March 03, 2016


Granados: Piano Trio; Violin Sonata; Pieces for Violin and Piano; Pieces for Cello and Piano. Trio Rodin (Carles Puig, violin; Esther García, cello; Jorge Mengotti, piano). ÆVEA. $18.99.

De Falla: Dances from “El Sombrero de Tres Picos”; Spanish Dances Nos. 1 and 2 from “La Vida Breve”; Suite from “El Amor Brujo”; Fantasía bética; Homenaje—“Le tombeau de Claude Debussy”; Debussy: La soirée dans Grenade; La puerta del vino; Lindaraja. Vanessa Perez, piano. Steinway & Sons. $17.99.

Piazzolla: Tango Etudes for Two Flutes; Concierto para Quinteto; Exequiel Mantega: Emigrantes for Flute and Piano; Avestruz for Alto Flute and Piano; El Soplete for Flute Quartet. Elena Yarritu, flute and alto flute; Paulina Fain, flute and bass flute; Exequiel Mantega, piano. MSR Classics. $12.95.

     The playing alone would be enough to make the new ÆVEA recording featuring the Trio Rodin worthy of a strong recommendation – but the playing is only one of the many attractions of this unusually well-recorded CD. The Granados works here are not what one would expect, even if they seem to be ones that listeners have heard before. Trio Rodin has done some research and made some discoveries, and the result is music that is certainly by Granados, with all his rhythmic flair and harmonic sensitivity, but that at the same time is new in significant ways. The Piano Trio, Op. 50, is not the version commonly heard but is based on the manuscript, which was found at the Museu de la Musica de Barcelona; not all the differences are significant, but some are. Even more intriguingly, the Violin Sonata is not the single movement, Lentamente e con molta fantasia, with which listeners may be familiar – it is a full four-movement work, including an unedited Scherzo and two additional movements that Granados, who died when the ferry he was traveling on was torpedoed during World War I, did not live to complete. Unedited and incomplete the four-movement sonata certainly is, but there is no question that its structure, its thematic beauty and its overall ambience are those of the composer; and if it is certain that the sonata would not have taken this exact shape if Granados had lived to complete and polish it, it is also certain that this approximate shape shows clearly where the composer was heading with the music – more clearly than fragments show when it comes to other notable incomplete works, such as Schubert’s “Unfinished” symphony. The members of Trio Rodin not only play the Piano Trio and reconstructed Violin Sonata with flair and style but also provide a genuine musical service in making it possible for listeners to hear these works in new, different, yet (in their own way) authentic forms. The rest of the program here is less significant but equally well played. The violin-and-piano pieces include Romanza and Tres preludios, while those for cello and piano are Madrigal, Danza gallega and Trova. This last is a surprise in its own right: it is Granados’ own arrangement of his famous chamber-orchestra work, Elisenda, and in this form, as Trova, the piece receives its world première recording here. The passion and joy with which the Trio Rodin members approach this music are entirely appropriate to the Spanish flair with which Granados created it, and the CD as a whole is a voyage of discovery as well as an example of just plain excellent music-making.

     The playing of Vanessa Perez on a new Steinway & Sons release is excellent, too, and this is another program whose unusual elements make it especially attractive. Perez interweaves music by Manuel de Falla, much of it familiar in orchestral guise, with several works by Claude Debussy, whose sensibilities are scarcely Spanish but who managed, time and again, to create impressionistically Spanish works. Uniting the two composers is de Falla’s Homenaje—“Le tombeau de Claude Debussy,” although for some reason it is placed midway through the recital rather than at the end (presumably to allow the “bookend” effect of de Falla’s Spanish Dance No. 1 opening the CD and Spanish Dance No. 2 closing it). De Falla and Debussy were friends, and Debussy was actually de Falla’s mentor, so there is considerable reason to perform somewhat similar examples of their music together. Nevertheless, the differences between the works are what stand out, primarily because most of the de Falla music heard here is taken from his stage works, La vida breve, El sombrero de tres picos and El amor brujo – whose Ritual Fire Dance, which Perez handles with aplomb, is a greatest-hits item. Far less known than these pieces is the highlight of the CD, Fantasía bética, a highly virtuosic work in which lush harmonies, strong flamenco dance rhythms, and guitar-like and percussive sounds are juxtaposed and mingled to delightful effect. Perez tosses off the pyrotechnics with apparent ease, and while Fantasía bética is scarcely profound music, she gives it as much heft as possible and as much pleasure as it can deliver. The Debussy pieces are left somewhat in the shadow of those by de Falla, even though Perez handles them very well. Partly this is because two are taken out of context: La soirée dans Grenade is the second movement of Estampes, while La puerta del vino is from the second book of Preludes. The third Debussy piece, Lindaraja, is the first written by this composer in Spanish style, and it is the most interesting Debussy work here, partly because it is nicely scored for two pianos. Here Perez’s husband, Stephen Buck, is the second pianist; he also joins her for the concluding dance from La Vida Breve, and in both cases matches her enthusiasm for the music.

     There is certainly plenty of enthusiasm to be had as well on a new MSR Classics CD of flute music from Argentina. Here, though, the music itself is of somewhat less consequence, especially the works by composer/pianist Exequiel Mantega (born 1983). All his pieces here are world première recordings, and all show a well-honed ability to write both for piano and for flute. The upbeat Celebración that concludes the three-movement Emigrantes is particularly good. Mantega also has considerable ability as an arranger, shown in his handling of Piazzolla’s Concierto para Quinteto, which has quite a pleasant sense of bounce and swing as heard here. Mantega’s arranger skills are shown equally strongly in the most interesting work here by far, Piazzolla’s Tango Etudes, in which the Mantega arrangement was revised by Paula Fain, who joins Elena Yarritu in the performance. These six works, originally for solo flute, fascinatingly blend classical etudes with Piazzolla’s “new tango” music. They manage to meld technical challenges for the flautist with effective presentation for listeners – while all the time keeping the tango rhythm in or close to the forefront. The texture of the music and the performance techniques required will make this two-flute version of particular interest to flautists. The first etude, for example, is designed to make the solo flute sound as if it is creating two melodic lines – which makes the two-flute version of the music all the more interesting. The haunting second etude, with its flexible beat, fares particularly well here, while the strong dance rhythms of the third are well-contrasted with the long line of the melody in the fourth – a work that requires considerable breath control, which both Yarritu and Fain show they possess. The staccato elements of the fifth etude are handled with particular flair in this performance, as are the triplets of the sixth and last. Throughout the CD, Mantega provides first-rate piano accompaniment that supports the flute without swamping it; in this respect, his own music is especially sensitive to the delicacy of the flute’s sound and the risks of becoming overbearing on the piano. Flautists will delight in what they will consider a (++++) release, and may well find themselves interested in emulating some of the techniques shown to such good effect in the two-flute version of the Piazzolla etudes. For a general audience, though, this will be a (+++) CD in which the Mantega works, although certainly well-constructed, do not really sustain listener interest throughout.

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