Delicias, indeed. When I started to listen to this disc, I thought two pianos couldn’t possibly capture the essence of this music, especially the dazzling coloristic effects that Chabrier and Rimsky-Korsakov achieved in their orchestration. But surprise! The arrangements —some lovingly done by the composers themselves—and playing are both so spirited and accomplished that I’m entirely won over. Plus there are some gems here that are virtually unknown in any format, such as Saint-Saëns’ Jota and Chaminade’s La Sevillane. The latter is pretty and appealing as is all the music I’ve heard by this composer, but there’s more of Paris salon than of Seville dance hall about it. On the other hand, Saint-Saens’ work is a short fantasy rather than a straight-up presentation of the famous dance melody and represents a splashy, quirky, thoroughly virtuosic take on it.
Some of the arrangements augment rather than diminish the original forces. Cuban composer Lecuona’s Malaguena is a duo-piano arrangement of an original solo piano work, as is Granados’ Quejas ó la maja y el ruisenor (“Laments, or the Maiden and the Nightingale”) from his Goyescas, this piece based on a folksong of Valencia, portraying a maiden pining for her lost love to the accompaniment of a nightingale’s song.
While some listeners might gripe that there’s enough duo-piano music around that one doesn’t need to arrange concerted works like the Falla (which, I guess, doesn’t extend to the Rodrigo since in this case the composer did the arranging himself), I find Falla’s orchestration so subdued (not to say drab) that this the arrangement of Nights in the Gardens of Spain doesn’t compromise the local color of the original. It certainly preserves the delicately scented nocturnal atmosphere of the orchestral version.
Then we have Tarrega’s sweetly sentimental Gran Vals, which includes a “musical phrase that has surely been heard the most often in history.” Really? Yes! You see, the phrase in question was chosen by Nokia to be the ringtone on its mobile telephones; when you hear that da-da-da-da da-da-da-da da-da-da-da-da-da, you’ll have a serious case of deja-vu that might find you thinking “Turn that damn thing off!” But stick with Tarrega’s charming little ditty —and with the whole program—for a most enjoyable musical tour of Spain, very attractively, and very stereophonically recorded as well.