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The Albeniz album

I just want to start this post by thanking Mario once again for his generosity in allowing us to download these fine recordings. My comments about the Polish (Chopin) Songs are found further down in this thread, but I wanted to comment about Luis Grane's Iberia album too.

I have to start with a disclaimer that my knowledge of the Albeniz Iberia recordings is not nearly as extensive as in some other works of the piano repertoire. Of course, I've owned the sheet music ever since I was in college and, every so often, I'll pull out one of the volumes to "bomb through" one or a couple of the pieces. (I've never seriously studied any of them.) Like many listeners, my first recorded encounter with these works was through one of the Alicia De Larrocha performances. (I think it was on Musical Heritage Society, in her pre-Decca days.) I also have Ciccolini's performances, and I used to have (in my LP days) what was for me a real touchstone performance in the form of Michel Block's recording, available in the US on the Connoisseur Society label. I thought that Block's tonal and rhythmic control throughout (as well as the exciting spontaneity in the way his playing relates the two) was just amazing. (Unfortunately, I still don't have the CD reissue of these performances - they're available in France, but I haven't had any luck getting them shipped to the US.) In addition, there have been quite a few very highly regarded recordings of this suite released in just the last ten or twenty years which I'm not familiar with at all.

So with those caveats, I must say that I like the Luis Grane performances a lot. The thing I like best about these performances is Grane's impressive control of tonal balance, which the recording allows us to hear extremely well indeed. I'd even go so far as to say that Grane's control of tone is comparable to what I remember of Block's, although Grane's overall approach to the pieces is quite different. The thing that makes tonal control a sine qua non in this music is that Albeniz often writes textures which are incredibly thick, and it's hard for the pianist to pull our the main line amid all the other notes. In addition, Albeniz uses a lot of "color" notes in many of the chords (color notes being defined as additional notes added to the chords which do not affect the harmonic function of the chords). Some pianists play some of these "color note" chords unthinkingly, with undifferentiated tone, so that - splat! - it sounds as if there's a wrong note in the chord. Grane almost always keeps the vertical balance of these chords in perfect alignment (i.e., with the proper notes brought out and the other notes subdued). Kudos!

Another thing I like very much about this whole series of recordings on the PlayClassics label is that these performances (from musicians whom I never heard of previously) are so highly accomplished. I've believed for a long time that many musicians the world over are capable of attaining of incredibly high levels of performance - and it's by no means just the highly marketed names who attain these levels. The musicians on this PlayClassics series are, for me, virtual proof of that belief - and this Iberia set by Luis Grane is a specific instance of that proof!

Grane is also just a bit freer in his rhythm than what I remember from the Block performances, but, OTOH, he is more disciplined in this regard than other pianists I've heard in this repertoire. The only place where I find this freedom just a bit problematical is at the very beginning of El Albaicin (probably the greatest piece within the cycle, and certainly its emotional heart), where I prefer even more rhythmic exactitude and dynamic evenness. Otherwise, I find the performances extremely gratifying throughout.

I found the engineering impressive too (without the slight mid-bass emphasis I heard in the single-track of the Debussy Preludes and which I commented on over at the hi-rez forum here). I wonder if the recording might sound even better if there were more of the reflected sound of the hall in proportion to the direct sound (?). What I hear here is very fine indeed! (One other observation though: I did hear the sound of the pedal mechanism a few times, and it seems strange that this recording often sounds to me as if the microphones were closer than they really were.)

Overall, I'm very grateful to have had the opportunity to hear these downloads and I plan to investigate the other titles in the PlayClassics Truthful Recording Technology catalog! Thanks again, Mario!

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  • The Albeniz album - Chris from Lafayette 18:50:08 09/11/16 (2)


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