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Isaac ALBÉNIZ (1860-1909)
Book 1: Evocación [5:49], El Puerto [3:43], El Corpus Christi en Sevilla [8:50]
Book 2: Rondeña [6:40], Almeria [9:51], Triana [5:11]
Alexander Boyd (piano) (Steinway D585689)
rec. St Bartholomew's, Brighton, UK, 16-18 November 2014
24bit/192kHz High Definition Stereo (playable on all Blu-ray and DVD-A players with 24/192 capable DACs) Stereo. Reviewed in this format.
Also available on standard CD CR6022-2
CLAUDIO DVD-A CR6022-6 [40:07]

Isaac Albéniz was a highly significant figure in Spanish music. He gave his first public piano performances at the age of four and at six passed the examination for the Paris Conservatoire. He spent several years touring around not only Spain but elsewhere in Europe and in both North and South America. What turned him from a talented composer of virtuoso salon music into a fully fledged composer was his studies with Liszt. From this point he started composing the pieces for which he is now remembered, the Suite Española being the most notable. Contact with the likes of Chausson and Dukas in Paris added an extended musical sensibility to his superb technique. The four books of pieces collectively entitled Iberia are a product of his final years between 1906 and 1909. These are his impressionist masterworks and show the further influence of Debussy. Debussy in fact greatly admired some of these pieces and praise does not get much higher than that. Nearly all the pieces are inspired by the culture of Andalucia to which he felt most drawn despite his Catalan birth. We have dances, scenery, processions and places: it is all very attractive.

This first volume from Claudio, Books 1 and 2, is very welcome and one would have to be a very resistant listener not to get great pleasure from these lyrical, dramatic and very subtle works. Books 3 and 4 have been recorded and are due to be released around June 2016. Even excluding the orchestral versions of these pieces the competition is quite extensive. Many of the world's great pianists have included Albéniz in their repertoire though very few recorded the full four books of Iberia. In reality the top name is Alicia de Larrocha who recorded all four books at least three times. A glance at the Penguin Guides over the past three decades makes it clear that no one is likely to displace her recordings. To my ears Alexander Boyd in his generally slightly faster performances has nothing to fear from the comparison with Larrocha and since his recording is obviously superior he should win over some purchasers. There is space in every collection for both. The value of the disc is enhanced by a thorough and enthusiastic set of notes by the recitalist and teacher Gemma Kateb.

DVD-Audio issues are sufficiently rare for it to be stressed that this disc will play on all Blu-ray and DVD-A players with DACs that will handle 24bit/192kHz recordings. Key to engineer Colin Attwell's success is primarily his use of a very high quality but simple microphone set-up in a good acoustic and much of the benefit will be heard even on a plain vanilla 'Red-Book' standard CD. Claudio therefore make a CD available, at a much lower price, for those not fulfilling the above requirement. As in previous Claudio issues one is amazed at how much detail comes over on the DVD-A. In some passages one can faintly but distinctly hear the sound of the piano reverberating from the walls of St Bartholomew's which adds a sense of reality to one's listening. Alexander Boyd's articulation is held up to inspection throughout - fortunately he is a very fine pianist and need not fear the scrutiny. This issue might seem short measure at just 40 minutes but the complete work runs to about 85 minutes and is always spread over two discs, sometimes without fill ups.

Dave Billinge



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