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Hyperion Records

CDA67889 - Turina: Chamber Music
Clotilde and Elena on the Rocks, Javea (1905) by Joaquin Sorolla y Bastida (1863-1923)
Private Collection / Photo © Christie's Images / Bridgeman Art Library, London

Recording details: December 2010
Henry Wood Hall, London, United Kingdom
Produced by Andrew Keener
Engineered by Simon Eadon
Release date: April 2012
Total duration: 72 minutes 12 seconds


'There's a gentle melancholy to overtly Spanish pieces such as La oración del torero and a warm, beguiling tunefulness to … the Piano Quartet, Op 67, all seductively played by The Nash Ensemble' (The Daily Telegraph)

'This excellent CD of chamber music … the performances throughout by these outstanding musicians, who are clearly wholly committed to Turina's music, are deeply impressive. The recording quality is also first-rate. Hyperion's world-renowed production values are equally consistently admirable and fully maintained here' (International Record Review)

'The near-masterpieces here … are the splendid Piano Trio Op 35, the A minor Piano Quartet Op 67, and the Violin Sonata, played with searing tone and rhythmic dash by Marianne Thorsen and Ian Brown, mainstays of the wonderful Nash Ensemble. Lawrence Power's viola and Paul Watkins' cello shine in, respectively, the Escena andaluza and the songful tenor/bass melodies of the trio. It would be hard to imagine more compelling performances' (The Sunday Times)

'Played with relish and sensitivity … this is music that paints pictures and is imbued with Spanish sunshine and sensual nocturnes, the listener serenaded with expressive warmth and a wide palette of colour, all lovingly played' (Time Out)

Chamber Music
Vivo  [3'30]
Vivo  [2'20]
Sonate: Allegro  [6'32]

The colourful folk melodies and rhythms of Spain knit seamlessly with twentieth-century French compositional sophistication in Joaquín Turina’s chamber works. Born in Seville, Andalucia, the young composer went to study in Paris in 1905, where he was greatly attracted to the forward-looking style of the likes of Debussy—however, his musical course was altered when he encountered countrymen Falla and Albéniz, who encouraged him to write in a style that fully embraced his Andalucian musical heritage. Later in life the composer himself explained ‘my music is the expression of the feeling of a true Sevillian who did not know Seville until he left it’. The acclaimed Nash Ensemble here demonstrate what a satisfying artistic homecoming he made.

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Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
Joaquín Turina’s successful synthesis of the early-twentieth-century French School and Andalusian folklore, embodied in the classical genres of chamber music, was no small feat. As a Spanish composer seeking to express his national identity through chamber music, he had very few precedents to emulate.

Turina (1882–1949) was born in the city of Seville, deep in the heart of Andalusia. His father, like so many parents, hoped his son would enter a well-remunerated profession, such as medicine, but he acceded to his son’s desire to pursue music. Under the tutelage of the cathedral’s musical director, the young Turina’s gifts were revealed.

One of the challenges facing aspiring Spanish composers at this time was the long-standing and quixotic pursuit of Spanish opera. Turina’s biblically inspired opera La sulamita (‘The Shulamite’, from the Song of Solomon) met the same reception as so many of his countrymen’s operas—interest, even admiration, but little commercial success or critical acclaim. Lacking the opportunity to produce his opera, Turina turned to zarzuela, a uniquely Spanish form of opera with spoken dialogue. However, his first attempt at the genre, Fea y con gracia (‘Homely, but charming’), received only lukewarm reviews in Madrid.

At this point Turina faced another reality of the time—the irresistible lure of the dynamic musical scene in Paris. Arriving in 1905, he was warmly received by the large community of Spanish musicians living there, which included Isaac Albéniz and Manuel de Falla. Turina entered the Schola Cantorum, an institution with a conservative tilt, but he also found Debussy’s radical aesthetic appealing. The premiere of Turina’s Piano Quintet Op 1 was a milestone in his career, but not in the way one might imagine. Upon hearing this piece, Falla and Albéniz advised Turina to ‘listen to more familiar voices’, to embrace his heritage as an Andalusian musician. Albéniz is reported to have said : ‘You must give me your word that you will not write music like this again. You must base your art on Spanish popular song, on Andalusian music, because you are from Seville.’ In later years Turina would recall this conversation saying: ‘Those words were decisive for me, [and] they are a piece of advice that I have tried to follow throughout my career.’

The result of this encounter with Albéniz and Falla was an outpouring of music that established Turina as one of the outstanding Spanish composers of the early twentieth century. Graduating from the Schola in 1913 he returned to Madrid and immediately connected with the most prominent musicians in the capital city. His symphonic poem La procesión del Rocío, premiered under the baton of Enrique Fernández Arbós, received widespread acclaim. By now it was clear that the advice received from Albéniz and Falla was the guiding force behind his music. Nearly all of his works bore allusions to Spain, and more specifically to Andalusia. Titles such as Sinfonía sevillana (1920) were common.

In Madrid he worked in several mediums, premiering his symphonic works with Arbós and composing chamber and solo works for the guitar, piano, strings and voice. In addition, Turnia served as the choirmaster at the Teatro Real until its closure in 1925. Among the works of this period is the Piano Trio Op 35, which was awarded the National Music Prize in 1926. By 1930 he was appointed professor at the Real Conservatorio in Madrid. Turina’s fame extended beyond Madrid; in the spring of 1918 he had been invited by Diaghilev to conduct the orchestra of the Ballets Russes as they toured sixteen cities throughout Spain.

The Edad de Plata, or ‘Silver Age’, was a cultural renaissance in Spain during the 1910s and ’20s. Turina’s achievements contributed substantially to this vibrant climate. However, in 1931 Spain entered a period of political uncertainty that ended with national disaster. As Spanish society polarized during the last years of the Second Republic (1931–6), the spirit of the Edad de Plata was increasingly hard to sustain. It dissipated and was ultimately crushed by the Spanish Civil War (1936–9) and its aftermath.

With the end of hostilities in 1939, Turina was able to regain his footing, soon accepting both an appointment with the Music Commission of the Ministry of Education and an invitation from the Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando to join its ranks. By the time of his death in 1949 he was again highly regarded throughout the country. As a tribute to his contributions to Spanish culture he was awarded the Grand Cross of Alfonso the Wise.

Several factors informed Turina’s compositional style. We recall that his education at the Schola Cantorum in Paris was steeped in tradition, under the influence of Vincent d’Indy and César Franck. We also know that at the same time he was looking beyond these boundaries in the direction of Debussy. Yet these were not the only choices available to him. Albéniz and Falla reminded him that the question was not whether he should choose between these two camps, but rather whether he should mimic French models or reaffirm, and express through music, his identity as a Spaniard.

When Turina was inducted into the Academy of Fine Arts he delivered a discourse titled The Architecture of Music. In it he speaks of how harmony, melody and form have evolved through the ages and how variants of these basic elements define the music of a nation and of an era. As we discuss the works on the present recording we will follow Turina’s lead by highlighting features that define Turina’s chamber music in its national context, and discover how Turina incorporated the advice of his countrymen.

The opening passages of the Piano Quartet in A minor, Op 67, immediately announce an essential foundational element of Turina’s music. These melodic passages are constrained and mysterious, but distinctly Andalusian. They hearken to the ancient cante jondo, the serious ‘deep song’ of southern Spain, and become building blocks for the entire structure, appearing in the second and third movements as well, and thus giving the work a cyclical form. In another direct reference to folk music, passages of the second movement feature repeated chords in the piano and pizzicato in the strings which both allude to the guitar.

The Violin Sonata No 2 in G major, Op 82, subtitled ‘Sonata espagnola’, serves to illustrate how Turina reconciled his northern education and southern roots. For example, in the opening movement we are reminded of the strong tradition of variation form in Spanish music dating back to the sixteenth century. One such variation evokes a zortziko, a quintuple-metre dance from the Basque region. While many of the melodic lines may seem gypsy or specifically Andalusian in character, the harmonies employed do not necessarily derive from Spanish folk music. Rather, they reflect Turina’s admiration of his former Parisian colleagues, who were embellishing triadic harmonies with added pitches and at times abandoning the rules of functional harmony.

Escena andaluza, Op 7, for viola and piano quintet, is among the first works Turina wrote in response to the advice he received from Albéniz and Falla. The first movement, Crépuscule du soir (‘Twilight’), evokes the vision of the solo viola as a lone musician playing against the backdrop of twilight in an Andalusian town, represented by the rest of the ensemble. The movement unfolds as a serenade, perhaps to the musician’s beloved. The second movement, titled À la fenêtre (‘At the window’), hints at a dialogue between the lovers, as themes from the first movement are intertwined, unifying the two sections.

The Piano Trio No 1, Op 35, is another imaginative mixture of the learned style Turina acquired in Paris and folkloric inspiration provided by his homeland. The first movement is a prelude and fugue, blending the techniques of the contemporaneous French School with those of German masters such as Bach. The second movement is a theme and variations. As we pointed out in reference to the Violin Sonata, this form has a long tradition in Spanish music. In this case each of the variations evokes a dance from a different region of Spain: the muñeira, a miller’s dance from Galicia; the schotis, a dance of northern European origins but popular in Spain; the zortziko of the Basque region; the jota of Aragon; and the soleares of Turina’s native Andalucia. The third movement, in sonata form, reintroduces thematic materials from the first movement to give the entire opus a unifying ternary quality. The Piano Trio was dedicated to L’Infante Doña Isabel de Borbón and premiered in London on 5 July 1927.

The concluding work on this recording, La oración del torero, Op 34 (‘The bullfighter’s prayer’), is another example of the influence of folk music in Turina’s compositions. Originally this was composed for ‘laúd’ quartet. Translated strictly, ‘laúd’ means ‘lute’, but Turina was not referring to the lutes of the Renaissance or Baroque eras; these are Spanish folkloric instruments, more similar to mandolins with their pear-shaped bodies and doubled strings. As an ensemble they cover a wide range of pitches, with the bandurria and laudete playing the highest parts and the laúd tenor and laudón covering the tenor and bass ranges. Turina described the inspiration for this: ‘During an afternoon of bullfighting in the Madrid arena … I saw my work. I was in the court of horses. Behind a small door, there was a chapel, filled with incense, where toreadors went right before facing death. It was then that there appeared, in front of my eyes, in all its plenitude, this subjectively musical and expressive contrast between the tumult of the arena, the public that awaited the fiesta, and the devotion of those who, in front of this poor altar, filled with touching poetry, prayed to God to protect their lives.’ The piece was written in collaboration with the laúd ensemble Quarteto Aguilar in 1925. The following year Turina rearranged it for string quartet—the version heard here—as well as for both string orchestra and piano trio.

Common in present-day discussions about Spanish music is the term andalucismo. This can be used in a pejorative sense, describing an over-dependence on Andalusian motifs which risk being heard as cliché. It is important to realize that although these themes have indeed been exploited in the eight decades since the Edad de Plata, they were fresh and meaningful at the time Turina employed them. To appreciate fully Turina’s music, we as listeners must traverse the intervening decades and revel in andalucismo the way Turina did—to view his native land through the lens of a learned musician embracing his folkloric tradition. In Turina’s own words: ‘My music is the expression of the feeling of a true Sevillian who did not know Seville until he left it … yet, it is necessary for the artist to move away to get to know his country, just as it is for the painter who takes some steps backwards to be able to take in the complete picture.’

William C Krause © 2012

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