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Pierre's Tuesday Blog

Isaac Albéniz - Iberia & Navarra

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Even for a musical prodigy, Isaac Albéniz’s childhood and youth were extraordinary. He was playing the piano in public at age four, passed the entrance examination to the Paris Conservatoire at six, and was touring at the age of eight. By thirteen, he had twice run away from home, giving concerts and leading a picaresque existence in Spain, South America and the United States.

Intermittent studies in Leipzig and Brussels were capped-off by realising a long-held ambition to study with Franz Liszt. So far, his piano compositions had consisted of little more than facile salon trifles and showpieces for him to play: Liszt opened his eyes to greater possibilities.

In 1894 Albéniz moved to Paris, where he became closely associated with Chausson, Dukas and d’Indy, and for six months taught the piano at the Schola Cantorum. This more scholarly and sophisticated influence is plainly to be heard (along with that of Liszt’s transcendental technique) in his masterpiece Iberia, the greatest piano work in all Spanish musical literature.

Composed between 1905 and 1909, Iberia is Albéniz's best-known work and considered his masterpiece. Stylistically, this suite falls squarely in the school of Impressionism, especially in its musical evocations of Spain.

Originally, Iberia was designed as a series of tone portraits of various regions of Spain, including the northern province of Navarra, which is south of the Pyrenees mountains. Albeniz had not completed Navarra by the time he had 12 movements for Iberia, so the work's final form, as completed in 1909 (the year of the composer's death), did not include it.

Iberia is laid out in four books of three pieces each; the twelve pieces were first performed by the French pianist Blanche Selva, but each book was premiered between May 1906 and February 1909 in four different French venues.

The entire suite has been recorded by many of the finest pianists of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, including Artur Rubenstein, Yvonne Loriod and Marc-André Hamelin. However, no other pianist in my opinion has captured the essence of this music like the late great Alicia de Larrocha, who recorded the work at least three times (1958, 1972 and 1989). It is the latter digital recording that is featured this week.

Albeniz turned to shorter piano projects and did some more work on Navarra, but it was left unfinished at his death. The composer Déodat de Severac completed Navarra; it is a gentle piece, with a dreamy melody over a gentle jota rhythm. It imitates the texture of Spanish guitar music.

(NOTE: The video shared today focuses on these 13 pieces. The remaining material on the 2-disc set - Suite Española – is not part of this week’s share. I may include it in a later playlist.)

Happy Listening

Isaac ALBÉNIZ (1860-1909)

Iberia, 12 Impresiones Españolas, B. 47
Navarra, in A flat major, B. 49

Alicia de Larrocha, piano
Venue: West Road Concert Hall in Cambridge (1986)
Decca ‎– 478 0388

Details - https://www.discogs.com/Alicia-De-La...elease/3803736

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