Isaac Albeñiz: Discography and Remarks

Isaac Albeñiz recorded three cylinders around 1903. Two were first issued on IPA/Desmar 109, an LP; all three have been issued on CD on VAIA/IPA 1001. The first two are allegro non troppo in f# minor, and have a strong "Spanish" flavor. The third is more allegretto grazioso, and seems to be in D major (the sound on this cylinder is that dim!). All three are in triple meter and range from 1:32 to 2:06 in duration.

The first improvisation has a strong upbeat structure in two bar units (1-2). The tempo is almost parlando style: The underlying feel is of an even tempo, but it's difficult to find three beats exactly the same length, though the tempo gets steadier as Albeñiz warms to his task. The melody stands out in high relief, with a slight accent on the syncopated high note. At one climactic downbeat (:46) Albeñiz breaks his hands prominently, and there are other more discreet breaks, not just between the two hands but also within the right hand (for instance, around 1:20). This latter trait is often found in pianists earlier than Albeñiz, but was disappearing during his lifetime.

The climactic +6 chord at 1:50 is accompanied by a large ritard, followed by a dramatic accelerando to the end. The breaking of the hands - especially at expressive climaxes - the rolling of chords, and the expressive modification of the tempo mark this as a typically romantic performance of the period, though it's somewhat more restrained than one might find in Pachmann or Paderewski.

The second improvisation is a dance tune that alternates strongly rhythmic passages with parlando passages in octaves between the hands. The dissonances in the rhythmic passages - sharp fourths that Albeñiz blurs into the following perfect 5ths - are sharply accented; in the parlando passages, many subtle agogics give life to the rhythm. Albeñiz uses dramatic dynamic contrasts to complement the contrasts between the two moods.

The third improvisation has the steadiest tempo and the most songlike, lyrical feeling. The sound, unfortunately, is very dim.

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