The music of Spanish composer Enrique Granados (1867-1916) is surely one of the great treasuries of the piano repertoire, with imaginatively engaging and brilliantly crafted pieces suitable for players at all levels of development.
And yet too many are unaware of the breadth of Granados’s output, despite instantly recognising his name; aside from a couple of the pieces from his monumental masterpiece Goyescas and one or two easy pieces which have been picked up by music examination boards, much of his music remains largely unexplored by today’s players.
The brilliant Alicia de Larrocha (1923-2009) did much to popularise the music of Granados alongside the other great composers of her country, but for me the discovery of his music was first made through the fabulous complete set recorded by Martin Jones for Nimbus back in 2001, which has proved an ongoing source of musical delight.
And yet still too-little cherished, much of this music remains rarely heard.
Appearing last year, but a fresh discovery to me, French pianist Myriam Barbaux-Cohen’s disc of Granados’s music offers another noteworthy opportunity to discover some of the hidden music that you may have missed!
With Spring in the air, the sunny disposition of this disc definitely belongs to this moment, so let’s take it for a spin. It’s my February 2021 Recording of the Month…
The Piano Music of Granados
Pantaleón Enrique Joaquín Granados Campiña, to give him his full name, worked hard to carve out a career as a pianist and composer at a time when Spanish classical music was entering something of a renaissance.
Granados’s father was a cuban-born army officer, his mother a Montañesan from Santander in northern Spain. Enrique was by all accounts a delicate child, but showed an early interest in music. His family relocated to Barcelona, and by the age of 16 Enrique’s talent was such that he was able to learn with the celebrated Filipe Pedrell, also the teacher of his older compatriot Albéniz.
With private patronage Granados was able to move to Paris to study in 1887, but ill-health dogged him and he was unable to attend the Conservatoire. Studying privately for two years and then returning to Barcelona, Granados married and seemed destined for a settled life as a music teacher with ambitions to compose.
His mature compositions date from the 1890’s until his death in 1916, and though a gifted pianist who performed with the major artists of his day, it is through his published music, culminating in the celebrated Goyescas of 1911, that Granados achieved immortality.
There are two discernible voices pervading Granados’s pieces, and in his best these two threads are interwoven to form a unique compositional voice. Granados writes music in a nationalist style, incorporating traces of Spanish folk song and dance rhythms. But alongside these characteristics, his music reflects the late Romantic style, showing the more cosmopolitan influence of Schumann, Fauré and others.
According to Barbaux-Cohen’s publicity:
“Enrique Granados’ music is full of an emotion and tenderness that rightly elevates him to the status of a national monument of the same rank as Isaac Albéniz or Francisco Goya, whom he adored. The French woman Myriam Barbaux-Cohen and the Spaniard Granados: Two souls who understand each other blindly meet here and harmonize even over the temporal separation of a century.”
From Granados’s overall solo piano output (which constitutes around seven hours music) Barbaux-Cohen selects the following 70-minute programme of music for her disc:
Many of these pieces are intimate domestic pieces, which Barbaux-Cohen elevates with her beautifully refined musicality and sense of poetic expression. The poignancy she brings to the opening Libro de Horas is perfectly mirrored in the valedictory Oriental from the 12 Danzas Espagnolas (among Granados’s better known works, perhaps due to its postcard-picturesque glimpse of Spanish personality), while the Valses Poeticos have rarely sounded more ravishing.
The largest work here is the Allegro de Concierto, a Lisztian virtuoso showpiece composed for a competition organised by the Madrid Royal Conservatory in 1903. Of the 24 composers who entered, among them Manuel de Falla, Granados was declared the winner, and this piece achieved national fame for him at the time.
Barbaux-Cohen leaves the listener in no doubt as to her own virtuosic command, not only negotiating the fiendish technical challenges with aplomb but also navigating and conveying the larger canvas of the piece with ease.
The album was produced for German label Ars Produktion by Annette Schumacher, and recorded on the C. Bechstein D282 concert grand at Kulturzentrum Immanuelskirche in Wuppertal in May 2019. The sound captures perfectly the warmth of tone needed to convey this gorgeous music!
Enrique Granados is one of a very small number of composers whose piano music never disappoints me; his gift for melody, combined with a subtle sense of colour that shifts with the ease of the sunshine and shadows in Mediterranean Europe, result in music whose quality is a rare gift indeed.
Myriam Barbaux-Cohen is alert to every detail, her playing here conveying every nuance of emotional range with sophistication and a superb control of pace. Any who teach or play Granados’s superlative piano miniatures needs to listen to this definitive model of how the pieces can be made to shine.
Here’s a recording which fully deserves its place on the shelf next to Jones and De Larrocha; it is a subtle treasure to which I will be frequently returning.