Classical CD reviews
Granados: Sentimental Waltzes; Love Letters; Six Expressive Studies and other piano works. Douglas Riva, piano – Naxos 8.557141 (73 minutes).
Enrique Granados was born in Lerida near Barcelona on July 27, 1867. By the age of 16, he was already a fine pianist. After continuing his studies with Felipe Pedrell, an eminent Spanish musician of the time, Granados went to Paris in 1887 where he furthered his studies with De Beriot and met many important cultural figures.
During his distinguished career, the composer gave concerts in Spain, France and also New York, and apart from gaining a reputation as a genius of the keyboard, his teaching abilities were also held in high esteem.
In addition to his numerous piano works, Granados also composed vocal and chamber music, operas and symphonic poems.
In 1912, he met the famous American pianist Ernest Schelling, an encounter that was to be of great benefit, but one which was to have tragic consequences.
Indeed, it was Schelling who first played Granados’s piano works outside Spain and then encouraged the composer to travel to New York for the first performance of the opera Goyescas, despite Granados’s great fear of sea travel.
After several concerts, piano-roll recordings and a triumphant premiere of Goyescas, Granados and his wife set sail for Europe via Liverpool. While crossing the English Channel, their ship, the Sussex, was torpedoed by a German submarine, and they both died.
This seventh volume of Naxos’s ongoing cycle of Granados’s piano oeuvre includes some truly wonderful pieces, including one of his most intimate works, Cartas de amor (Love letters).
Alfven: Symphony No. 5; Andante Religioso. Norrköping Symphonyi Orchestra conducted by Niklas Willen – Naxos 8.557612 (58 minutes).
Although Hugo Alfven has never been on the forefront of European music, in his native Sweden he is regarded as the most significant composer since Franz Berwald.
Born in Stockholm on May 1, 1872, Alfven studied at the Conservatory there, and then, after two years as a violin player in the opera orchestra, dedicated himself to composition.
Throughout his career he strove to make his mark with large symphonic works founded on the traditional romantic language, but he had a forward-looking sound-world.
By the time of his death in 1960, the composer had five symphonies to his credit, but the one under review, despite its many felicitous moments, turned out to be the least successful.
Drawing on themes from his 1923 ballet The Mountain King, the work occupied Alfven for nearly 11 years (1942-1953), and despite a moderately successful premiere in April 1953, the composer still felt that the symphony lacked some vital element.
Indeed, by 1958 the symphony was still being subjected to painstaking revisions, and even then, Alfven admitted that the last two movements had not worked out as envisaged.
This indecision gave the symphony a bad name, and few complete performances have taken place since Alfven’s death.
The brief Andante religioso is the composer’s arrangement for harp, celesta and strings of an intermezzo from his Revelation Cantata, Op. 31.
Performances on this CD are wholly idiomatic and consistently alive, and Willen and his Swedish players make a really strong case for a work that has some heart-stopping orchestration, but is still uneven in its structural elements.
These CDs were made available for review by D’Amato Record Shop of 98/99, St John Street, Valletta.