halffter
Guillermo Gonzí¡lez

Ernesto Halffter: Piano Music

Naxos


Disc One: Crepíºsculos, Marche joyeuse, Sonata per pianoforte, L’espagnolade, Grüss, Serenata a Dulcinea, Dos piezas cubanas, Preludio y danza, Llanto por Ricardo Vií±es, Sonate: ‘Homenaje a Domenico Scarlatti’, Nocturno otoí±al, ‘Recordando a Chopin’, Hommenaje a J.Turina, Hommenaje a F. Mompou, Hommenaje a R. Halffter
Dic Two: Suite de las Doncellas, Valencia II “” Pasodoble, Panaderos, Bolera de la Cachucha, Tres piezas infantiles (para cuatro manos) – performed with Belén Gonzí¡lez Domonte.

The Spanish composer Ernesto Halffter left quite a legacy of piano music and Mr. Gonzí¡lez navigates all of the music beautifully. The recordings are warm and inviting and the music is rich with melody and impressionistic influences. Some of the pieces sound like mid-century French composers with their various takes on Spanish sound colors. As a student of Ravel and Les Six, it is hardly surprising that they would share musical languages.

I enjoyed every piece on this disc and I’m now tracking down scores for my own nefarious purposes. Of particular interest to me were his two piano sonatas. Mr. Halffter approaches the sonata from the tradition of Dominico Scarlatti and the other Spanish harpsichordists of the 17th century. Sometimes I dread seeing “piano sonata” in a mid-20th century composers’ output. The works are usually heavy and dense, as if each and every note was channeling Beethoven and Liszt. Both sonatas by Mr. Halffter are much lighter and enjoyable. What I hear is well made music and not an epic tome of somber compositional prowess. The second sonata, specifically referencing Scarlatti in the title, is playful and quirky and proof positive that sonatas can, and should, be fun and still dramatic and worthwhile.

On disc one, Dos piezas cubanas hit one of my soft spots. The slow Habaí±era is lush and reminds me of some of my favorite slow Joplin rags. I just fall into the smooth harmonies and meandering tune and wash away for a while. The Pregon that follows is more dance-like and energetic, but still graceful and rich with a sultry attitude. I notice that I’m using the word “rich” a lot in describing the music. I hate to sound like someone without a thesaurus, but rich, lush, warm, just fit this recording so well.

The cornerstone of the second disc is Suite de las Doncellas, the piano reduction of Mr. Halffter’s ballet Sonatina. The dance elements are quite easy to call to mind and yet I don’t feel like I’m missing much musical substance in hearing the piano alone. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve tracked down an orchestral recording and look forward to its arrival. The dance episodes are generally light and playful with a keen sense of rhythmic vitality. This piece strikes me as a choreographer’s dream.

The three brief four-hand pieces that close the disc, Tres piezas infantiles are light and sparkly with a real sense of wit and charm. There are enough “wrong note” moments to surprise and engage any listener, regardless of the age suggested by the title.

In general, if you like the Spanish-inspired pieces by early 20th century French impressionists, then I heartily suggest you go straight to the source and hear these pieces. The performances are excellent and the music always brings a smile to my face. From the quality of the recording, it is a safe assumption that Mr. Gonzí¡lez was smiling, too.

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