Albeniz/Iberia Vol. 1 – Alexander Boyd – CR6022
£9.99 – £23.99
“I found myself returning to these discs time and again to hear Boyd’s excellent pianism – so true to the character of this wonderfully original music”
“A note on the recording quality: it is so good that, with eyes closed, one could swear one was in the same room as the instrument. I have not heard recorded piano tone of this quality for a very long time, which enhances the stature of the performances immeasurably”
“A wonderfully evocative series of pieces that seem to capture the very essence of southern Spain”
The twelve impressions of Spain that comprise Iberia earned Albéniz great acclaim; one of the last works completed in his life, it is a masterpiece of grand vision and extraordinary imagination. Representing a dramatic departure from his earlier piano music, Iberia is a fusion of styles and influences. Traditional Spanish dance and folk music had always featured strongly in Albéniz’s work, though mostly in the form of short salon pieces, which though evocative and colourful, are limited in expressive range. Structurally and in their sentiments these pieces explore little beyond the folk idiom, largely using the guitar as a stylistic model.
In Iberia Albéniz marries various aspects of the Spanish folk idiom with a far more adventurous use of the piano, exploiting the vast dynamic and tonal range of the instrument, using rich harmonies and the full scope of timbres that the piano has to offer. In this sense the strong influence of Debussy is unmistakeable, though a romantic vein also runs through Iberia, its soaring melodies rising passionately from a world of vibrant colours and exhilarating rhythms. This synthesis of Romantic, Impressionistic and folk genres makes Iberia a unique and memorable work that has had an enduring influence in Spain and beyond.
Nearly all of the twelve pieces are inspired by places in Andalucía, the southernmost region of Spain where hundreds of years of Moorish rule left a unique cultural heritage. Though Catalan by birth, Albéniz believed Andalucía to be the true Spain; the region’s music and dance was a strong influence on the composer throughout his life.
Book One: Evocación is a beguiling introduction to the suite, in which a lilting accompaniment underpins a hauntingly evocative melody. As in all of Iberia, dance rhythms are incorporated into the themes and here the Fandanguillo and Jota, usually lively dances, are delicately suggested in this subtle and wistful piece.
In El Puerto Albéniz uses rhythms from the spirited Zapateado dance, (the name taken from ‘zapato’ meaning shoe.) The dancers use the striking of their shoes to give rhythmic punctuation; in this piece the effect is created with brusque accents in the left hand accompaniment. With its vivacious pirouettes the melody generates a joyful energy, portraying the cheerful bustling of El Puerto de Santa Maria, a fishing port in the far west of Andalucía.
El Corpus Christi en Sevilla is a depiction of the great religious procession during Holy Week (the week leading up to Easter) through the streets of Seville. Featuring gold and silver statues of Christ and the Virgin Mary with scenes depicting the Passion, Semana Santa is one of Seville’s largest annual festivals. The piece begins with a distant drum beat accompanying the parade, signalling the commencement of the march through town. Brass bands, drums, spontaneous song from the crowd, flamenco guitar and church bells are all masterfully conjured in this epic work, with a jubilant climax evoking the feverish excitement and adulation that the event inspires amongst the spectators.
Book Two: Enchantingly beautiful Ronda was the inspiration for Rondeña. Dramatically set over two sides of an immense gorge, Ronda has a sense of grandiose romance, blended with an unaffected charm typical of small town Andalucía. On hearing this piece we can have no doubt of the affection Albéniz felt for Ronda. The outer sections, in the form of a Fandango, (a spirited dance in three time) are pure joy; a buoyant two bar rhythm alternates between two time and three time while its sensuous grace is peppered with vigorous, percussive outbursts. A reflective central section features a melancholy melody, based on an insistent repeated note motif typical of cante jondo. (Meaning literally ‘deep song’, cante jondo is improvised flamenco singing.)
An air of mystery pervades Almería, a tribute to the port town in eastern Andalucía, which in the composer’s day was a sleepy fishing village. An alternating two/three time rhythmic pattern akin to that of Rondeña is featured, though here it is more subdued, evoking a tranquil mood. While the lilting rhythm calls to mind gently swaying boats on the water, a radiant melody captures the town’s vibrant charm. The pensive second theme, which as in Rondeña is based on a plaintive repeated note motif, builds to a brief yet tempestuous climax, suggestive of a former glory imagined in the Moorish remains.
In turns melancholy, dazzling and swaggering, Triana is a true gypsy dance. The name comes from the famous gypsy quarter in Seville which, historically populated by sailors, potters, bull fighters and flamenco singers, is a microcosm of Andalusian culture. Rhythms of Sevillanas (triple time dance from Seville) and Pasodoble (two step) give the piece its vivacious character, while brisk imitations of castanets and exuberant outbursts conjure the feverish energy of the people who once filled the streets of Triana.
© Gemma Kateb.
Appreciated for the sensitivity and integrity of his interpretations, Alexander Boyd enjoys a busy career as both soloist and chamber musician.
Born in 1972 he made his Concerto debut in 1983 with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, and since his London Wigmore Hall debut in 2001 he has frequently performed at the UK and Australia’s leading concert halls, as well as giving recitals and appearing in international music festivals in the US, Canada and throughout Europe.
Recordings include works by Chopin, Debussy and Schumann for the Abbas and Chartreuse record labels. In recent years he has developed a passion for the music of Spain, and has embarked on a project to record much of the Spanish repertoire for piano. He has also broadcast for ABC Radio and BBC Radio amongst many others.
Passionate about teaching and composing Alexander is on the piano staff at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama and the University of Birmingham.
He has also composed the music for several award winning short films.
With grateful thanks to: Peter Carlo & Belinda Lehrell, Robert & Olivia Temple, Farid Showghi, Cristina Kateb, Russ Abbot, Fraser Ramzan & Zoee Rahman, Graham Zabel & Jo Da Silva, Tom & Lucy Walker, Jamie Boyd.
Review: I – Musical Opinion April-June 2017
I have not come across Alexander Boyd’s name until I heard these performances, but I hope I shall encounter his playing more often in the future. His readings of these essentially nationalist pieces is of the highest standard throughout, and I found myself returning to these discs time and again to hear Boyd’s excellent pianism – so true to the character of this wonderfully original music. A note on the recording quality: it is so good that, with eyes closed, one could swear one was in the same room as the instrument. I have not heard recorded piano tone of this quality for a very long time, which enhances the stature of the performances immeasurably.
Review: II – Music Web International
Isaac Albéniz was a highly significant figure in Spanish music. He gave his first public piano performances at the age of four and at six passed the examination for the Paris Conservatoire. He spent several years touring around not only Spain but elsewhere in Europe and in both North and South America. What turned him from a talented composer of virtuoso salon music into a fully fledged composer was his studies with Liszt. From this point he started composing the pieces for which he is now remembered, the Suite Española being the most notable. Contact with the likes of Chausson and Dukas in Paris added an extended musical sensibility to his superb technique. The four books of pieces collectively entitled Iberia are a product of his final years between 1906 and 1909. These are his impressionist masterworks and show the further influence of Debussy. Debussy in fact greatly admired some of these pieces and praise does not get much higher than that. Nearly all the pieces are inspired by the culture of Andalucia to which he felt most drawn despite his Catalan birth. We have dances, scenery, processions and places: it is all very attractive.
This first volume from Claudio, Books 1 and 2, is very welcome and one would have to be a very resistant listener not to get great pleasure from these lyrical, dramatic and very subtle works. Books 3 and 4 have been recorded and are due to be released around June 2016. Even excluding the orchestral versions of these pieces the competition is quite extensive. Many of the world’s great pianists have included Albéniz in their repertoire though very few recorded the full four books of Iberia. In reality the top name is Alicia de Larrocha who recorded all four books at least three times. A glance at the Penguin Guides over the past three decades makes it clear that no one is likely to displace her recordings. To my ears Alexander Boyd in his generally slightly faster performances has nothing to fear from the comparison with Larrocha and since his recording is obviously superior he should win over some purchasers. There is space in every collection for both. The value of the disc is enhanced by a thorough and enthusiastic set of notes by the recitalist and teacher Gemma Kateb.
DVD-Audio issues are sufficiently rare for it to be stressed that this disc will play on all Blu-ray and DVD-A players with DACs that will handle 24bit/192kHz recordings. Key to engineer Colin Attwell’s success is primarily his use of a very high quality but simple microphone set-up in a good acoustic and much of the benefit will be heard even on a plain vanilla ‘Red-Book’ standard CD. Claudio therefore make a CD available, at a much lower price, for those not fulfilling the above requirement. As in previous Claudio issues one is amazed at how much detail comes over on the DVD-A. In some passages one can faintly but distinctly hear the sound of the piano reverberating from the walls of St Bartholomew’s which adds a sense of reality to one’s listening. Alexander Boyd’s articulation is held up to inspection throughout – fortunately he is a very fine pianist and need not fear the scrutiny. This issue might seem short measure at just 40 minutes but the complete work runs to about 85 minutes and is always spread over two discs, sometimes without fill ups.
Review: III – International Piano Magazine
It is a brave pianist who ventures a complete recording of Iberia (1905-9). Boyd’s interpretations are cool and nuanced with natural tempi, a touch faster in places than some rivals. The shaping of the cycle as a whole is well thought through. Book 3 is indicative if Boyd cannot quite match Larrocha’s characterful interpretations, he nonetheless produces a vivid, multi-layered ‘El Albaicin’ bringing the mystery of Granada’s gypsy quarter to life; the succeeding ‘EI Polo’ takes one into the heart of this Andalusian dance. Only in ‘Lavapiés,’ arguably the most demanding of the set and the one piece not inspired by Andalusia, doces Boyd audibly sound stretched. Audiophiles will appreciate Colin Attwell’s terrific high-definition sound, crystal clear yet with a natural ambience. The discs are also available in Blu-ray/DVD-A format. GR
Review: IV – Amazon
I’ve been listening to this CD constantly for the past few weeks. Albéniz’s suite offers a brilliant array of impressions that transport the listener to the sun soaked lands of Andalusia. Boyd’s performance is confident and assured, without ever seeming excessively showy, bringing out the dynamics of these extremely evocative pieces. He moves fluidly with a sensitive touch through the peaks and valleys of the pieces, at turns strident, mournful and playful. A wonderfully evocative series of pieces that seem to capture the very essence of southern Spain.
“Traditional Spanish dance and folk music had always featured strongly in Albéniz’s work, though mostly in the form of short salon pieces, which though evocative and colourful, are limited in expressive range. Structurally and in their sentiments these pieces explore little beyond the folk idiom, largely using the guitar as a stylistic model”