Douglas Riva is an American pianist and a scholar of Spanish music. He studied with with Alicia de Larrocha and worked with her in producing a complete edition of Granados' works. Ms. de Larrocha is a master of this music, and her CDs are available on more expensive record labels. But Mr. Riva plays beautifully, with virtuosic technique, and with sensitivity to this highly-charged romantic score.
Alicia de Larrocha has been playing these works, the greatest in the repertoire of Spanish piano music, all her life – one of her very first recordings, 40 years ago, was of some of the Goyescas, and I had the pleasure of welcoming her first Iberia ten years after that (10/65); and immersed as she was from her earliest childhood in the authentic tradition (her mother, her aunt and she herself were all trained at Granados’s own school, of which she later became director), she has several times been asked to re-record them. She once said, rather wistfully, that she didn’t consider herself a specialist but that Spanish music was what the public constantly demanded of her. One can sympathize with her if she feels inescapably cast in this mould – but then she shouldn’t be so wonderfully persuasive in it! She employs plenty of subtle rubato but possesses the ability to make it sound as natural as breathing; yet she can also preserve a stimulating tautness of rhythm.
Thomas Rajna completed his cycle of Granados’s solo piano music within a year – 1976. As if to celebrate the thirtieth anniversary of their original appearance on CRD LPs Brilliant Classics has returned the cycle to the market-place. It’s in one slim box containing six nicely filled CDs and with extensive notes from Bryce Morrison. Nothing could be finer. Rajna was an expert advocate for Granados’s music and though recordings since have come – and gone – his have maintained an honoured place in the memory; and now, thankfully, in the disc drawer. And this is all the more so as so few are performed in public with any great conviction, beyond the obvious Goyescas and maybe Escenas Poeticas and Escenas Romanticas.
Performer, composer and teacher, Enrique Granados stood with de Falla and Albéniz as the most outstanding Spanish musician of his time. Among his dozen or so chamber works the Piano Trio and Piano Quintet, both from 1894, exemplify Granados’s highly expressive, Neo-romantic style, his piano writing revealing the hand of a virtuoso. Amiable touches of dance and salon music, hints of Moorish, gypsy and folkloric elements, co-exist in these beautiful, refined pieces. The famous Intermezzo from his opera Goyescas, an Aragonese jota, is heard here in Gaspar Cassadó’s popular arrangement.
Very often interpreted in their original version for piano, the recording of the opera version of the Goyescas are rare and it fills a gap in the discography. Created in 1916 at MET New York, many scenes of this opera are directly inspired by Goya's paintings. A specialist in this repertoire, Spanish conductor Josep Pons has assembled a brilliant cast around the BBC orchestra.