Guillermo González

Ernesto Halffter: Piano Music

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Ernesto Halffter: Piano Music Review

by James Manheim

This double CD serves as a full survey of the piano music of Spanish composer Ernesto Halffter, a student of Manuel de Falla and an important figure of the interwar generation. Halffter lived until 1989, and the program includes works written in the 1940s and beyond; disc one is rounded off with a few nifty homenajes (homages) to other composers that Halffter wrote at the very end of his life. It is not only those works that reflect the styles of other composers; Halffter's music is colorful, but some of it lacks a distinctive personality. In the 1920s, however, he was onto something distinctive: he combined Spanish idioms with the astringent sounds of Stravinsky and the French neo-classicists, pushing his sound back toward the French mainstream without losing the rhythmic vigor of the music he grew up on. He took older Spanish music, specifically that of Domenico Scarlatti, as an inspiration, and in his piano music he cultivated sharp, percussive textures. One of the two sonatas on the disc is explicitly designated as an homage to Scarlatti, but his influence can be heard in the dry, brilliant gestures of the shorter pieces as well. Pianist Guillermo González emphasizes the edginess, perhaps too much so, by striking the keys as sharply as a New Orleans bluesman trying to cut through the noise of a crowded room. He is obviously enamored of Halffter's music, however, and you can sample the entrancing Marche joyeuse (Joyous March) for an example of the unusual ecstatic quality that Halffter's music has at its best. Probably a lot of Halffter for the casual buyer, but plenty of small gems for lovers of Spanish music of the last century.

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