SACD & Other Hi-Res Reviews

ALBENIZ: Ibéria (complete piano suite) – Alicia de Larrocha, p.; Ibéria (orchestral suite arr. by ARBOS) – Nat. Theater Orch. of the Paris Opera/ Manuel Rosenthal; Cantos de España; España Prelude from Souvenirs for piano; Mallorca; Recuerdos de Viaje – Jean-Joël Barbier, p. – Praga Digitals (2 discs)

De Larrocha’s best version of Albeniz’ Iberia for piano, plus four other Albeniz piano works, plus five orchestrated movements of Iberia.

Published on August 4, 2013

ISAAC ALBENIZ: Ibéria (complete piano suite) – Alicia de Larrocha, p.; Ibéria (orchestral suite arr. by ARBOS) – Nat. Theater Orch. of the Paris Opera/ Manuel Rosenthal; Cantos de España; España Prelude from Souvenirs for piano; Mallorca; Recuerdos de Viaje – Jean-Joël Barbier, p. – Praga Digitals stereo-only SACD PRD/DSD 350075 (2 discs), 77:25, 75:49 [8/13/13] (Distr. by Harmonia mundi) *****:

De Larrocha was the recognized master of Spanish piano literature (she died in 2009), and had recorded the complete dozen “Impressions for piano” of Albeniz more than once. The first of these SACDs is a new remastering of her first stereo recording, made by Hispavox in Spain in 1958. The double album is part of Praga’s Reminiscences Collection, which has featured historic mostly stereo recordings of Richter, Michelangeli, and works by Debussy, Ravel and Falla.

Albeniz’ suite is considered by experts as well as music lovers to be one of the major creations in the repertory for the piano. Though influenced heavily by Chopin and Liszt, he also could be considered one of the French Impressionists along with Debussy and Ravel. In four books of three pieces each, Albeniz portrayed various locations and events in Spain, and he dedicated each of the four books to a different woman—among them the wives of both Chausson and Lalo.

De Larrocha brings out the flamenco roots in much of the music, as well as its oriental, gypsy-influenced harmonies. The impressionistic colors created at the keyboard by Albeniz are clearly expressed, and one cannot be surprised to find that more than one musician has wanted to arrange these piano pieces for symphony orchestra.

I had the 1986 double-CD on Decca/London on which De Larrocha performed both the complete Iberia as well as his Suite Española. A comparison demonstrated of course much great clarity on the earlier SACD recording, and each note coming across clearly and more of a feeling of the acoustics of the hall or studio.  Even when using ProLogicIIz with height speakers, the piano sound was more centered on the soundstage and smaller than on the SACD. The CD version sounded more opaque and less like the pianist at the keyboard than did the SACD. In addition to the difference in sonics, the earlier recording sound more exciting and energetic, as though the pianist had become slightly tired of playing the suite over the years. The timings on individual pieces were also revealing—they were mostly several seconds longer on the 1986 recording, sometimes close to half a minute longer.

Enrique Arbos is noted for only one thing in music: his orchestrations of five of the movements of Albeniz’ Iberia suite. And he did a terrific job of it, just too bad he didn’t do them all before his death in 1939. Others have: There’s a Telarc double-CD of the five by Arbos filled out with the rest transcribed by Carlos Surinach. Here’s our review of one of the other recordings of this version.  Then recently Peter Briener orchestrated all 12 movements and recorded it for Naxos.There’s even a version of all 12 for guitar quartet, which we reviewed.

The only comparison I made of the orchestral version recordings was with the “Triana” movement of the suite with Fritz Reiner and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra on one of the three-channel RCA Red Seal Living Stereo SACD releases. As expected, it was considerably livelier and richer-sounding than the Rosenthal recording, which was only two channel. However the rest of the Rosenthal set of the five sections is lovely, and emphasizes the luxuriant tone colors encoded into the piano versions.

The second SACD is rounded out with four other Albeniz piano works, performed by pianist Jean-Joël Barbier.  The late pianist was known for his performances of both the Spanish and French repertory. The Songs of Spain, Op. 232 of Albeniz, at over 24 minutes, is the major selection here. Its five sections are: Prélude, Orientale, Sous le palmier (Spanish Dance), Córdoba, and Seguidillas. Some of the sections have been transcribed for classical guitar. The work is one of the composer’s most advanced creations in its variety, harmonic richness and seriousness.

—John Sunier




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