GRANADOS: Goyescas & other sel. – Garrick Ohlsson, p. – Hyperion

by | Feb 6, 2012 | Classical CD Reviews

GRANADOS: Goyescas; El pelele: Escena goyesca; Allegro de concierto – Garrick Ohlsson, piano – Hyperion CDA676846, 64:11 [Distr. by Harmonia mundi] ****:
Garrick Ohlsson turns his considerable digital prowess to the “great flights of imagination and difficulty” composed by Enrique Granados (1867-1916), his two books of Goyescas, subtitled “The majos in love” (c. 1909-1910). Attracted to the paintings of Spanish master Francisco Goya (1746-1828) whose works Granados had viewed in the Prado Museum in Madrid in 1896, Granados sought to capture in music that national representative spirit and bohemian power which Goya’s oeuvre generates. The designation majismo means to embrace a dashing elegance of demeanor, a sophisticate’s grace tinted by a sense of dangerous passion. The subtitle refers to the mutual attraction of majo and maja in a highly romanticized sensibility of old Madrid. Not since the classic recordings for RCA by Amparo Iturbi and that of Alicia de Larrocha for Decca have we had such a sympathetic reading with ideal piano sound, here courtesy of David Hinitt.
Performing on a resonant Steinway (in Henry Wood Hall, London, 31 May-2 June 2011), Ohlsson begins auspiciously with a grandly eloquent Los requiebros (“The flirtations”) in which Granados quotes the song “Tirana del Tripili.” A jota in triple meter, the keyboard imitates both plucked and strummed timbres of the guitar as endless metrical variants move the poetic conceits from verses and refrains of the original song. The passionate setting extends into the large second piece, “Coloquio en la reja, duo de amor” (Dialogue at the window, love duet), an evocation of two lovers’ exchanging their ardent troth through the lattice-work of a window’s ornamental iron grill. The third piece, “El fandango de candil” (Fandango by candle-light) has its source in painter Ramon de la Cruz, not Goya. Here, Ohlsson’s muscular and percussive brilliance asserts itself in triplets of a colorful fandango for guitar and castanets. The sweeping lines and buoyed curlicues remind us of veronicas performed in a Madrid bullring.
The spirit of Valencia rather than Andalusia reigns in “Quejas, o La maja y el ruisenor” (Complaints, or The maja and the nightingale), in which a lovelorn maja converses with a nightingale while the filigree beneath the song constantly varies its shape and texture. The imaginative flourishes include a bravura “cadenza ad libitum” at the end of the movement. The upward sweep of the erotic tune and the cadenza suggest much from Liszt, while the interior, intimate, dreamy lines whisper conceits only Spain can convey.
Book II begins with monumental chords announcing “El amor y la muerte” (Love and death), a ballade inspired by Goya’s Capricho of a young woman’s holding in her arms her dying lover. Themes from former sections return, now in a succession of dominant-sevenths on the verge of death, a most Lisztian, even Wagnerian, progression. The liquid harmonies might recall Paolo and Francesca from Dante. The “recitativo dramatico” near the finale indicates the majo’s death. The final movement, “Epilogo, serenata del espectro” (Epilogue: the Ghost’s serenade), invites the majo’s departed spirit to appear, a wraith singing to his beloved on a phantom guitar. A macabre simplicity of style dominates the plucked open strings of the guitar, the martial pace renouncing happiness in this world. If we had to serenade Cathy and Heathcliff on the moors, this music might well suffice.
The 1913 character piece “El pelele” (the straw man) is the subject of one of Goya’s caricatures, an effigy tossed in the air by young women in the same spirit as a sorority hazing. The work’s pungent staccati and blazing panache, its bold leaps and trills, encompasses both Scarlatti and the brilliant finished lyricism we know from Albeniz and Falla. The 1903 Allegro de concierto, a favorite of Alicia de Larrocha, Granados intended as a competition piece for the Royal Conservatory in Madrid. The national flavor of the work remains Spanish in affect without recourse to direct folk quotation, the flair and sumptuous filigree well within the Liszt tradition. Ohlsson projects the same Herculean energy and loving shapeliness here as he might assert in a Chopin Polonaise or a Liszt Rhapsody.
—Gary Lemco

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