by | Mar 24, 2007 | Classical CD Reviews | 0 comments

Spanish Album = SOLER: Sonata in F-sharp Major; GRANADOS: Valses poeticos; ALBENIZ: Evocacion; Triana; MOMPOU: Pajaro triste; La barca; Secreto; Gitano; LONGAS: Aragon; DEBUSSY: La soiree dans Granade; La serenade interrompue; La Puerta del Vino; RAVEL: Piece en forme de Habanera; ALBENIZ (arr. Godowsky): Tang; SCHARWENKA: Spanisches Staendchen; NIEMANN: Evening in Seville; HOUGH: On Falla – Stephen Hough, piano – Hyperion CDA67565, 71:54 (Distrib. Harmonia mundi) ****:Recorded 10-12 October 2005, this recital permits Stephen Hough to display his sense of color and rhythmic nuance in seventeen pieces which exploit the Spanish sensibility. The precious F-sharp Sonata by Antonio Soler (1729-1783) first came to my attention on an Epic LP featuring the marvelous Alicia de Laroccha’s sterling performance. Hough adds a gentle luster to its Scarlatti-like figures. The Granados Poetic Waltzes (1887) are to Spanish music what German Dances are to Schubert. Lilting and mercurial, they sparkle under Hough. Sensuality suffuses Albeniz’s Evocacion, the opening jota from Navarre, from the Iberia suite; the Liszt influence rides through Triana, the cantering finale from Iberia Book 2. The group of pieces by Federico Mompou (1893-1987) from a set of Intimate Impressions bring short, suggestive, meditative reflections to light, of which Secreto in C Sharp Major owes something to Debussy’s Preludes. Gitano explodes into passion momentarily, its harmonies suggestive of Faure. Federico Longas (1893-1968) wrote his Aragon for Vladimir Horowitz in 1935. A sizable etude or tonepoem, it has tricky metrics and guitar effects.

The French reaction to the Spanish temper opens with Debussy’s La soiree dans Grenade from Estampes, a seductive habanera. Simon Eadon’s engineering on the Steinway captures a beautifully molded rendition. Humor and eroticism blend for La serenade interrompue from Preludes, Book I. A dark and exotic sense of color, liberated dissonances, permeates the entryway to the Alhambra. Maurice Dumesnil arranged Ravel’s sultry habanera for piano solo; Hough’s trills more than once recall Granados’ The Maiden and the Nightingale.

The homages to Spain begin with Godowsky’s arrangement of Albeniz’ Tango – a salon piece that might have graced characters in Alan Rudolph’s film The Moderns. Scharwenka (1850-1924) is remembered as a fine piano virtuoso, and his Spanish Serenade is a syncopated waltz accompanied by tripping figures. Walter Niemann (1876-1953) wrote Evennig in Seville as part of his Op. 55 set, and tries to merge Spanish flair with Chopin harmony. Finally, Stephen Hough (b. 1961) adds his own improvisation on Debussy and Falla, mostly in homage of Fantasia betica and Ritual Fire Dance from El Amor brujo. Glittering, boldly resonant, and forever virtuosic, Hough remains a debonair treat for the piano connoisseur – the Noel Coward of the keyboard.

—Gary Lemco

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