Monday 2 September 2019

Une soirée à Grenade: Spanish-inspired piano music by Debussy and friends

Une soirée à Grenade - Maite Aguirre
Une soirée à Grenade Debussy, De Falla, Viñes; Maite Aguirre
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 2 September 2019 Star rating: 4.0 (★★★★)
A journey round Debussy's Spanish-inspired music and Spanish musician friends

Pianist Maite Aguirre's disc Une soirée à Grenade explores Claude Debussy's relationship with Spanish music and Spanish musicians, placing Debussy's Spanish-inspired pieces from Estampes and the Preludes alongside by music by Spanish friends, Manuel de Falla's Cuatro piezas espanolas and Ricardo Viñes' Quatre hommages.

We begin with 'La soirée dans Grenade' from Estampes (1903), Debussy's first Spanish inspired work. Yet there isn't a single Spanish folkloric element in it. Aguirre makes the piece wonderfully evocative and rather exotic, with more disturbing moments. She has a knack of bringing out dark rhythms making the Spanish influence very present. She follows this with two of Debussy's Preludes, 'La sérénade interrompu' and 'La puerta del Vino'. The first all firm rhythms, exotic fragments and dark colours, the second mysterious with lovely rich textures.

Debussy became friendly with the young Spanish composer Manuel de Falla when the latter came to Paris in 1907. Debussy helped Falla get his piano suite Cuatro piezas espanolas published in 1909 with Debussy's own publisher. The pieces are musical portraits of Spanish regions, 'Aragonesa', 'Cubana', 'Montanesa', 'Andaluza'. De Falla creates four attractive and contrasting dance-based movements. The folkloric inspiration is clearer here, though de Falla develops his material in interesting ways. In 'Aragonesa' it is the rhythm which prevails as de Falla introduces complexity, and in 'Andaluza' we can appreciate the rich textures he creates. The next work in the programme is Manuel de Falla's Homenaje (Pour le tombeau de Claude Debussy), written for guitar (de Falla's only work for the instrument) on the death of Claude Debussy, and here heard in his piano transcription. It uses the habanera rhythm so beloved of Debussy, and quotes from 'La soirée dans Grenade'. But the result is dark, full of evocative rhythms yet also hinting it might grind to a halt with grief.

The Spanish pianist Ricardo Viñes was a great champion of modern music, giving the premieres of pieces by Ravel, Debussy, Satie, Falla and Albéniz, and taught the composer Francis Poulenc. Viñes own Hommages consists of four pieces dedicated to composer friends, Ravel, Faure, Satie and Fargue, 'Menuet spectral', 'En Verlaine mineur', 'Threnodie Funeraille antiques', and 'Crinoline a la valse au temps de la Montijo'. The first has a song-like delicacy and lyricism, and in fact all four feel like song transcriptions. The second is equally delightful, the third combines delicate melancholy with striking harmonies whilst the fourth is a lovely tripe-time dance.

We return to Debussy for the final section of the disc. First two further movements from Estampes, 'Pagodes' and 'Jardins sous la pluie'. The first all dark rhythms and exotic drifts of melody, the second vivid, fast rhythms. Maite Aguirre finishes with L'Ile Joyeuse, not Debussy in Spanish mood but one of his most joyous and virtuosic pieces. She gives a very alive and very present performance, full of suppressed excitement leading to dazzling ecstasy as we finally arrive.

This imaginative recital showcases Debussy's Spanish-inspired music and the friendships with Spanish musicians that underpinned it. Through Aguirre's alive and vivid performances we can speculate on how the three interacted and inspired each other.

Claude Debussy (1862-1918) - La soirée dans Grenade (Estampes)
Claude Debussy - Le serenade interrompue (Preludes)
Claude Debussy - La puerta del Vino (Preludes)
Manuel de Falla (1876-1946) - Cuatro piezas espanolas
Ricardo Viñes (1875-1943) - Quatre Hommages
Claude Debussy - Pagodes (Estampes)
Claude Debussy - Jardins sous la pluie (Estampes)
Claude Debussy - L'isle joyeuse
Maite Aguirre (Piano)
Recording at
Available from Amazon, or direct from Maite Aguirre's website

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