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Saturday, October 3, 2020

Isaac Albéniz - Piano Works (Martin Jones)


Composer: Isaac Albéniz

  • (01) Champagne Waltz
  • (02) Estudio Impromptu, Op. 56
  • (03) Piano Sonata No. 5, Op. 82
  • (07) Suite Española No. 1, Op. 47
  • (01) Rapsodia Española, Op. 70
  • (02) Pavana, Op. 83 "Muy Facil"
  • (03) 6 Hojas de Album, Op. 165: II. Tango
  • (04) Cantos de España, Op. 232
  • (07) The Alhambra, Suite pour le Piano: La Vega
  • (01) España (Souvenirs)
  • (03) Iberia, Book 1
  • (06) Iberia, Book 2
  • (01) Iberia, Book 3
  • (04) Iberia, Book 4
  • (07) Azulejos: I. Prelude (completed by Martin Jones)
  • (08) Navarra (completed by Martin Jones)

Martin Jones, piano
Date: 2020
Label: Nimbus Records



If someone had played the first two tracks of this compilation to me in a blind test I would have been unable to identify the composer. I imagine I would have had difficulty with the nationality as well. Both are accomplished and very entertaining piano solos. The Champagne Waltz? Well that fits in admirably with any number of quality concert waltzes from the late 19th or early 20th century bloom of pianist/composers, virtuosic and elegantly charming. I perhaps would have pegged the Estudio impromptu as a Russian Tarantelle, stormy in its outer sections with a gentler idylle at its heart. Spain and Albeniz would have been far down my list of guesses and this is part of the joy of this collection.

Martin Jones has of course recorded copiously and, certainly in the recordings that I have heard, he plays with great conviction, technical prowess, poetry and musicianship. Nimbus have been issuing generous sets of Spanish music played by this indefatigable performer for many years; just a selection of the reviews of these give a taste of the high standards that one can expect (Halffter piano music Nimbus NI5849 Review, Esplá piano music Nimbus NI5889 Review, Nin piano music Nimbus NI5851 Review). He has also essayed whole albums by Mompou, Guastavino, Granados and Turina so he is certainly familiar with the Spanish canon. This Albéniz set was recorded quite a bit earlier than any of these and most of the recordings date from 1995 with the remainder recorded in 2000.

For me it was fascinating to hear the works of the teenage composer. Uncharacterstic they may be but the are wonderfully written for the instrument and if the Sonata that follows only has shades of the mature composer there is still much to enjoy. We move into more familiar territory with the two Spanish suites, the Suite espanola and the movements from Cantos d'espana. The portrayals of the dances and songs of the various regions were my first experience of Albéniz and I still love the spectacular abandon of the Seguidillas or the calm nobility of Córdoba. Jones' gentle rubato is notable in the slow section of Sevilla and the simple serenade that is Granada. In an otherwise good performance of Cadiz I was surprised by a stiffness in his playing in the return to D flat in the first section but this is certainly the exception. It is also good to hear the entire Suite espanola; items like the energetic dance of Aragon or the lilting Cataluña with fire at its heart.

Several of the pieces here also appear on the 2CD set of Albéniz piano music that Marc-Andre Hamelin recorded for Hyperion Records in 2004. Apart from the masterly cycle of pieces Iberia Hamelin plays Navarra and the three pieces that Albéniz intended for his Suite: Alhambra; the extended tone poem La Vega and Espana – Souvenirs. For me Hamelin's performance tips the balance with its utter suavity and playfulness and, as Jonathan Woolf points out, his sense of weightlessness (Hyperion CDA67476-7 Review). I also prefer Hyperion's warmer and richer piano sound. It is a close thing however; Martin Jones has an equally fine ear for detail and many of the speeds are similar. Jones is perhaps a wee bit more strident in some of his accents and occasionally brings a touch more overt drama that Hamelin's unruffled playing misses. In El Albaicin Jones' ever so slightly slower speed brings a hint of heaviness to the playing though the playing is more enlivened in the central section and indeed it is the only one of the set that I had even minor misgivings about.

Espana – Souvenirs comprises two works, Prelude and Asturias. Both are harmonically striking, especially the prelude; virtually all of its nearly 8 minute playing time features a D flat pedal note, with chromatically shifting gentle dissonances riding in syncopation above, strikingly so as the piece continues. The melody of Asturias is likewise enveloped in an almost impressionist web of developing harmony, with haunting piquancy in its colour. It is almost worth the price of the set for these two pieces especially in these carefully crafted and haunting performances. Albéniz left two piano works unfinished at his death, Navarra and the sinuous Prelude from Azulejos; they were completed by Déodat de Séverac and Enrique Granados respectively but Martin Jones provides his own completions of both on CD4 of this set. Like William Bolcom in the completion that Hamelin recorded Jones extends Navarra beyond the rather abrupt ending that de Severac produced and I find that this and the Azulejos Prelude sound marvellously idiomatic.

Altogether this is a well stocked and representative survey of Albéniz's colourful and imaginative piano music and Martin Jones is as always a convincing advocate; I am always impressed with character and panache that he brings to all that he plays. The liner notes are informative though are in English only.

A marvellous collection of the best of Albéniz' piano music.

-- Rob ChallinorMusicWeb International


Isaac Albéniz (29 May 1860 – 18 May 1909) was a Spanish pianist and composer. He is one of the foremost composers of the Post-Romantic era who also had a significant influence on his contemporaries and younger composers. His activities as conductor, performer and composer significantly raised the profile of Spanish music abroad and encouraged musicians in his own country. Transcriptions of many of his pieces, such as Asturias (Leyenda), Granada, Sevilla, Cádiz, Córdoba, Cataluña, and the Tango in D, are important pieces for classical guitar, though he never composed for the guitar.


Martin Jones (born 4 February 1940 in Witney) is an English concert pianist. He studied at Royal Academy of Music with Guido Agosti, Guy Jonson, and Gordon Green. In 1968 he received the Dame Myra Hess Award and made his debuts in London and New York. Jones has performed as concerto soloist with many of the leading British orchestras, as well as in the USA and Russia. His performance repertoire includes most of the standard works for piano, as well as unusual concertos such as the Busoni's. Martin Jones is a prolific recording artist and since 1988 has recorded many discs for Nimbus Records.


FLAC, tracks
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  2. Wonderful shares. There is also a ser of Granados by Martin. He contacted me in Argentina for the Guastavino sheetmusic. It was fun for me to get hold of that music for him.