ALBÉNIZ Iberia 1; GRANADOS Goyescas; MOMPOU Variations
Sebastian Stanley is a young English pianist of Spanish origin who suitably entitles his programme El amor y la muerte, the fifth and greatest of Granados’s Goyescas. Suitably, because the agony and ecstasy at the heart of
Catholic Spain permeates both the Goyescas and Albéniz’s Iberia, twin peaks of the Spanish keyboard repertoire. Both are ultra-demanding cycles enshrining deeply poetic hearts beneath a profusion of ornament. For Ernest Newman the Goyescas are “piano music of the purest kind” giving “the sense of passing the fingers through masses of richly coloured jewels”. For Messiaen, Albéniz was “parmi les etoiles” and Iberia received no less praise from Debussy. Certainly Stanley could hardly be more serious or committed to his complex and elusive challenge. But therein surely lies the rub. Much of the time I wished he could forget the microphone’s intimidating scrutiny and aim for a greater freedom, élan and aplomb. Much of his playing is ponderous when it should take wing and achieve a higher degree of spontenaiety and impetus. A certain heavy-handedness, too, makes Mompou’s more limpid magic in his Variations (with their phantom memories of Chopin and, in Var 8, of Poulenc) outstay its welcome. Stanley’s Fazioli sounds close and opaque, yet even though there are superlative discs of these works – Alicia de Larrocha in both the Goyescas and Iberia (EMI 06/10) and Jonathan Plowright in the Mompou (Harmonia Mundi, 04/10) – this particular recital is a reminder of the incomparable richness of the finest Spanish piano music.