Granados: Orchestral Works, Vol. 2 / Gonzalez, Barcelona Symphony

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Enrique Granados is best-known for his piano music, especially the ‘Danzas Españolas’ and ‘Goyescas.’ Little regard is given to his chamber music, songs and orchestral works. Earlier this year I reviewed Volume 1 of the present series of orchestral music for MusicWeb International and concluded that it was a worthy project that explored beyond Granados’s normal repertoire and I looked forward to hearing the second installment.

The CD opens with what is probably the only one of the composer’s orchestral works to become a hit – the ‘Intermezzo.’ It was derived from his opera Goyescas (1915), which was premiered in New York on 28 January 1916. It was a by-product of the great piano suite. The composer described his opera as displaying in the ‘rhythm [and] colour, a portrait of quintessentially Spanish life and a sense of emotion that leaps from the amorous to the passionate, the dramatic or even the tragic…just as in Goya’s works you find aspects of both love and tragedy, and both quarrels and flirtations.’ The delightful ‘Intermezzo’ was composed very quickly just before the premiere, to accommodate a longer than expected scene change between the first and second acts of the opera. Its mood is of passion, drama with a hint of sultry sunshine and romance in the ‘big tune.’

The delightfully named ‘Danza de los ojos verdes’ (Dance of the green eyes) was first heard in New York’s Maxine Elliot Theatre just a few days after the opera’s premiere. It was presented as a part of an ‘evening of dance’ performed by Antonia Merce (1890-1936), who was billed as ‘La Argentina.’ The present short dance was written for, and dedicated to, Merce. It is an uncomplicated little piece that uses the usual ‘mechanics’ of a Spanish dance – tambourines, castanets, and ‘gypsy tinged orientalism’. It is a magnificent little tone-poem that depicts the flamenco celebrations in the Sacromente district of Granada.

The mood of celebration continues in the Danza gitana (Gypsy Dance), which was composed in 1915 and was dedicated to the dancer Carmen Tórtola Valencia (1882-1955). It is full of vibrancy, instrumental colour and Iberian rhythms. The liner notes point out that the composer used a large orchestra for this short work, which succeeded in ‘limiting its opportunities for performance.’ This three-and-a-half-minute dance would make an ideal ‘encore’ for any symphony orchestra, in Spain or elsewhere.

A very different mood is evoked in the major symphonic poem La nit del mort (Night of the dead man). It was subtitled ‘poem of desolation.’ The work, which includes a tenor solo and a chorus, was composed in 1897. As I understand it, La nit del mort was left unfinished by the composer and remains unpublished. I can only assume that it was completed by someone unknown. It is very much a work of two parts. The first section, as Rob Barnett has pointed out, is almost Delian in its subtlety and soft impressionistic mood. However, about halfway through things change. It becomes almost a mini-opera, with a tenor aria ‘I am death, my girl…’ The chorus insists that the ‘horns of war are sounding’ and that ‘those who die defending their country will be glorified and will not die.’ The ‘libretto’ is by Apel-les Mestres (1854-1936). As a piece, I am only partially impressed. The first section (which I love) is beautiful; the second (which I do not like) is bombastic, over the top and sub-Verdi in its effect.

‘Dante’ was premiered during June 1908 in Barcelona’s then new Palau de la Música Catalana. It was remarkably successful at the time, with performances in the USA, as well as at the Queen’s Hall, London with Sir Henry Wood. It subsequently fell into neglect. As the titles of the two ‘movements’ suggest, Granados took two important themes from Dante’s great poem: the meeting with the great Roman poet Virgil and the tragic love affair between Paolo e Francesca. In this latter movement the mezzo-soprano sings beautifully Francesca’s story. The composer suggested that it was not ‘my intention to mirror The Divine Comedy line by line, but to give my impression of a life and a work; the lives of Dante and Beatrice and The Divine Comedy are, for me, one and the same thing.’ The listener must not look for an Iberian influence in the pages of the two-part symphonic poem. The liner notes quote Carol A. Hess, who has pointed out that this is ‘a vast and sombre work with little hint of the traditional images of a lively, sunlit Spain…’ There are influences from Richard Wagner, César Franck, Alexander Scriabin and even the romantic side of Arnold Schoenberg. The harmonies are chromatic, rich and ‘voluptuous’. Tantalisingly, there exists a third movement of this massive tone-poem, ‘La Laguna Estigia’ (The Stygian Lake) but unfortunately there are only sketches. The work was originally planned to be in four movements.

All the music is finely played and performed by the soloists, the chorus and the Barcelona Symphony Orchestra under Pablo González. Mezzo-soprano Gemma Coma-Alabert gives a stunning performance in the ‘Dante’. The liner notes are helpful in approaching this little-known music. They are written by Justo Romero and well-translated by Susannah Howe. They are also given in Spanish. The text of La nit del mort and ‘Paulo e Francesca’ are presented in both languages. Details of the performers are included.

– MusicWeb Internationsl (John France)

The first section shows González and his orchestra at their best, with grainy strings, piquant soft-edged woodwinds and a natural, musicianly way of shaping a phrase. Those qualities are all in evidence in two short gypsy dances and the familiar Goyescas Intermezzo; the slightly hazy Naxos sound complements performances that are affectionate and characterful.

– Gramophone

Product Description:

  • Release Date: June 10, 2016

  • Catalog Number: 8573264

  • UPC: 747313326471

  • Label: Naxos

  • Number of Discs: 1

  • Composer: Enrique Granados

  • Conductor: Pablo Gonzalez

  • Orchestra/Ensemble: Barcelona Symphony Orchestra, Lieder Camera Chamber Choir

  • Performer: Gemma Coma-Alabert, Jesus Alvarez Carrion