José Menor delivers eloquent tribute on 100th anniversary of Granados death

Sat Mar 26, 2016 at 1:13 pm
José Menor performed a recital of Granados piano music Thursday night at Weill Hall.

José Menor performed a recital of Granados piano music Thursday night at Weill Hall.

Enrique Granados came to New York in 1916 for the Metropolitan Opera premiere of his Goyescas, based on a lyrical piano suite inspired by the artwork of the Spanish master Goya. The Spanish composer and pianist left the city basking in acclaim for his work, but died tragically on the trip home when a German u-boat sank his ferry in the English Channel.

As the site of his last artistic conquest, New York was an appropriate setting Thursday night for a piano concert of Granados’ unabashedly romantic, Goya-inspired music. Even more so with José Menor, a young pianist and composer from the same Catalonia region of Spain, at the keyboard. One century to the day after Granados’ untimely death, Menor gave an impassioned and eloquent performance of his predecessor’s music at Carnegie Hall’s intimate Weill Recital Hall.

Granados’ old-world leanings were apparent not just in his choice of Goya as a muse, but in his more rapturous melodies. Domenico Scarlatti was a major influence, and Menor underlined the Scarlatti-inspired effusiveness in Granados’ own writing.

  At the same time, Menor was a concise and efficent interpreter: expressive yet not extravagant, emotional, but not overly decorative. If anything, Menor sounded a shade more attuned to the quieter side of his subject — to the Granados who could also channel blazing technique and dramatic fireworks into a more subtle and downtempo voice.

   The Goyescas ranges across all of this tonal topography, in a program combining every known piece of music that Granados composed under the Goya banner. Menor’s performance opened with five preliminary or transitional musical sketches that do not appear on albums containing what are billed as the “complete” Goyescas. 

   This section began moodily with a piece called Crepúsculo (Twilight) and then branched out, thematically and rhythmically, to Jácara (named for a voice-and-guitar musical genre from Goya’s day), then Serenata Goyesca, and Reverie (the last based on an improvisation that Granados recorded while in New York).

   The music evoked seemingly every station of Spanish life in Goya’s time–regal and rustic, European and Moorish. Menor used the whole instrument, deftly working keys and pedals to put across the shifts in color, volume and temperament.

  The sketches section ended with Intermezzo, which Granados wrote in New York as incidental music for the opera. The piece also developed a life of its own, becoming one of Granados’ most popular and enduring works, performed in arrangements for full orchestra as well as solo piano. The piano-only version is arguably a less rewarding listen than the symphonic version, but Menor gave Intermezzo a symphonic richness.

The evening’s centerpiece was Goyescas — Los Majos Enamorados (The Gallants in Love), the piano suite that Granados divided into two “books” and would later reconstitute for his opera. Together, books one and two describe the arc of a love, from courtship to death, glimpsed through various Goya paintings and drawings that Granados found apt to a story told through music.

Los Requiebros (The Compliments) was a big, exuberant start to the romance. The Coloquio en la Reja (Conversation at the Window) that followed was subdued at the outset — more like a Chopin Nocturne than anything in its depiction of lover’s dialogue. But it blossomed to encompass the joys, agonies and attendant sparring of romantic entanglement

El Fandango de Candil (Fandango by Candlelight), depicted a fight between two male suitors vying for one woman’s heart, and Menor attacked the piece’s triple-time cacophony with gusto. Menor had to summon all his considerable technique for the first book’s finale, Quejas (Complaint), with its rapid-fire, one-handed trills rising and falling over dense arpeggios, before the musical storm settled into a kind of truce.

El Amor y La Muerte, signaled the end of the affair, with Menor tolling doom-laden chords but also giving attentive voice to the wistful, plaintive passages that communicated a coming to terms with loss.

  Menor — and Granados — finished on a less dire note with El Pelele (Escena Goyesca), an epilogue inspired by the whimsical Goya painting of four girls bouncing a straw man — the “pelele” — on a blanket, in a game replete with commentary on the eternal battle of the sexes.

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