Isaac Albéniz: Selections from Suite española, Op. 47 – Doce Piezas Características, Op. 92 – Seis Hojas de Album, Op. 165 – Recuerdos de Viaje, Op. 71 – Cantos de España, Op. 232 – and España, Op. 165
David Russell (Guitar)
Recorded at Peggy & Yale Center for the Performing Arts, Owing Mills, MD – 61’
TELARC ref. #: 32712-02
Gilbert Chase's monumental “The Music of Spain” quotes the mature Isaac Albéniz reflecting on his youthful compositions in language that only a Spaniard could fashion: “In all of them I now note that there is...color, sunlight, flavor of olives... That music of youth, with its little sins and absurdities... appears to me like the carvings in the Alhambra... which are like the air, like the sun, like the blackbirds or like the nightingales of its gardens... the true Spain.”
Scottish-born David Russell – as much a Spaniard as he's a Scott – is a protean guitarist who moves the listener with his “sentimiento” – deeper and richer than “feeling.” Russell inspires respect if not awe for his prodigious technique and mature musicality, evidenced in his new album, “Isaac Albéniz: Spanish Music on Guitar” – just released by TELARC International. This fine artist takes the listener on a wondrous musical journey that ranges through four sections of the great mid-career (1886-87) Suite española . Russell gives full value to the melancholy gentleness of “Granada,” the dance-like “Cádiz,” the “Sardana” rhythm of “Cataluña” and the Caribbean languor of “Cuba.” Albéniz wrote the masterful 8-piece Suite española for piano, as he did most of his other compositions. In his all-too-brief lifetime (1860-1909) the Spanish guitar had not been invited to sit at the main table in the concert hall and it remained consigned to the “tablaos” where the gypsies played it as they had for hundreds of years – by ear and from the heart. Today, the abundant music and the name of Isaac Albéniz are inextricably associated with and linked to the guitar.
Unlike with other anthology albums, Russell plays the fifteen selections in his new CD in an order that suits him and his unerring instincts for programing. He includes gem after gem from Doce Piezas Características, Seis Hojas de Album, Recuerdos de Viaje, España, and Cantos de España . The unfailingly-moving tango“Recuerdos de la Caleta” gives us Russell at his heartfelt best, the rhythmic “Zorzico” fron the same opus 165 is the perfect contrasting companion piece to follow it. And so it goes through this album full of riches, re-discoveries and familiar melodies made fresh and surprising by a great artist.
After the“little sins and absurdities” of his youth and his career-changing encounter with the great musicologist Felipe Pedrell, Albéniz set forth to carry Spanish music kicking and screaming out of the ethnic ghetto where it had hidden for centuries and onto the concert stages of the world. Bizet and Rimsky Korsakoff had plundered the Iberian peninsula for melodic and rhythmic riches without even bothering (in Bizet's case) to hear the real thing live and up-close. Ravel and Debussy similarly handpicked Spanish-inflected melodies and rhythms for their essentially French-in-spirit Rhapsodie Espagnole and Iberia. Édouard Lalo co-opted his 1874 Symphonie espagnole from a Spain seen through a “fin de siècle” gallic prism.
But it fell to the Catalan Isaac Manuel Francisco Albéniz y Pascual to flesh out true Spanish concert music, with is intricate roots dug deep in “Cante Jondo”, in the mountain villages of the Basque country and the gypsy caves of Granada, in the centuries-old modal scales and here and there in the musical “paella” that is Spain, from the cryptic Basques and Gallegos of the North to the sophisticated Catalans of the East to the irrepressible Andalucians with their Moorish roots. It takes a major artist with an immense soul to walk into this musical territory and find his way. David Russell has the map and compass for it: an inquisite musical instinct and a big Spanish-Scottish heart.
Rafael de Acha