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Óscar ESPLÁ (1889-1976)
Music for Piano
CD 1
Romanza Antigua (1905) [3:24]
Impresiones musicales Op.2 (1905-9) [12:51]
Scherzo Op.5 (1909) [6:14]
Crepúsculum Op.15 (1912) [8:23]
Suite de pequeñas piezas (1913) [8:53]
Levante: Melodias y temas de danza (1916) [17:48]
La pájara pinta, Piezas Infantiles (1916-20) A Game of Forfeits [8:26]
Tres Movimientos para piano (1921) [11:51]
CD 2
Cantos de antaño, Piezas Infantiles (1930) Old Songs [6:45]
La Sierra: Suite folklórica (1930-36) [9:03]
Lírica Española I: Bocetos levantinos (?1930s) Levantine Sketches
Lírica Española II: Tonadas Antiguas (?1930s) Ancient Melodies [5:06]
Lírica Española IV (?1930s) [6:37]
Lírica Española V: Suite característica (?1930s)
Sonata Española Op.53: homenaje a Chopin (1949) [15:53]
Martin Jones (piano)
rec. Nimbus Records, Wyastone Leys, Monmouth, UK, 16-17 April, 8 May 2012.
NIMBUS RECORDS NI 5889 [78:02 + 69:11]

Experience Classicsonline

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.
Dominy Clements

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