FALLA: Piano Music, Vol. I = Nocturno; Serenata; Serenata andaluza; Allegro de concierto; Homenaje a Claude Debussy; Sobre la tumba de Paul Dukas; Cuatro piezas espanaolas; Suite de El amor brujo – Daniel Ligorio, piano – Naxos 8.555065  57:20 ****:

Daniel Ligorio intends to record the complete piano oeuvre of Manuel de Falla, including juvenilia and transcriptions of his own orchestral music, as well as pieces created specifically to show off Falla’s idiomatic writing for the instrument. The early pieces written under the guidance of the composer‘s mentor, Felipe Pedrell–like Nocturno, Serenata, and Serenata andaluza–were composed 1899-1902, and the easily hint at a salon style derived from Chopin with echoes of a national dance impulse. A vigorous, flowing style, marked by trills, arpgeggios, and a flamboyant lyricism, mark these youthful works. The 1903 Concert Allegro injects a deliberately virtuosic element into the mix, a rather Lisztian (although Schumann’s Humoreske gets a quote) exercise-ballade rife with harmonic and contrapuntal complications in which the purely melodic kernel becomes swamped.

The Homages to Debussy and to Dukas demonstrate a true phase in Falla’s style, especially in his utilization of dissonances, atonality, and block chords. The Debussy (1920) piece alludes to several of the master’s piano preludes, especially the eccentric General Lavine and the Spanish Gate. The Dukas (1935) points to worlds Schoenberg, Berg, and Stravinsky would explore even more intensely, though its stark processional makes angular, disturbing points of its own. It was Ricardo Vines who premiered the Four Spanish Pieces in 1907. Combining Spanish national styles–with more than a glance at Sarasate–and French impressionism’s alluring sensuality, the four dances sway in pointillist colors and silky, modal scales. Montanesa incorporates motifs from Albeniz and Liszt’s water pieces. Andaluza already dazzles us with spectacular colors rife with kernels for Nights in the Gardens of Spain. It was 1925-26 that Falla reduced his ballet Love the Magician to piano score, and the music enjoys a decidedly Stravinskian cast in this form. Glittering, sensuous rills and lilting rhythms sway across the stage; Ligorio takes Falla’s incomplete manuscript and fills out additional orchestral motifs to his own taste. The famous Ritual Dance of Fire, long a Rubinstein staple, rings with equally primitive energy under Ligorio.

— Gary Lemco