Tárrega arranged from the guitar originals, notably the famous Recuerdos de la Alhambra and Gran vals. I found this strangely compelling, though I felt some of the specific colour of the guitar which imbues the character of the pieces was missing.
We now move on to original pieces, with the delightful Vistas al mar for strings, by Toldrá, from which we hear the gently evocative 'Nocturno'. Malats' evergreen Serenata española follows in the composer’s own version for strings, which works nicely. Another nocturnal moment follows in Chapí’s 'Nocturno' taken from one of his zarzuelas. This emotional context is broken in the near atonal Desolació by Morera, which is very concentrated in its short span and provides a restrained aural shock.
We return to the 19th century to sample the refined music of Monasterio with the rarely-performed Andante religioso and Andante expresivo. Perhaps not as melodically immediate as Grieg, this well-written music eschews nationalism for the more familiar threads of Central European music of its time, but is none the worse for it. Arrangements of music by Albéniz follow, with an attractive 'Tango' and 'Mallorca', both gently lilting in their expression.
The programme concludes with the Lento expresivo by another rarely-explored composer, Lamote de Grignon. This unassuming piece has a lovely melodic turn and an attractive strain of romantic melancholy, and is another find.
Though the album contains nothing of any great duration, Serebrier skilfully balances the moods without breaking the flow, so that they run together well as a listening experience. The use of strings emphasises a more subdued and expressive tone, eschewing the brash colours you tend to get from the full orchestra in Spanish music collections. Whilst this is not a ground-breaking collection of pieces, it is none the less very enjoyable and I have found myself returning to its unforced charm with much pleasure. I should add there is an excellent booklet note from the eminent author and expert on Hispanic music, Walter Aaron Clark.
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