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Madrid Recital / Rattle, Achucarro, Berlin Philharmonic

Achucarro,Joaquin / Bpo / Rattle
Release Date: 07/26/2011 
Label:  Euroarts   Catalog #: 2058808  
Composer:  Manuel de FallaIsaac AlbenizClaude DebussyEnrique Granados,   ... 
Performer:  Joaquín Achúcarro
Conductor:  Simon Rattle
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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JOAQUÍN ACHÚCARRO Joachín Achúcarro (pn); Simon Rattle, cond; 1 Berlin PO EUROARTS Read more 2058808 (DVD); 2058884 (Blu-ray: 102:00)

1 FALLA Nights in the Gardens of Spain.


The name Joaquín Achúcarro should be much better known than it is here in the U.S. In Spain, he is regarded as the finest Spanish pianist since Alicia de Larrocha. For many years now he has played throughout the world, and with the greatest orchestras and conductors. On YouTube you can find his sterling live performances of Rachmaninoff’s Third Concerto and Brahms’s Second Concerto. His highly praised commercial recordings have mostly been on the Spanish label Ensayo (Ravel’s concertos, Brahms opp. 9 and 117–119, Schumann’s Fantasy, Kreisleriana and Symphonic Etudes, and Granados’s Goyescas ; other recordings include Bartók’s Second Concerto and Rachmaninoff’s Rhapsody on a Theme by Paganini ). Born in 1932, Achúcarro graduated from the Madrid Conservatory and then studied primarily in Italy with Busoni’s pupil Guido Agosti, who was my own esteemed teacher. (My studies did not overlap with Achúcarro’s and I have never heard him play live, so I have no agenda here.) He seems to play mostly in Europe these days, but he has been teaching prize-winning pianists for years in Texas, at Southern Methodist University, and in Siena, at the Accademia Chigiana. On the basis of this DVD, I can say that he is a true pianist’s pianist, a complete musician who lives and breathes every note he plays and who communicates the composer’s intentions simply and directly. Visually, his avoidance of histrionics and upper body motion may make him seem uninvolved, but musically he is fully engaged at all times, even when playing the simplest melody in quarter notes. He does not put on a show, but what he has to show pianistically is quite extraordinary.

Falla’s Nights in the Gardens of Spain is a good match for his elegant playing, with lively evocations of guitars and some bold as well as impressionistic pianism. But he, Rattle, and the Berlin Philharmonic seem just a bit wasted on this work, which—fine though it is—is not one of the great piano concertos. It is in the solo pieces, recorded in recital before an enthusiastic audience in the Teatro Real in Madrid, that Achúcarro really shines. Albéniz’s “Navarra,” Goyescas’s “Maja y el ruiseñor,” and Falla’s Fantasia baetica bring the pianism of de Larrocha vividly to mind, so full are they of color, melting lyricism, tight rhythms, and harmonic tension. And Debussy’s “La Soirée dans Grenade” receives one of the most evocative performances I have heard, its many sections brought together as a complete whole.

But pianists and pianophiles alike will be fascinated as well as moved by Ravel’s Gaspard de la nuit and Valses nobles et sentimentales. “Ondine” is played lent , as marked, at a tempo that allows each indicated nuance to be heard naturally but without point-making, and the climax is prepared and sailed through like the water-music it is, not like a passage from Islamey . The ending is magical, including the final bar in which he re-catches the notes silently and then changes the pedal for a beautiful fade-out. “Le Gibet” is mesmerizing in its steadiness, with each chord balanced perfectly with seemingly casual swipes of the hand. And “Scarbo” is engaging from beginning to end, fast, clean (without changing fingers on repeated notes), always ongoing, very exciting at the climactic bars 332–380, and with plenty of reserves for the coda. The close-ups throughout the recital provide a master class in themselves.

All this would have been enough, but then we are given an entrancing Valses nobles, one of the most coloristic accounts I know. For once, Nos. 1 and 3 are played modéré , moods change naturally, passion takes over to just the right degree in No. 7, and in the epilogue the remembrances of past waltzes float by as if in a dream, like stream-of-consciousness writing. And then, after Falla’s overly long and loud Fantasia baetica , we get a perfect encore, Scriabin’s dreamy Nocturne for the Left Hand, in which God seems to play the melody.

If I have ever seen a video of a musician who truly serves the music, this is it. I hope we will have more soon from this great artist.

FANFARE: Charles Timbrell
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Works on This Recording

Nights in the gardens of Spain by Manuel de Falla
Performer:  Joaquín Achúcarro (Piano)
Conductor:  Simon Rattle
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1911-1915; Spain 
Suite Iberia: no 13, Navarra [unfinished] by Isaac Albeniz
Performer:  Joaquín Achúcarro (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1906-1908; France 
Préludes, Book 2: no 3, La puerta del vino by Claude Debussy
Performer:  Joaquín Achúcarro (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1912-1913; France 
Goyescas for Piano, Op. 11: Book 1 - no 4, Quejas ó la maja y el ruiseñor by Enrique Granados
Performer:  Joaquín Achúcarro (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1914-1916; Spain 
Gaspard de la nuit by Maurice Ravel
Performer:  Joaquín Achúcarro (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1908; France 
Valses nobles et sentimentales by Maurice Ravel
Performer:  Joaquín Achúcarro (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1911; France 
Estampes (3) for Piano: no 2, La soirée dans Grenade by Claude Debussy
Performer:  Joaquín Achúcarro (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1903; France 
Homenaje "Le tombeau de Claude Debussy" by Manuel de Falla
Performer:  Joaquín Achúcarro (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1920; Spain 
work(s) by Alexander Scriabin
Performer:  Joaquín Achúcarro (Piano)

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