Isaac Albéniz's piano work 'Suite Iberia' is arguably the greatest masterpiece of...
Matthew Shorter 2003
Isaac Albéniz's piano work Suite Iberia is arguably the greatest masterpiece of Spanish music of any age. Its twelve movements, a series of picturesque pieces evoking the Spanish landscape and loosely based on traditional dance rhythms and folk material, have been arranged in countless ways - for orchestra, two pianos, guitar, even woodwind. In this disc for the first time the work has been arranged for three guitars, by Danish guitarist Christophe Dejour, and recorded by him alongside Frank Massa and Thomas Winterheik as the Trio Campanella.
The results are spellbinding. You know you're in for a treat from the very first notes of the opening Evocación. Never was a piece more aptly named - you can close your eyes and see a world coming to life as the trio unfolds Albéniz's richly nuanced harmony. And interpreting Dejour's totally assured arrangement, the trio coaxes a tapestry of textures out of the three guitars, with endlessly varying combinations of arpeggiated and chordal playing, different stroke techniques, harmonics and staccato, and exploiting the timbres of upper and lower registers. The backdrop is consistently sonorous, delicate, subtle and precise. The weave created by three guitars playing together brings out the subtleties of Albéniz's counterpoint even more than the original piano version, where foreground melodies tend to be favoured over the beautifully turned internal lines. In this arrangement the boundary between melody and accompaniment is often deliberately blurred.
If you like your Spanish guitar music in tight trousers and with castanets clicking, this probably won't be to your taste. This is not tourist brochure stuff and hearing the Trio Campanella playing Iberia on guitars instead of on the piano, the music feels less like a typical scene that's been hung in a frame in a gallery and more like the experience of walking around Andalucía. What luck, then, that they don't ruin the experience by indulging in the kind of self-conscious exoticism which sometimes mars performances of music with these kind of folkloric roots.
Claude Debussy once said of Iberia, a work which was to influence his own composition: "Never has music achieved such diversified, such colourful impressions: one's eyes close, as though dazzled by beholding such a wealth of imagery." The Trio Campanella would not have disappointed him.
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