Reviews

 

The Albuquerque Journal (online version only)
April 2, 2017
Review by D.S. Crafts

Spanish composer Enrique Granados lived through the end of the 19th century and into the 20th. Today he is primarily known for his piano suite Goyescas and the popular Spanish Dances, favorite works of guitarists. Last week after a week-long series of lectures culminating in a final concert entitled The Granados Project, Maxine Thévenot's[cq] group Polyphony: Voices of New Mexico presented little known works by the composer as well as a revival of his Canto de las estellas (The Song of the Stars). Much of the concert was strictly instrumental, but three pieces highlighted the excellent voices of the choir.

The lion's share of the music went to pianist Douglas Riva[cq], the leading exponent of the piano music of Granados. The echoey atmosphere of St. John's Cathedral may not be an ideal acoustic environment for a solo piano, but Riva plays with an elegant persuasiveness easily overcoming the drawbacks of the venue.

He began with Capricho Español, a bravura and convivial salon piece typical of the period providing a nice vehicle for him to commence his lengthy section of the program. Cuentos de la juventud (Scenes from Youth) consists of ten short pieces influenced by the works of Robert Schumann of similar names and themes. The work features generally bright harmonic colors with simple yet poignant melodies.

Esceneas romanticas (Romantic scenes) is in two short movements, a Mazurka, highly reminiscent of Chopin, and a tender Epilogo. Violinist Michael Shu[cq] joined Riva for Romanza, another short salon work.

Escenas religiosa (Religious scene) for piano, violin and organ (Edmund Connolly[cq]), the least effective work on the program, proved quiet and austere until several extremely loud organ notes which seemed to come out of nowhere.
Polyphony, accompanied by Connolly, sang the short but tunefull Salve Regina, music hearkening back to the days of the Spanish Renaissance.

Polyphony and Connolly at the piano were joined by members of Las Cantantes and oboist Kevin Vigneau for two songs of New Mexico composer John Donald Robb, the haunting I am Very Old Tonight, and Tears, the text from a Chinese poem.

All hands were on deck for the primary work of the evening Canto de les estrelles. Written in 1911 but never published, it was not revived until 2007 due to various legal difficulties. Described as a poem for piano, organ and voices, Canto begins with a long piano introduction before the women's choir enters with the words, “Oh, infinite vastness and stillness of space!”

The work is steeped in late-Romantic chromaticism, in its last throes before the modernism of the 20th century. Its harmonic progressions are highly reminiscent of Cesar Franck. The text, written in response to the poetry of the German Heinrich Heine, speaks from the point of view of the stars themselves. The line “...wild delirium of love, whose fever we [the stars] can never know!” neatly summarizes this ethereal work.