I’ve been a fan of Martin Jones via the Nimbus label and others
for many years and, bulk for bulk, I think his numerous box
sets of complete works account for the largest amount of shelf-space
by any single artist in my collection. Easily matching the high
standard of previous collections, this admirable release has
already been described by Steve Arloff (see review).
The familiar Wyastone Leys acoustic is ideal for piano, and
you can sense our guide feeling entirely at home and able to
give his best of this generously.
This is the kind of music which has a feel of immediate accessibility,
but which also insinuates its qualities into your consciousness
the further you immerse yourself. Esplá has some of that gentle
quality of his contemporary Federico Mompou, and the Spanish
warmth in the music radiates from most of the pieces, with flavours
from France and a variety of other influences both musical and
technically pianistic are hinted at.
Ordered chronologically, it is nice to trace Esplá’s subtle
development between the earliest of pieces from 1905, to the
works of the 1930s and 40s. His lyrical qualities as well as
that enquiring intellect are personified in something like the
little Canción de cuna or ‘Lullaby’ which is the second
of the Suite de pequeñas piezas. A relaxed pastoral
tune casts a pictorial spell, the harmonic interest under which
lends an enigmatic feel which is developed in a central variation
which has something of the atmosphere of one of Martinu’s miniatures,
though you would never confuse the two composers. The Ritmos
de la huerta later on in the first of the Lírica Española
comes closest in this regard. Playful dances rub up against
quirky evocations which suggest the kind of antique/modern syntheses
Maurice Ravel was so good at, and however simple the apparent
conception there are always elements in each of the miniatures
on CD 1 which keep you alert and ready for teasing surprises.
Esplá is relatively easy on the ear but is by no means a lazy
composer: his pieces sparkle with invention and lively intellect.
Opening CD 2, the deceptively titled Cantos de antaño, Piezas
Infantiles see further sophistication, with bi-tonal elements
in the opening Danza which suggest a Mediterranean
Bartók. This is music in which to bathe and revel, taking in
draughts of the creativity which was able to flourish before
the disruptions of war. The series of Lírica Española
maintain an affectionate connection with the landscapes, local
features and traditional music of Spain, and Esplá’s lightness
of touch delights throughout. There is feel of mystery in some
of the later pieces, with some juicy dissonances in the Cadencia
balear of the Lírica Española IV. The final Sonata
Española Op.53 opens with one of the longest movements
in the entire collection, its seriousness of intent clear from
the outset. This is the only post-war work in the programme,
and while Esplá’s warmth of expression is still apparent it
is perhaps not impossible to trace some of the stresses of the
recent global conflict, the composer still in exile in Northern
Europe and no doubt longing to return to Spain.
Two well-filled discs giving us a wealth of new and delicious
music, the only real competition you will find for these recordings
is a survey on the Marco Polo label played by Pedro Carboné.
Strangely this only appears to have a Volume 1 and no further
additions, though the playing on this CD is very fine indeed.
It is also worth seeking out for the reminiscences of Óscar’s
son Amparo Esplá in the booklet. Carboné is every bit as in
tune with Esplá’s idiom as Jones and decently enough recorded,
though the Nimbus collection is far more satisfying in terms
of its programme. This is a richly rewarding release with which
you can spend many a fruitful hour, and I would recommend it
as highly as I would the blue waters of Alicante in October.
us financially by purchasing this disc
for £16 postage paid World-wide.