Thursday, February 1, 2018

Xiayin Wang Surveys Granados’ Piano Music

courtesy of Naxos of America

Tomorrow Chandos will release its latest album featuring pianist Xiayin Wang. Following up on her recording of Alberto Ginastera’s second piano concerto for the second volume in Chandos’ project to record Ginastera’s orchestral works, Wang’s new recording will be a solo album consisting entirely of the music of Enrique Granados. As is usually the case, is accepting pre-orders for those who cannot wait for tomorrow.

Granados is one of those Spanish musicians that tends to be known more by reputation than by his achievements as either a pianist or a composer. According to his Wikipedia page there is a modest collection of his performances, which were documented as piano rolls; but these have not enjoyed the circulation of recorded documents from other pianists active at the beginning of the twentieth century. That same Web page also suggests that his music can be classified into three periods:
  1. The earliest period can be called that of the “romantic style.” It can probably be associated with his traveling to Paris in 1887 (when he would have been twenty). While he did not qualify as a student at the Conservatoire de Paris, he took private lessons with one of the faculty members, the pianist Charles-Wilfried de Bériot (who taught Maurice Ravel at the Conservatoire). Bériot’s major achievement with Granados was probably to foster his skills at improvisation, which would serve as a precursor to Granados documenting his efforts as compositions.
  2. This would lead into his second period, which was oriented around different styles of Spanish music.
  3. The final period is called the “Goya” period, since it includes both the suite and opera entitled Goyescas, inspired by the works and life of Francisco Goya.
All three of these periods are represented on Wang’s recording. The most familiar piece from the first period is probably the cycle of eight waltzes called “Valses Poéticos” (poetic waltzes). It is not hard to imagine that not only the waltzes but also Granados’ context of continuity could have emerged from his improvisations. In addition, the album concludes with the Opus 46 “Allegro de concierto,” which seems to be the result of working from a model for the first movement of a piano concerto.

The middle period receives the least representation through only the last of six pieces that Granados wrote based on popular Spanish songs, the source form being the Andalusian zapateado. Granados’ interest in this particular form may well have been triggered by Pablo de Sarasate’s version, which he composed for violin and piano and remains a popular encore selection. Finally, the Goyescas suite is represented by the four pieces in the first book (completed in 1910) and the two additional pieces in the second (completed at the end of 1911). Granados also composed a piece he called “Escena goyesca” (Goya scene), based on the image of a straw puppet. This was first performed in March of 1914 and is not included on Wang’s recording.

When compared with his Spanish contemporaries, Granados is decidedly less flamboyant when compared with not only Sarasate but also the pianist-composer Isaac Albéniz. If Sarasate was the “Spanish answer” to Niccolò Paganini, Albéniz might well be declared the Spanish counterpart of Franz Liszt. Granados, on the other hand, seems to reflect the more understated rhetoric frequently encountered in the music of John Field. Wang seems to appreciate this rhetoric of understatement; and her performances draw our attention to the music itself, rather than the showy pianist. Nevertheless, many are likely to feel that a little of this goes a long way and may wish to approach this new album by listening to single tracks individually over the course of a longer span of time. (Don’t let the flashy album cover mislead you!)

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