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Enrique GRANADOS (1867-1916)
Valses sentimentales, DLR VII:4 [1890] [15.12]
7 Estudios, DLR IV:4 [undated] [4.41]
6 Estudios expresivios en forma de piezas faciles, DLR IV:5.1 [1905] [16.00]
Bocetos: Coleccion de Obras faciles, DLR IV:10 [1900] [12.31]
Exquise...! Vals tzigane, DLR VII:7 [undated] [3.17]
L'himne dels morts, DLR V:5 [1897] [2.24]
Cartas de amor: Valses intimos, DLR VII:6 [1892] [4.33]
A la Antigua: Bourrée, DLR III:19 [1898?] [4.06]
Minuetto, DLR III:17 [1898?] 3.39]
La Gondola: Escena poetica, DLR III:25 [1898?]6.34]
Douglas Riva, piano
Recorded St Martin's Church, East Woodhay, Hampshire, 5-8 August 2002.
Piano Music Volume 7
NAXOS 8.557141 [72.58]


First of all let us compare three great composers who specialised in writing music for the piano: Rachmaninov, Scharwenka and Enrique Granados.

Every music listener knows that Rachmaninov wrote a considerable body of works. Some of these, like the Preludes, are extremely common in recital rooms. Others such as the 2nd Piano Sonata in its various revisions are often heard. Most of the other works, with the exception of some of the juvenilia, feature in recital programmes across the western musical world.

Now if we think about Scharwenka, who also wrote a vast amount of piano music the story is completely different. I doubt one music lover in a hundred would be able to name a singe piece this talented Polish composer wrote. A few may have listened to one or other of his pianoforte concerti, but typically the instrumental works are a closed book.

When we come to Enrique Granados the situation is a different one again. He is famed for one work - the deservedly renowned Goyescas. It is true to say that some of the Danzas espanolas were the works that brought him his initial popularity; however these are still relatively little known-with four exceptions. Goyescas pushes most of his other music into the background where it has remained for a considerable time.

If we look at the Archiv CD website we find some 290 recordings of this composer's music listed as being on CD. But straight away we find that one of the most famous of the Danzas españolas for Piano, Op. 37: no 5, Andaluza is represented with 107 recordings. Four more of these dances account for another 102 hits whilst the beautiful Le maja de Goya from Goyescas has 25 hits. This totals 234 recordings of six works. The remaining 56 are spread thinly about the rest of his oeuvre.

The maths are finished. But my point is that Granados reputation rests firmly on two works - the Goyescas and (a handful of) the Spanish Dances.

So it is with great faith that Naxos have embarked on what will eventually become the complete piano works of this composer. I say this with a degree of concern. I believe that people divide into two basic musical minds. Those, with a trainspotting mentality (I include myself here) that want all the works of a composer or writer and those who are content with only the purple passages. The failing of the first characteristic is that we have to wade through a lot of second and even third rate rubbish to find the hidden gems. However the other character trait usually misses these gems unless pointed out by someone else with more encyclopaedic knowledge.

This being said I must admit that this CD surprised me. I wondered about how good bad or indifferent some of these small and often seemingly inconsequential pieces would be. I felt that perhaps we were scraping the bottom of the Granados barrel. I need not have worried. Although there is little in the way of masterpieces in the grand sense here, or ground breaking pianistic technique, each one of these 36 tracks are charming, pleasant, well written and technically competent. They are a pleasure to listen to.

I will mention a few of the works on this CD.

One of the joys of this recording is the fact that the 'easy' pieces are recorded as well as a number of technically more complex and difficult numbers.

The 6 Estudios expresivios en forma de piezas faciles, DLR IV:5.1 [Six Expressive Studies in the Form of Simple Pieces] are a good example of music that is not beyond the competence of most pianists. Yet these are not patronising practice pieces. They are well constructed numbers that test the interpretive skills of even the most experienced pianist.

Riva explores more student material in the Bocetos: Coleccion de Obras faciles, DLR IV:10 ['Sketches' A Collection of Simple Pieces]. I hasten to point out that they are not too simple! They come complete with 'poetic' titles - The Hunters Call, The Fairy and the Child and The Afternoon Bell. They are joy to listen to and make a nice foil to the more complex Goyescas or Spanish Dances.

The 7 Estudios, DLR IV:4 [Seven Studies] are not dated. They are attractive works that certainly do not sound like 'mere' teaching material. They range in difficulty from 'elementary to moderately difficult.' Yet like all these kinds of works, the 'easy' ones are often hardest to 'pull off.' Riva manages to present these didactic pieces as a complete work of art in its own right.

The Cartas de amor: Valses intimos, DLR VII:6 were composed as an engagement present for the composer's fiancée, Amparo Gal Llovera. These are four very simple, but extremely effective waltzes. Of course the English title of the work is Love Letter's Intimate Waltzes. And intimacy is certainly the operative word. They are quite short, although I notice the programme notes give the wrong duration. They are played with a perfectly stated innocence.

Perhaps my favourite piece is the La Gondola - Escena poética. This was deemed to be a lost work, but fortunately a copy turned up in 2001. A flavour of the work is provided in the text appended to the music- 'A tranquil night, moonlight night, Venice sleeps while the lover's gondola crosses the silver lake.'

The programme notes are excellent; they are detailed and instructive. It is quite clear that not only is Douglas Riva a fine exponent of Granados but is also a scholar. Of course Riva has played a major role as assistant director in the publication of the critical edition of the Complete Works for Piano of Enrique Granados which is published by Editorial Boileau. The director was in fact the redoubtable Alicia de Larrocha.

The sound of this CD is excellent and matches the superb playing by Riva. Not every piece on this CD is an undiscovered masterpiece. However, virtually all of this music is attractive and interesting; some of it is truly beautiful. None of it deserves the neglect that has been its lot for the last century or so. What Douglas Riva has done for us is to give us the opportunity to judge a vast part of the Granados oeuvre for ourselves. We can decide what is timeless and what is ephemeral. I do not suppose that recital promoters will programme many of these newly rediscovered works. I expect that the same Spanish Dances and extracts from the Goyescas will continue to reign supreme. But now there is no excuse. We have our musical lives enriched by this in depth exploration of one of the greatest of composers for the piano of the early twentieth century.

However there is one health warning. Do not listen to this CD from track one to the end. Pick out the individual works and enjoy them one at a time! Then the true charm of Granados skill will become obvious.

John France

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