FALLA: Complete Piano Works, Vol. 1 (Daniel Ligorio) (Naxos: 8.555065)
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Manuel de Falla (1876-1946)
The Complete Piano Works • 1
This is the first recording to be issued of Falla's complete piano music, including juvenilia and all his piano transcriptions of his own orchestral works, as well as pieces written expressly for the instrument. The early works are fascinating – some of them show great potential and are clearly the work of an exceptional student, although they are written very much in a Romantic vein which he would later abandon. Existing published versions of Falla's transcriptions of the suites from his world-famous stage works El sombrero de tres picos, La vida breve and El amor brujo at times seem to drift rather too far from the originals, and so for this recording we have consulted the composer's sketches (in which the writing is often almost unplayable for a solo piano) and thus achieved an effect closer to that of the orchestral version (the infinite trill effect in the "Danza ritual del fuego" being just one example).
The earliest works in this collection date from the turn of the twentieth century: the Nocturno, Serenata, and Serenata andaluza were written between 1899 and 1902, when Falla was in his twenties and studying at the Madrid Conservatory, where he was taught composition by Felipe Pedrell.
In 1903, with Pedrell's guidance, he composed the now little-known Allegro de concierto and entered it in a Conservatory-sponsored competition that was ultimately won by Granados's very famous work of the same title (judge for yourselves which is the better…). The Allegro is an extremely demanding piece and, probably as a result of Falla's inexperience, slightly lacking in thematic development, its technical complexity sometimes overpowering the flow of the music.
Falla moved to Paris in 1907 and there met the two men who would become his most important mentors, Paul Dukas and Claude Debussy, to both of whom he paid musical tribute. In 1920 he composed the Homenaje a Claude Debussy, a much-loved favourite of the guitar repertoire (transcribed for piano by Falla in the same year). Pour le tombeau de Paul Dukas, meanwhile, dates from 1935; its idiom is entirely different from the earlier piece, Falla here surprising us with atonal, expressionistic harmonies that create an atmosphere of overwhelming grief and desolation.
His Cuatro piezas españolas were given their première in 1909 by Ricardo Viñes. They have become a staple of the piano repertoire, and blend Spanish nationalism with the sensuality of French Impressionism – the latter comes out in the "Cubana" and the "Montañesa", which have a beautifully sensuous and descriptive feel, and the former in the "Andaluza" and "Aragonesa", whose rhythmical, folkloric elements provide the perfect contrast.
The original version of El amor brujo was first performed in 1915 with the renowned flamenco artist Pastora Imperio in the rôle of Candelas. An orchestral adaptation was presented a year later by the Madrid Symphony Orchestra and it was only in 1925 that Falla introduced the definitive version of the ballet in Paris, with sets and costumes by Gustavo Bacarisas. He later created the piano suite, containing the following numbers: "Pantomima", "Danza del terror", "El círculo mágico o Romance del pescador" and the very famous "Danza ritual del fuego" in an arrangement particularly loved by Rubinstein, who played it as an encore as often as he could. There are many piano arrangements of the "Danza ritual del fuego": the transcription featured in this collection was left unfinished by Falla and contains a number of additional orchestral motifs which I have tried to translate as closely as possible into the solo piano idiom.
English version: Susannah Howe