Review: Granados’ Goyescas / José Menor

Goyescas is a compelling CD from pianist José Menor, a stirring demonstration of love and respect for a composer’s output. Part-research, part-performance. As a whole: a heart-warming labour of love.

That’s not to say its an easy listen. Enrique Granados’ return to piano writing after the death of his friend Isaac Albéniz is a dramatic statement, almost operatic in scale.

That comes across in the range of characters José Menor brings to the platform. Goyescas has pride, prowess, and sacrifice, with a hefty dose of Iberian-fuelled yearning thrown in as well.

The ability José Menor demonstrates to shift between so many different characters in such a short space of time makes much of this recording not just a demonstration of physical dexterity, but agility too.

Those shifts were evident in the way that the quieter passages provided relief from the harsher, brighter sections in the first and second movements – emotional lay-bys from the intense bravado of the louder sections.

Things settle the darker the story gets. The Fandango, for example, demonstrates remarkable control. The blistering range of colours and textures in the space of the opening bars illustrates the demands a composer like Granados makes on the instrumentalist. So many rubatos. So many dramatic changes of dynamics. This music isn’t for the faint-hearted performer by any means.

Quejas, o La maja y el ruisenor is where things feels most comfortable for me, though that might be down to the constantly shifting harmonies. In his rich informative sleeve notes. José Menor points to Wagnerian influences in the tracks that follow this one, but I hear a whiff of the Tristan chord in this one – that moment when you’re left hanging is delicious. This is a ravishingly dark movement, packed full of challenging harmonic progressions. Grace concludes the movement but not before we’ve explored something really quite bleak.

In the remaining tracks after the epilogue – in some cases transcriptions of music that formed Granados’ opera of the same name – José Menor feels like he’s relaxed a little. He sparkles and sizzles as though he’s thinking the hard graft is over, and he can indulge himself in a glorious sequence of encores.

I found this a demanding and rewarding listen. At a point in time when curation is the buzzword, there’s something rather old-school about sitting down to one man’s 77-minute recording.

I experience a connection with the pianist when I listen to this CD as a whole. That is quite some achievement considering this is music I’d never heard before. If you still need guidance, then just reflect on the breathtaking range of speed changes José Menor brings to his performance. I have absolutely no idea how its possible to maintain that kind of commitment in performance.

Goyescas is available via Jose Menor’s website

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