Isaac Albeniz lived only to age 48 but he was a child prodigy in the Mozartian mold. He ran away from home in Spain and was performing in Costa Rica and the U.S. at age 13 and the next year was accepted in the Leipzig Conservatory. Most of his life’s output of music was for the piano but it is in transcriptions for the guitar that his Suite Española is most heard, both live and on recordings. Conductor de Burgos took seven selections from Albeniz’ Suite Española plus one from his Songs of Spain and arranged them for symphony orchestra. His complete success at transferring the music from the keyboard to the orchestra – not always an easy task – equals that of the famous example of Ravel in Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition. The music is imbued with the strongest and most colorful flavor of Iberian music but never sounds the least bit kitschy. A couple of the selections are redolent of the sensual atmosphere of the southern Spanish locations described – much in the style of sections of Debussy’s Iberia.
The order of the eight sections is somewhat different than the original piano pieces, but when I went to compare this new xrcd with the Cisco/King Records vinyl reissue of the same recording I got completely confused, finally realizing the side labels on the Cisco LP are reversed. I didn’t have the original 1967 Decca LP, which was engineered by Kenneth Wilkinson and Alan Reeve, but the Cisco reissue is said to be very close to or better than the original. This recording has long been pegged as an audiophile achievement. De Burgos obviously strives for the very best performance of his own transcription and the orchestra outdoes itself in spirited, exciting playing – especially stressing the contagious Spanish rhythms with the music abounds. The dynamic range is extremely wide and the depth and width of the soundstage is also extended. The castanets heard in several sections are clearly at the back left of the orchestra layout, and they engage the rich acoustics of Kingsway Hall where the recording was made.
FIM put a great deal of loving attention into this reissue, and it has paid off. Some of the original lines notes are reprinted and the front cover is a frame for a reproduction of the original LP’s cover. The music is currently available on a Decca CD coupled with Falla’s Love the Magician, and at less than half the cost of this xrcd, but sonically it doesn’t come even close. In fact, I found the xrcd to actually surpass the Cisco vinyl Super Analog Disc reissue on most counts. It is cleaner, has a more extended frequency range, and not the slightest troublesome surface noise or even hiss – the vinyl having both. The castanets, for example, are heard in thrilling clarity and accurate spatial placement, whereas on the vinyl they are muffled and distant-sounding. [For reference: SOTA vacuum table, SME V arm, Spirit Transfiguration MC, Grado phono preamp, Walker Valid Points, MSB & Arcici isolation bases.]
– John Sunier