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Posted October 1, 2010
This CD is part of the 10-disc Naxos series of the complete piano music of Enrique Granados, with the American pianist Douglas Riva. It's odd, though, to see this March 2009 recording billed as volume one in the series, even though most of the other discs were recorded and released much earlier in the 2000s. Riva is obviously at home in the piano music of the Spanish master, and he makes a strong showing, if not the strongest, in the Spanish Dances. These were Granados's first masterpieces, and they contain some of the his most appealing piano music.
This music is extraordinarily well served on CD. Martin Jones on Nimbus is outstanding, and I also really enjoyed Angela Hewitt on CBC Records. You can even hear the composer play four of the Dances, on a Nimbus disc called The Composer Plays. But the gold standard in this music, is, of course, Alicia de Larrocha, available in various CD incarnations on RCA.
I quite like Riva's approach to this music. His version of the famous Andaluza (#5) is impressive, and I also liked what he did with the final two pieces Arabesca (#11) and Bolero (#12). But like many others in the lovely Orientale (#2) Riva pushes forward the full beauty right away, while the composer holds something back at first and lets it unfold later in the piece. Meanwhile, de Larrocha somehow has it both ways, and it's perfectly poetic from beginning to end.
Riva has an advantage over some of his rivals in his sound. His producer and engineer John Taylor has provided him the most natural, open sound, which suits both the open-air music and Riva's way of playing. This is must-hear music, and a fine disc to include in your collection, though everyone must have de Larrocha!