MIGNONE; ALBENIZ Piano Concertos
Don’t let the strange cover photo put you off (conductor looking into camera, soloist looking in a completely different direction). This is a valuable release and very well recorded (Ben Connellan in the Blackheath Concert Halls).
The Concerto by Francisco Mignone (1897-1986) – composed in 1958, though you’d never guess from its lyrical, tonal language – is given an authentic reading by Clélia Iruzun, a friend of the composer since childhood. Her booklet note tells us his widow, Maria Josephina, learnt the work with him and that ‘during our recent meetings I played it for her and she gave me valuable advice’. This seems to be the only available recording of the piece, something I find rather surprising, for it might well be, as Iruzun avers, ‘the best piano concerto written by a Brazilian composer’. It is certainly more enjoyable than any of those by Mignone’s more famous compatriot Villa-Lobos. You can hear in the course of its three movements echoes of Prokofiev, Rachmaninov and Ravel but also the playful exuberance and rhythmic vitality of South America. My guess is that this cracking performance will tempt many others to take it up.
Iruzun pairs it with Albéniz’s Piano Concerto, written quite early in his career (1887) and still relatively unknown. The composer of Iberia has yet to emerge with his unique voice but that does not mean the work is unattractive or poorly crafted. In fact, the reverse is true (you would, for instance, be hard of heart not to respond to the first movement’s second subject), and van Steen and Iruzun combine to give it its finest outing on disc since Felicja Blumental in the 1970s (both far preferable to the lacklustre Melani Mestre on Hyperion), though I am unsure why Somm lists the second movement simply as Andante when in the score it is clearly headed Reverie et Scherzo.
Iruzun ends the disc with two solo works apiece from each composer, well played but very much space fillers. I should have preferred another piano/orchestra work: there was room for Tavares’s riotous Concerto in Brazilian Forms.