Baselga Completes His Albéniz Series

CD

ALBÉNIZ: Recuerdos de Viaje. 3rd Minuetto. Rêves. Scherzo. Tango. Diva sin par (Mazurka-capricho). Menuet. Minuetto (for unpublished Sonata No. 7). Improvisation. Balbina Valverse / Miguel Baselga, pn / Bis 2173

With this CD, the ninth in the series, Miguel Baselga completes his Albéniz series, but these are not mostly late works. On the contrary, they are from his early period, c. 1886. According to Jean-Pascal Vachon’s liner notes, these mostly short pieces can be categorized as “salon music,” but Vachon argues that “We should not read anything pejortive into the term ‘salon music’; the composer was proud to write pieces that were pleasant and accessible to music-lovers who were not too concerned with aesthetic boldness.” Yet in listening to the seven-movement Recuerdos de Viaje from 1886-87, I hear music that is quite complex for salon music, in fact full of interesting ideas with fairly sophisticated harmonic changes and rhythm. The fact that they are not quite as complex as his masterpiece, Ibéria, does not preclude our enjoyment of them.

Of course, my impression of this music may be colored by Miguel Baselga’s playing of them. He has the full measure of their complexity under his fingers to perfection. Listen, for instance, to the way he rolls off the left-hand figures in “Leyenda (barcarolle),” the second piece of the Recuerdos series, as if it were a machine on ball bearings made to propel the right-hand figures with perfect ease while also providing counterpoint. Not one bar or phrase in any of these works is tossed off glibly or carelessly; Baselga understands their structure and how the parts fit together perfectly. Because of this, he holds your interest regardless of how “simple” the music is—and none of it is nearly as simple-sounding as, for instance, Chopin at his most populist. I almost think that Albéniz was incapable of writing really glib or uninteresting music. In :En la Alhambra,” for instance, the rhythmic syncopation not only suggests but generates brilliant double-time figures in the left hand that somehow push the right-hand melody upwards like a waterspout, and the bolero “Puerta de Tierra” sounds to me like something he might easily have slipped into Ibéria.

For an example of what I mean re: Albéniz vs. Chopin, look no further than the 3rd Minuetto. Chopin would have gussied this up with rallentando, rubato and all kinds of mooshy-gooshy touches. Albéniz is firm of rhythm and clear-eyed in his construction. The music is developed better and there is no room here for romantic B.S. It sparkles and shines. The three Rêves are also interesting music, varied in tempo and mood, and Baselga does them full justice.

And so goes the remainder of this set. I particularly enjoyed the track 15 Menuet, which almost sounds like a Spanish dance. Perhaps the greatest interest attaches itself to the “Improvisation” (track 17), transcribed from a 1903 cylinder recording made by Albeniz himself (available for free streaming on YouTube). Baselga plays it a bit more relaxed in tempo but captures the rhythmic feel of the piece quite well. We end up with the Balbina Valverde, a “polka brillante” which again sounds more Spanish than you’d have a right to expect. Albéniz throws in some very sophisticated harmonic twists, and Baselga has an absolute ball playing it.

In toto, then, a quite surprising and delightful collection of pieces, well worth adding to your collection.

—© 2018 Lynn René Bayley

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