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ClassicsOnline Home » ALBÉNIZ, I.: Piano Music, Vol. 4 (Ramiro) - Suite ancienne No. 3 / Piano Sonata No. 5 / 3 Improvisations / Serenata Árabe
Just as Albéniz did in his concert programmes, this recording alternates pieces in Spanish style with some of the entertaining salon miniatures written for Spain’s aristocracy during the last two decades of the 19th century. The Suite ancienne reflects Albéniz’s delight in creating personal versions of 18th-century dances, while echoes of Chopin and Grieg lurk behind the themes of the Sonata No. 5. The Rêverie is a work of great expressive intensity, the Serenata árabe is more recognisably Albéniz, and the Tres improvisaciones are a transcription of the only recording ever made by the composer.
Isaac Albéniz (1860–1909)
Piano Music • 4
Any attempt to record Albéniz’s complete piano music immediately comes up against an array of problems to do with locating and identifying his compositions: not only did Albéniz himself provide different lists of his works, in which the titles and numbering vary enormously, but his early publishers, for commercial reasons, also issued pieces both individually and within different collections. Therefore, for this and subsequent releases in this series, use has been made of the Catálogo Sistemático Descriptivo compiled by Jacinto Torres, this being the most reliable source of information available.
Apart from the Improvisaciones, all the works on this recording belong to Albéniz’s earliest compositional phase. The first group contains pieces in which he uses Classical forms, and others written in Romantic style. This is salon music, much in demand by Spain’s aristocracy and bourgeoisie at the time, but the works in question also represent the composer’s ongoing search for his own individual idiom. Although guilty of repetition and redundancies in places, all these pieces are of value, because both their contrapuntal elements and the understanding of pianistic sonorities that they demonstrate are facets of Albéniz’s style that would later lead to such masterpieces as La vega and Iberia.
The three Suites anciennes he composed show the delight he took in creating his own versions of various eighteenth-century dances, a repertoire dear to his heart. The Third Suite’s Minuet was originally written as a sight-reading test piece for the post of Assistant Chair of Piano at Spain’s National Music School.
Albéniz completed only three sonatas, although his records suggest he worked on as many as seven. One movement from the First and another from the Seventh survive, while Nos. 2 and 6 have been lost altogether. He soon abandoned the genre to focus instead on the cyclical works with which he felt more at home. Indeed, the four-movement Sonata No. 5 (the last complete such piece) is closer in feel to a character suite than it is a sonata. In the opening Allegro, echoes of Chopin and Grieg lurk behind themes reminiscent of salon music. These themes are developed primarily by means of modulation, although the music is also notable for its use of counterpoint. The dazzling Minuetto that follows bears the unusual nickname of “el Gallo” (the cockerel), despite having no descriptive or programmatic intent. The entirely Romantic Rêverie: Andante is a piece of great expressive intensity, and Albéniz would pursue this style of writing in the next works he went on to compose. By contrast, the Allegro finale pays homage to the keyboard music of Scarlatti and Soler.
Mazurkas and polkas were a central part of Albéniz’s repertoire, and he often dedicated them to friends and pupils of his. Both such pieces included here were published under the pseudonym “Príncipe Weisse Vogel” (sic). Diva sin par (Peerless diva) was dedicated to Italian soprano Adelina Patti, considered the greatest singer of the day, and was composed with her recitals at Madrid’s Teatro de la Zarzuela in mind—concerts at which Albéniz acted as her accompanist. The eponymous dedicatee of the Balbina Valverde polka, meanwhile, was a celebrated Spanish actress, who for twenty-seven years was the leading lady at the Teatro Lara in Madrid.
The Estudio Impromptu, an earlier piece, is a curious mixture of Chopininan forms and the tormented music of Schumann, and is an extremely demanding work to perform.
The three pieces that make up Rêves (Dreams) were written and published in London, along with the album of miniatures The Seasons (Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter). Here, the prevailing style is the Romanticism of Schumann and Mendelssohn, composers who often featured in the programmes of Albéniz’s concert performances.
The other group of works on this recording are more recognisably Albéniz. He alternated pieces in Spanish style with salon works, just as he did in his concert programmes. The Serenata árabe, later used in his opera The Magic Opal, and the Zambra granadina have a number of characteristics in common, including an Andalusian style that draws on Arabic music, and an ABA structure. The Zambra combines a lyrically sinuous melody with constant switches between major and minor, creating an unsettling effect above the ostinato rhythm of the accompaniment.
Cádiz-Gaditana is built on short episodes juxtaposed with thematic material used in other pieces, such as the quotation from the Juan Breva Malagueña which also appears in the Rapsodia española.
Rounding off this album are the Three Improvisations that Albéniz recorded on his friend Ruperto Regordosa Planas new Edison phonograph, later transcribed by Milton R. Laufer. Using that recording—the only one of the composer that exists—as a reference, we decided it would be appropriate to incorporate a few modifications in order to achieve a performance more faithful to that original rendering.
Translation by Susannah Howe
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