Isaac Albeniz Piano Works [4 CD Set]

Issac Albeniz, the pre-eminent Spanish composer was a prolific composer, especially of piano music. Presented here is a collection of his works performed by the celebrated pianist, Martin Jones. Included in this collection are pieces that were left unfinished at the time of Albeniz’s death and completed by Martin Jones.
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If someone had played the first two tracks of this compilation to me in a blind test I would have been unable to identify the composer. I imagine I would have had difficulty with the nationality as well. Both are accomplished and very entertaining piano solos. The Champagne Waltz? Well that fits in admirably with any number of quality concert waltzes from the late 19th or early 20th century bloom of pianist/composers, virtuosic and elegantly charming. I perhaps would have pegged the Estudio impromptu as a Russian Tarantelle, stormy in its outer sections with a gentler idylle at its heart. Spain and Albeniz would have been far down my list of guesses and this is part of the joy of this collection.

Martin Jones has of course recorded copiously and, certainly in the recordings that I have heard, he plays with great conviction, technical prowess, poetry and musicianship. Nimbus have been issuing generous sets of Spanish music played by this indefatigable performer for many years; just a selection of the reviews of these give a taste of the high standards that one can expect (Halffter piano music Nimbus NI5849, Esplá piano music Nimbus NI5889, Nin piano music Nimbus NI5851). He has also essayed whole albums by Mompou, Guastavino, Granados and Turina so he is certainly familiar with the Spanish canon. This Albéniz set was recorded quite a bit earlier than any of these and most of the recordings date from 1995 with the remainder recorded in 2000.

For me it was fascinating to hear the works of the teenage composer. Uncharacterstic they may be but the are wonderfully written for the instrument and if the Sonata that follows only has shades of the mature composer there is still much to enjoy. We move into more familiar territory with the two Spanish suites, the Suite espanola and the movements from Cantos d'espana. The portrayals of the dances and songs of the various regions were my first experience of Albéniz and I still love the spectacular abandon of the Seguidillas or the calm nobility of Córdoba. Jones' gentle rubato is notable in the slow section of Sevilla and the simple serenade that is Granada. In an otherwise good performance of Cadiz I was surprised by a stiffness in his playing in the return to D flat in the first section but this is certainly the exception. It is also good to hear the entire Suite espanola; items like the energetic dance of Aragon or the lilting Cataluña with fire at its heart.

Espana – Souvenirs comprises two works, Prelude and Asturias. Both are harmonically striking, especially the prelude; virtually all of its nearly 8 minute playing time features a D flat pedal note, with chromatically shifting gentle dissonances riding in syncopation above, strikingly so as the piece continues. The melody of Asturias is likewise enveloped in an almost impressionist web of developing harmony, with haunting piquancy in its colour. It is almost worth the price of the set for these two pieces especially in these carefully crafted and haunting performances. Albéniz left two piano works unfinished at his death, Navarra and the sinuous Prelude from Azulejos; they were completed by Déodat de Séverac and Enrique Granados respectively but Martin Jones provides his own completions of both on CD4 of this set.

Altogether this is a well stocked and representative survey of Albéniz's colourful and imaginative piano music and Martin Jones is as always a convincing advocate; I am always impressed with character and panache that he brings to all that he plays. A marvellous collection of the best of Albéniz' piano music. MusicWebInternational

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