Albéniz: Iberia

Our rating 
3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

LABELS: Chandos
WORKS: Iberia
PERFORMER: Nicholas Unwin (piano)


The difference between a good and a very good performance can be infinitesimal. And musical notation is still too crude a tool to measure it. The difference can lie with a millisecond here or there, the extremity or otherwise of the dynamic profile, the subtlest contrasts of rhythmic flexibility, the cumulative effect of different rhythmic patterns, the colouristic use of the pedals and of different balances within the harmonic or polyphonic texture – and so on, almost ad infinitum.

On present evidence, Nicholas Unwin is a very fine pianist indeed, with an impressive (though never flaunted) technical armoury, controlled by a keen intelligence and a sensitive ear. The difference between him and Alicia de Larrocha, the acknowledged doyenne of this repertoire, is often very slight.

He understands the style, no doubt about that, but it’s in the realm of the spirit, and its range, that the authentically Spanish Larrocha ultimately delivers the goods. She depicts with sometimes frightening immediacy the extremity of contrasts which is everywhere in the Spanish landscape, and the fierce vitality and unforgiving passions of its population. But authenticity isn’t everything. Martin Jones, on Nimbus, often plays the same music as though it were a cross between Brahms and Debussy, yet he makes it both convincing and seductive. Nor should anyone overlook the little-known Guillermo González on Naxos, who for my money runs Larrocha a close second. Unwin is good, but too restricted in tone, dynamics, rhythm and mostly in the intangible ‘feel’ of the music. 


Jeremy Siepmann