Friday, October 4, 2019

Naxos Releases Albéniz’ Complete Vocal Works

courtesy of Naxos of America

To date my interest in Isaac Albéniz, both in performance and on recordings, has been restricted to his piano compositions. To date Naxos has released eight single-CD volumes in the latter category, the most recent of which appeared at the end of 2017 with no sign that it was the final recording in the project. Last month, however, Naxos shifted its attention to art song, releasing a “complete works” single-CD album of the compositions for voice and piano. The vocalist is Magdalena Llamas, accompanied by pianist Guillermo González.

There are 31 tracks on this recording. What is particularly in interesting is that only the last five of them are in Spanish. This is the collection Rimas de Bécquer, setting five poems by the nineteenth-century Spanish poet Gustavo Adolfo Bécquer. Sixteen of the songs, on the other hand, have English texts provided by one of Albéniz’ major patrons, the London solicitor Francis Money-Coutts, 5th Baron Latymer. These are grouped in three collections, To Nellie (six songs), Six Songs, and Quatre Mélodies. That leaves six Italian texts by the Marquesa de Bolaños and four settings of poems and prose excerpts by French authors.

In other words this rather modest collection of vocal music provides a better sense of cosmopolitanism than can be found in much of Albéniz piano compositions. All of these songs were composed between 1887 and 1909, and many of them reflect prevailing trends in art song. My own orientation suggests that Albéniz was more attuned to the efforts of French composers in this time frame than he was to composers of other nationalities (including his own). Thus, a listener given a “blind test” might be more likely to guess at a composer like Gabriel Fauré, rather than identifying the composer as Spanish.

On the other hand the album still makes for a refreshing listening experience. It presents the listener with a new contributor to the art song repertoire. One can only hope that at least a few of the current recitalists will pick up on some of this collection, allowing them to prepare programs that depart from the tried-and-true repertoire in delightfully unexpected ways.

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