Expect Spanish sunshine, dry heat and languorous lyricism as Garrick Ohlsson guides us through piano music by Manuel de Falla (1876-1946), transcriptions and originals. That may be all you need to know, save that the recording is bright and clear and the annotation is informative, for much of the music is familiar, taken from The Three-Cornered Hat and El amor brujo (Love, the magician) – the latter including ‘Ritual Fire Dance’ – and any thoughts that these arrangements, even though they are made by the composer, might lack for colour and vibrancy, are disarmed by Ohlsson’s wonderful artistry.
He opens with a celebratory flourish for the first of the Cuatro piezas españolas, and immediately establishes his affection for the music, here made especially attractive by it not being forced; indeed Ohlsson’s relaxed yet focussed approach pays many dividends of pleasure and there is plenty of spiky attack, with poise unaffected, when required. Ohlsson then does a shapely job with three dances from The Three-Cornered Hat, dynamically touched with rhythms crisp, so too for Love, the magician – full of combustion and sultriness: in the latter category is a particularly lovely ‘Pantomime’. Between the selections from the ballet scores is Falla’s rather Debussian treatment of ‘Song of the Volga Boatmen’ (Canto de los remeros del Volga), which rises to a tumultuous climax, and Falla’s homage to Debussy (who died in 1918) is a complementary inclusion; Homenaje ‘Pour le tombeau de Claude Debussy’, originally for guitar, is a sad Spanish dance that references one of the Frenchman’s Préludes, the mood then enlivened with music from Falla’s opera La vida breve.
Ohlsson’s Falla survey ends with Fantasia Baetica, 1919, written for Arthur Rubinstein. Baetica was the Roman word for Andalusia, and this is the longest work here, albeit ‘only’ thirteen minutes, even if too long for Rubinstein it seems. Ohlsson – pulsating, gratifying, imaginative – paints pictures and is at-one with the music’s indigenous song and dance, without being over-percussive or diluting the passion or stifling the dreaminess to conclude a recital that is in many ways a revelation and with numerous calls on the attention.