It so happens I have been immersing myself recently in the less satisfactory aspects of Spanish history . Soon after her greatest sixteenth- century composer , Tomás Luis de Victoria , returned from Italy to his native land, Philip II launched his armada against Elizabeth ‘s England , suffering far more than a singed beard. And the Inquisition had already been supervising its bonfires for more than a century, an entertainment that continued till 1834, only a few years before the birth of certain composers on this CD.
Ravel may indeed have considered Boléro his masterpiece , and that ‘Unfortunately, there’s no music in it.’ Its music, so far as its endless crescendo takes it, was inspired by the Arab legacy of El-Andalus, before Catholic Spain reasserted itself with such a vengeance. And thus it has been with other French composers, from Bizet ‘s Carmen on, inspired by local gipsy music. Chabrier was there in autumn 1882: ‘What an eyeful we’re getting of Andalusian behinds wiggling like frolicsome snakes!’
He jotted down much music, and the result was España .
The Spanish are not very fond of the French at the moment, because so many Basque refugees have slipped over the border to safety. But French music has paid continuous musical tribute to the neighbour across the Pyrenees, as Goldstone and Clemmow so admirably demonstrate in pieces of coruscating brilliance . Chaminade used to be a household name, and at the age of twenty-four she wrote a comic opera for private performance with the same La Sévillane title as this brilliant two- piano piece .
Saint-Saëns had a multitude of musical gifts, as Wagner recognized in 1860, when in Paris for ill-fated Tannhäuser performances : ‘I thus learned to appreciate the skill and talent of this young musician , which was simply incredible.’ He had both superb accuracy and memory . He became later an inveterate globe-trotter; hence his infectious La jota aragonese .
This joyous recital includes also music from as far afield as Russia , a country no more able to resist the lure of Spain than the rest of us.