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Enrique* Granados' music has enthralled me since my teenage years, when I was introduced to his opera Goyescas by one of Raleigh's more flamboyant pianists and vocal coaches. The stage work, premiered at the Met in 1916 and based (I was later to learn) on a collection of piano pieces of the same name, is tinged with tragedy because the composer died soon after its premiere at the age of 49. American pianist Mac McClure, UNC-trained but based for years in Spain and now in Columbia, S.A., explained the composer's death to a small crowd in Chapel Hill after his all-Granados recital with Argentine-Spanish mezzo-soprano Marisa Martins.
Granados came to America for the premiere of Goyescas, which occurred on January 28, 1916. The composer had booked passage directly back to Spain but was invited to perform at the White House, so he took another ship to Liverpool, where he embarked aboard Sussex for Dieppe. That ship was torpedoed by the Germans on March 24, 1916, and the composer drowned while attempting to rescue his wife.
In UNC's Person Hall, an intimate jewel of a recital room, Martins and McClure offered a program listed as "The Young Lovers" (Los majos enamorados), after the subtitle of the Goyescas piano suite, op. 15. The evening of course offered much more than this, for it addressed, as he said in his introduction, love, loss – separation and death – and recovery. The music was drawn from Goyescas, the twelve Tonadillas en estilo antiguo (poems by Fernando Periquet), several of the seven Canciones amatorias, and two singletons.
The full program is listed here:
Los requiebros (Goyescas No. 1)
La maja de Goya (Tonadillas No. 8)
El tralalá y el punteado (Tonadillas No. 7)
Amor y odio (Tonadillas No. 1)
El majo tímido (Tonadillas No. 5)
El majo olvidado (Tonadillas No. 4)
Callejeo (Tonadillas No. 2)
El mirar de la maja (Tonadillas No. 6)
Las currutacas modestas (Tonadillas No. 12)
El fandango del candil (Goyescas No. 3)
[Quejas, o] La maja y el ruiseñor (Goyescas No. 4)
Las majas dolorosas (¡Oh, muerte cruel!, ¡Ay, majo de mi vida!, and De aquel majo amante) (Tonadillas Nos. 9-11)
Cançó d'amor (in Catalan) (1902)
Elegía eterna (in Catalan) (1914)
Serranas de Cuenca (Iban al pinar) (Canciones amatorias No. 6)
Lloraba la niña (Llorad, corazón, que tenéis razón) (Canciones amatorias No. 3)
Gracia mía (Canciones amatorias No. 7)
Encore: No lloréis ojuelos (Canciones amatorias No. 5)
The three Goyescas pieces, for solo piano, were radiantly played, with spellbinding insight despite a few memory slips that were discreetly covered. We've had the pleasure of hearing McClure on numerous occasions, over the years. He remains one of our very finest keyboard artists, so his recurring visits here are always causes for celebration.
The lack of texts and translations was the evening's chief liability, but that said, Martins is a quite overwhelming interpretive artist, her dramatic qualities surely informed by her vast operatic experience, so only a stone could have failed to be moved by these songs and her renditions of them. This was the first time we have heard her "live," but her recordings, for Spanish labels, have long occupied prime places in our collection, partly due to her supreme artistry and partly due to their immense value as documents of important but generally neglected literature (by Montsalvatge, Mompou, Albéniz, Borras, and others). Her voice is astonishing in terms of its range, which extends from the tenor register to high soprano (and with no perceptible breaks) and in terms of her superb technical control of dynamics, breath, phrasing, and color. She acts within a limited scope as dictated by recital constraints – it would be a treat to experience her on the operatic stage, as residents of Madrid will do this spring in one of Montsalvatge's operas.
Put these two together and great things can happen, as was the case in Chapel Hill on this occasion. Indeed it would be hard to imagine any two living artists who could do greater justice to this music. This was a stem-winder that those who heard it will surely long remember.
Granados seems rarely to get his due. Years after I "discovered" Goyescas I was dismayed to find that the then-new New Grove devoted only a little over two columns to the composer, appending a woefully incomplete works list. This concert did wonders to bring his music to wider public attention. It's a shame that it drew such a small spring-break audience on an evening when Dook was whipping UNC at the ACC tourney in Brooklyn.
For photos of the paintings and musical examples of Goyescas, click here.
For much more information about the Granados anniversaries (the 150th of his birth, in 2017, and the 100th of his death, in 2016), click here.
This program will be repeated at Haverford College in Pennsylvania on March 15. For details, click here.
*The composer's first name was given as Enric in the program in keeping with Spanish custom.