GRANADOS Dante. Night of the Dead Man
Naxos’s centenary survey of Granados’s orchestral music continues with a second disc from the Barcelona Symphony Orchestra under Pablo González, and like the first (5/16) it contains several premiere recordings – three, in fact. The most substantial is a symphonic poem dating from 1897, La nit del mort, to which Granados gave the forbidding subtitle ‘poem of desolation’. Well, it sounds like a rather enjoyable desolation: a subtle, Impressionistic world straight out of César Franck or early Debussy. If we don’t hear this 10 minute piece more often it’s probably because six minutes in, after a tenor solo from Death himself (with eerie pizzicato and a snaking bass clarinet), it launches into a foursquare chorus on the Spanish equivalent of ‘Dulce et decorum’.
But that first section shows González and his orchestra at their best, with grainy strings, piquant soft-edged woodwinds and a natural, musicianly way of shaping a phrase. Those qualities are all in evidence in two short gypsy dances and the familiar Goyescas Intermezzo; the slightly hazy Naxos sound complements performances that are affectionate and characterful but which, in the last analysis, smoulder rather than blaze.
That’s particularly the case with the largest work on the disc, the two-movement, 34-minute symphonic poem Dante. Apparently contemporaries compared it favourably to Elgar’s First. I wouldn’t go quite that far – the ideas aren’t strong enough and the Tristan influences aren’t fully assimilated – but it’s lush, atmospheric and, in its own way, haunting. González’s expansive performance has stiff competition from Adrian Leaper’s altogether more lustrous Gran Canaria Philharmonic on ASV, though the mezzo Gemma Coma-Alabert makes an affecting Francesca da Rimini. Nonetheless, a welcome addition to the still surprisingly patchy Granados discography.