This Friday Hyperion will release a new album consisting entirely of piano music by Manuel de Falla played by Garrick Ohlsson. I have been following Ohlsson in concert performances for several years, and I have been impressed by the breadth of his repertoire, particularly when I encountered him participating in a lecture-demonstration about the music of Ferruccio Busoni. Falla’s piano music occupies only a modest portion of his catalog, but that is no excuse for it getting relatively little attention. For those unable to hold back their curiosity, Amazon.com has engaged the usual practice of taking pre-orders.
To be fair, however, original compositions for solo piano account for only a portion of Ohlsson’s album. The tracks likely to be most familiar to listeners will be the composer’s arrangements of music from two of his best known works for the stage, El amor brujo (love, the magician) and The Three-Cornered Hat. The principal work composed for solo piano is the “Fantasia Bética” (“Baetis” being the Roman name for Andalusia), written for and dedicated to Arthur Rubinstein. Sadly, Rubinstein abandoned it after only a few performances, declaring it to be too long (this coming from a pianist who never seemed to have much trouble with the longueurs of Franz Liszt)!
The fact is that Falla has no trouble being an engaging composer whether he is working at durations “too long for Rubinstein” (“Fantasia Bética” is less than a quarter hour in duration) or working on the scale of a few minutes, as in the arrangements of his music for the stage. Given that we shall be recognizing the 100th anniversary of the death of Claude Debussy at the end of this month, I thought it was particularly appropriate for Ohlsson to select Falla’s “Pour le tombeau de Claude Debussy,” originally written for guitar and then arranged for piano. Falla even included a quote from one of those passages in Debussy’s music where the composer was trying to “be Spanish.” Then of course there is Falla’s piano arrangement of the “Song of the Volga boatmen,” presumably composed just because he liked the tune!
As albums of keyboard music go, this may not be the most profound in the pack; but there are any number of ways to enjoy the delights that Ohlsson has decided to bring to his listeners’ attention.