Notes and Editorial Reviews
Piano Quartet. Piano Trio No. 1. Violin Sonata No. 2.
Escena andaluza. La oración del torero
HYPERION CDA67889 (72:14)
Following the premiere of his Brahmsian Piano Quintet, op. 1, in 1907, the Sevillian composer Joaquín Turina (1882–1949) was advised by Isaac Albeníz and Manuel de Falla to incorporate into his music the sounds and rhythms of his native Andalusia. Turina took the advice to heart and went on to compose a great deal of Spanish-flavored orchestral and chamber music. The latter is infused with the harmonies of the French Impressionists, as well as their economy of scale and clarity of texture. As a result, Turina’s many chamber works are invariably well written and evocative. The composer stuck to his vivid and sometimes sentimental Spanish style through the rest of his career. While the works on this well-filled disc span several decades, they do not trace a vast stylistic journey. Quite simply they are idiomatic, structurally strong, and highly enjoyable.
In the early 1990s a series of discs on the Claves label alerted many of us to the pleasures of Turina’s chamber music, and those performances continue to stand up. Nonetheless, this new recording from Hyperion is exceptional, and as it includes the best-known pieces from the composer’s chamber output it is now the most attractive single-disc buy. It features well-recorded, subtly inflected performances from members of the British chamber group the Nash Ensemble, namely Marianne Thorson and Laura Samuel (violin), Lawrence Power (viola), Paul Watkins (cello), and Ian Brown (piano). Power and Watkins maintain notable recording careers as soloists, but I am particularly impressed with the fiery rendition of the Violin Sonata No. 2 from Thorson and Brown. In the early
, a sextet for viola and piano quintet where Turina adheres most closely to the Impressionist school, his scenes of Andalusian life are sensitively re-created by these musicians. One of his most popular works,
La oración del torero
(The Bullfighter’s Prayer) is heard here in its original scoring for string quartet, rather than the oft-recorded version for string orchestra. The chamber forces make the piece more intimate and more rhythmically pointed.
The note writer for this disc goes out of his way to apologize for the music’s obvious Spanish harmonies and melodic figures, stating that popular music has turned them into clichés. I don’t think too much should be made of this. Turina’s Phrygian turns of phrase are as much an integral part of his language as perfect cadences are in Mozart or folk-song influences in Vaughan Williams. Moreover, popular music adopted a Spanish/Latin color primarily in the 1940s and ’50s; there is certainly no such influence in contemporary pop music today, nor has there been for some time. Not a problem, I’d say.
The Nash performances are not without competition. A lively, heart-on-sleeve rendition of the Piano Quartet by the Lyric Piano Quartet was available from Black Box (coupled with the early Piano Quartet of Richard Strauss), although this sadly defunct label is now hard to find. Also, a keen performance of
La oración del torero
may be heard from the marvelous Casals Quartet on Harmonia Mundi (
30:6). However, the Nash Ensemble is by no means a second choice. They get to the heart of this music. English they may be, but like many of their countrymen they clearly spend their holidays in Ibiza.
FANFARE: Phillip Scott