The Spanish Masters is a collection of re-performances of three distinguished composers: Isaac Albéniz, Manuel de Falla, and Enrique Granados. Sourced from some of the earliest known sound recordings in history, The Spanish Masters offers a window into how the composers played their own pieces at the piano. World-renowned cellist Zuill Bailey and soprano Isabel Bayrakdarian appear on the album, both in duet with Falla at the piano. The Spanish Masters also offers the world-premiere recording of Albéniz’ oft-revised La Vega in its original version, restored from the composer’s manuscript and performed by Dr. Milton Rubén Laufer.
Isaac Albéniz (1860-1909), Manuel de Falla (1876-1946), and Enrique Granados (1867-1916) are as linked to Spain’s musical tradition as Bach, Beethoven, and Brahms are with Germany’s. Although the three men approached music and life differently and were vastly unalike in terms of personality, Albéniz, Granados, and Falla were friendly contemporaries, colleagues, and supporters of one another. Their mutual admiration was strengthened greatly by their shared belief in the tenets of Spanish Nationalism set forth and championed by their common teacher, Felipe Pedrell.
Of the three composers, it is widely accepted that Isaac Albéniz was the best technical pianist. Already a touring virtuoso by age 15, Albéniz’s personality was gregarious and outgoing, and he was well liked for his good sense of humor. Accompanying a caricature of him in La Ilustración musical from 1883, is the following: “Como hombre, un niño. Como pianista, un gigante.” which translates into, “As a man, a child. As a pianist, a giant.” He was also quite a story teller. It wasn’t until fairly recently that scholars unraveled the tangle of conflicting accounts which he invented about himself for his many biographers.
While visiting the Mediterranean seaside village of Tiana for a recuperative stay, Albéniz met with Dr. Ruperto Regordosa Planas, owner of an Edison phonograph who convinced the pianist to play and be recorded. The three improvisations, performed during that convalescent visit in 1903, are the only extant examples of Albéniz’s playing. Their source material might have been sketches for the remaining two operas in his Arthurian trilogy, unpublished works for piano, or simply invented on the spot. Adding to their allure, the improvisations were performed during the decade-long period in his life when Albéniz abandoned writing for the piano so that he could focus full-time on composing opera.
Enrique Granados was unquestionably the best improviser and only true pedagogue among the three. In addition to composing and performing, he founded the Granados Academy and became an influential teacher and caretaker of the Spanish school of piano playing. Despite not having a formal education in anything but the piano, Granados became fluent in three languages and recognized as a gifted orator.
The Danzas Españolas (Spanish Dances) are the first of his important compositions, and while it’s unclear when they were begun (Granados did not usually date his manuscripts), he started performing the twelve Danzas publicly in 1890. Granados was often under financial strain, and this caused him to rush compositions to his publisher before he had given them time to mature. The editions were printed, but in many cases, quite different than how he eventually performed and taught the pieces. His rendition of the seventh and tenth Spanish Dances was also recorded in Barcelona’s Odeon Studios in 1912, and they illustrate very clearly the discrepancies between the published score and Granados’s eventual vision. Fortunately he taught his students to play those works using his revisions, and they’ve been recently published.
Compared to Albéniz and Granados, Manuel de Falla was by far the most-sophisticated and best-trained composer. Slightly built and very shy, Falla was an extremely devout Catholic and a hypochondriac. His varied oeuvre included stage works, operas, zarzuelas (Spanish operetta), even a harpsichord concerto.
The Siete Canciónes Populares Españolas (Seven Popular Spanish Songs) were completed in Madrid during the middle of 1914. Falla had lived in Paris for the previous seven years during which he was mentored by Debussy, but he returned to neutral Spain at the onset of World War I. The songs draw their texts from the folklore of various provinces in Spain and make discrete moral references to premarital sex, chastity, and infidelity—all of which suited the prudish moral compass of Falla. Regional rhythms and melodies accompany the text, and while the songs were not necessarily conceived of as a cycle, they are usually performed together. So well-written and adored by audiences, this set has endured to become among the most popular Spanish songs ever written. This has led to various transcriptions of them, including a version for cello and piano under the title, Suite Populaire Espagnole transcribed by Maurice Maréchal. Excluded from the suite is the song, Seguidilla Murciana because it did not work well for cello. Falla recorded them in 1928 with soprano Isabel Barrientos at the Studio Albert in Paris
We chose to record this album in a chamber environment, much like spaces in which the original performances were recorded. You'll hear a wide dynamic range across the pieces, from Zuill's lovely cello playing in the lullaby to Isabel's full-voiced singing in the closing Sonetto. We used no compression, striving to give you the compelling experience of being seated in an intimate room with the performers.
“Every vocal student knows these songs,” Ms. Bayrakdarian observed about Falla’s Siete Canciónes Populares Españolas. “Performing them with the composer himself at the piano was an amazing experience.”
- Produced by Philip Amalong and John Q. Walker
- Engineered and mixed by Ian Schreier
- Mastering and additional mixing by Brent Lambert at The Kitchen
- Recorded June 26-27 and July 12, 2011 at Manifold Recording, Pittsboro, North Carolina
- Piano: 1909 Steinway & Sons concert grand model D, #133291, SE2 reproducing system implemented by Richard Shepherd of Live Performance, Inc.
- Vocal supervision by Tad Hardin
- Zenph Performance Analysts: Anatoly Larkin (director), Philip Amalong, Brady Barnett, Tommy Dwight, Tad Hardin, Emi Nakajima, Stella Sick
- Piano voicing and preparation by Marc Wienert of Action Direct Piano
Minnesota Public Radio, "New Classical Tracks"
"This groundbreaking technology took the original, sometimes primitive recordings of these Spanish masters and transformed them back into vivid performances..." more>>
NPR Morning Edition, "Classical Contemporaries Perform With A Ghost"
Listen to this story - Cellist Zuill Bailey and soprano Isabel Bayrakdarian reanimate the late composer Manuel de Falla on The Spanish Masters.