When Albéniz died in May 1909 at the premature age of 49, the impression was that his true potential remained unfulfilled. This is not so, as listening to these late piano works, one discovers that Albéniz had practically nothing more to say. No wonder Debussy said that 'Albéniz had given the best that was within him'.
'Ibéria' is not only considered the composer's greatest work but also the greatest piano composition to come out of Spain. Early in his career, Albéniz was writing salon pieces, charming and delightful, but considered as slight 'picture postcards' of Spain. On discovering the music of Ravel and Debussy, his imagination took flight, and he soon transformed his early style into a more complex one. 'Ibéria' poses a formidable challenge as the music abounds in harmonic and textual difficulties, not to mention the counter-rhythms, interweaving of the fingers, hand crossings, difficult jumps and nearly impossible chords. The score is also very hard to read as it is saturated with accidentals and multilingual markings. Albéniz was very much aware of all this and at one time, he contemplated destroying the manuscript. Well, he did not, and his marvellous creation is and will remain with us for our enjoyment.
Marc-André Hamelin manages to communicate all the spiritual essence of these tone poems and his impassioned reading succeeds in realizing all the beauties beyond the notes. In so doing, Hamelin brings to light the fact, that the previous virtual monopoly of this work by Spanish pianists may have been more detrimentally beneficial.
The remainder of the album is taken up by particularly appropriate couplings. In 'La Vega', 'España', 'Yvonne en visite' and 'Navarra' (completed by William Bolcom) we have all of Albéniz's late piano music from 1897 until his death. A superb set, then, for all those piano disciples with a Spanish predilection. Walter Clark's annotation is not only scholarly but a veritable goldmine of information that enthrals the reader from start to finish. One of the piano discs of the year.
Copyright © 2005, Gerald Fenech