ALBUM TITLE: Falla
WORKS: Nights in the Gardens of Spain; The three-cornered Hat; Homenajes
PERFORMER: Raquel Lojendio (soprano), Jean-Efflam Bavouzet (piano); BBC Philharmonic/Juanjo Mena
CATALOGUE NO: CHAN 10694
Originally planned as a series of nocturnes for solo piano, it was at the suggestion of his contemporary, the pianist Ricardo Viñes, that Falla wrote his Nights in the Gardens of Spain (1916) for piano and orchestra – the intoxicating result tells its own tale. It’s a piece that has been long associated with pianists Arthur Rubinstein and Alicia de Larrocha but otherwise sporadically recorded. Here, however, conductor Juanjo Mena and pianist Jean-Efflam Bavouzet have produced one of those experiences that change one’s perception of a work forever.
At the most basic level they take the trouble to get the balance right. This is no concerto, and the pianist has to be an observer of the music’s events rather than needing to boss them around. Bavouzet and the Chandos recording team have got the message and, since one feature of the whole CD is wonderfully poised woodwind solos, it’s especially gratifying that they and the piano are heard as equals.
But then, the level of engagement with the music is exceptional. Often spacious and dark, the performance reaches past its starlit, balmy surfaces to find the ache and stoicism of Spanish history embodied in the places that Falla evokes. The broadened, cascading climax of the opening ‘En el Generalife’ scene and the vivid gathering of energy and momentum through the linked movements that follow deliver a cumulative impact that expands at the end beyond the timeless glow into a sense of exhausted grandeur.
Vigour, tonal weight and characterful detail also enliven The Three-cornered Hat, Falla’s flamenco-infused ballet set in the heart of rustic Andalusia. You can take the Miller’s Dance as a microcosm of the whole: its slow, emphatic start and doleful air not only impose an unmistakable quality of anger, they make inevitable an extreme acceleration which Mena times thrillingly. Elsewhere, the Neighbours’ Dance is graced with a combination of delicate strings and rhythms that still dance, and the final Jota launches with an emphatic hold-back that springs into enough onward movement to give the same gesture successively more impact each time it returns on the way to an exciting end.
And there’s a rare bonus in Homenajes, Falla’s delicately scored, quietly touching compilation of tributes to fellow composers where the orchestrations of his Debussy and Dukas homages from their respective guitar and piano originals bring out the subtle harmonies without destroying the music’s intimacy.