Juanjo Mena and the BBC Philharmonic present works by Albéniz

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Isaac Albéniz
LABELS: Chandos
ALBUM TITLE: Albéniz
WORKS: Suite española; Rapsodia española; Piano Concerto No. 1 (Concierto fantastico); The Magic Opal – Suite
PERFORMER: Martin Roscoe (piano); BBC Philharmonic/Juanjo Mena
CATALOGUE NO: Chandos CHAN 10897

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Albéniz demonstrated that Spanish composers could write Spanish music. Until he made his mark, music with a Spanish flavour was essentially presented as a kind of exotic other, notably by French composers, often without setting foot in the country. For Albéniz, the rhythms and harmonies of his native land were a natural part of his music, his Spanish accent often coming through even when portraying other places, such as the Greek setting of the Suite from The Magic Opal.

This latest instalment of conductor Juanjo Mena’s absorbing La Musica de España series with the BBC Philharmonic on Chandos fills in some of the hinterland of the composer of Iberia, that unsurpassed evocation of all things Spanish. It is surely no coincidence that the least effective piece, the Piano Concerto, is one where Albéniz eschews his Spanish sensibility. The result is a piece that amiably passes the time, but with little in the way of distinctive character. If Martin Roscoe and the BBC Philharmonic occasionally seem a little stiff, that surely only reflects the music, for everything else here is played with verve and panache.

The Rapsodia española, which also features Roscoe as soloist, is dreamily seductive before spiritedly bouncing along. The Suite española is equally fun, having been put together from early piano works by the conductor Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos. The punctuating chords in ‘Asturias’ may lack the snappy thrum guitarists bring to it, but ‘Castilla’ and ‘Sevilla’ have great flair, ‘Granada’ is sublime and ‘Aragon’ rounds off an enjoyable disc with elan.

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Christopher Dingle