New Classical Tracks - Spanish Masters, in the Past and Present

January 4, 2012

Listen New Classical Tracks: Spanish Masters, in the Past and Present
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The Spanish Masters - Albeniz/Granados/Falla - Zuill Bailey and Isabel Bayrakdarian (Zenph 1001) (Courtesy of Zenph Studios)

Imagine you're in an intimate recital hall sitting second row center. There are two musicians — one of them is on stage, the other is a ghost. It's slightly disconcerting, yet that's how you might describe this recording of "The Spanish Masters." Through the use of modern technology, cellist Zuill Bailey and soprano Isabel Bayrakdarian are able to perform with Manuel de Falla, the Spanish composer and pianist who recorded in the 1920s. Isaac Albeniz and Enrique Granados are the other Spanish masters represented on this new release. At the turn of the 20th century they helped to develop a distinct national style in Spanish music.

It's the Zenph sound technique that allows us to relive the past and experience how these composers interpreted their own works. This groundbreaking technology took the original, sometimes primitive recordings of these Spanish masters and transformed them back into vivid performances in modern sound, taking into consideration things like the pianist's articulation, the timing of notes, and how loudly or softly they're played. Cellist Zuill Bailey joins Manuel de Falla on the "Siete Canciones Populares Espanolas," (Seven Popular Spanish Songs). Bailey admits it's odd not having a pianist to cue him; however, the good news is that Falla was very consistent! The text of each of these Spanish songs is drawn from the folklore of various provinces in Spain and they're enhanced by regional rhythms and melodies. These songs are so adored in Spanish culture, that several transcriptions have surfaced over the years including this one for cello and piano by Maurice Marechal. Zuill Bailey's technical precision and his dark, creamy tone on each of these Spanish songs is comfort food for the soul.

This disc also features these songs in their original vocal version. Manuel de Falla first recorded his Seven Popular Spanish Songs with soprano Maria Barrientos in Paris in 1928. Canadian soprano Isabel Bayrakdarian joins the composer on this recording. The best part of being able to perform with the composer, according to Bayrakdarian, is the clues it provides on how he himself approached the music. She had always been told to sing these pieces slowly and deliberately in a classical style, but it never felt quite right. It was heartening for her to hear Falla's brisk, breezy, folksy interpretation and that's how she performs these songs on this recording.

The Baroque master Domenico Scarlatti spent 28 years in Spain, and his compositions had a major influence on Enrique Granados who was an outstanding improviser and a pedagogue. From a manuscript he found in Barcelona, Granados transcribed 26 of Scarlatti's keyboard sonatas for piano and performed them regularly in concert. On this recording Granados plays the Sonata Number 9. You may notice this performance is not note-perfect, and that's intentional. While errors could have been corrected in the production process, the producers made an artistic decision to leave them in.

The only recordings that exist of Isaac Albeniz playing piano were recorded in 1903 while he was convalescing from a kidney ailment in a Mediterranean seaside village. He met a doctor there who owned an Edison phonograph. The doctor convinced Albeniz to record three improvisations which appear on this new release. These may have been sketches of two remaining operas Albeniz was planning to complete, or they may have been improvised on the spot.

As you listen to this new collection of "The Spanish Masters," you'll notice it was recorded in a chamber environment. The goal was to capture a sound similar to the original setting in which this music was first made more than sixty years ago. So close your eyes and imagine yourself seated front row center, in a small salon at the turn of the century as you enjoy this musical legacy which combines the past with the present.