Albéniz: Iberia; Navarra; Suite española

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5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: Albeniz
LABELS: Lyrinx
WORKS: Iberia; Navarra; Suite española
PERFORMER: Hervé Billaut (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: LYR 2217

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There would be many more recordings of Iberia, a towering four-volume presence in piano literature, were it not for one thing. For two generations Alicia de Larrocha’s vivid, vital and subtle interpretations have become practically identified in the audience’s mind with the work itself. Bad for the breadth of the catalogue, though, and indeed for the general breadth of the repertoire. Sixteen years on from Larrocha’s last, it still sounds breathtakingly good, but somebody else has now – what luck – delivered a completely different view. Hervé Billaut takes the time he needs, and the results are delivered in energetic rhythmic detail, steady and obstinate fast music, extraordinarily spacious melodic lines and a restless rubato. This is a hard, monumental, timeless and intensely private Spain. Its heart is in the third book of three pieces, a portrait of ‘Harsh Spain’ from the despair of poverty to the resilience of the spirit. Nothing is glamorised. The despondency of ‘El Polo’ is emphasised in its broken-backed, halting gait, the crushing pain of ‘Lavapies’ in its chords. That might sound grim, but it’s relative and this is still a virtuoso performance to be enjoyed for Billaut’s command of the keyboard and of some spectacularly evocative music. The remaining two-thirds of the second disc, as with Larrocha, contain the short and brilliant Navarra – its opening clatter doesn’t suit Billaut quite so well but he’s in his element with a loud, ecstatic declamation of the big tune that takes over – and the earlier Suite española. Once again he digs deep, notably in ‘Asturias’ with its obsessional, nagging steadiness. His Steinway sounds superbly right, too.

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Robert Maycock