ESPANA Michel Block, piano. O.M. RECORDS OM80501 (DDD); 73:05 Produced by Jonathan B. Wearn (Distributed by Albany). Albeniz: Espana. FALLA: Four Spanish Pieces. GRANADOS: Spanish Dances: Nos. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 10, 12, Escenes poeticas.
About Every eight years, someone manages to get Michel Block into a recording studio, so we have something to look forward to at the end of the century. In the meantime, since his previous efforts on behalf of Albeniz, Schumann, and Scriabin are hard to find, we'll have to content ourselves with this collection of Spanish favorites. Much of the music is introspective and responds very well to Block's gentle caress; he's one pianist who can really make the hammers disappear when the mood is on him. I would characterize his performances as generally subdued, occasionally dreamy, and, at times, rhythmically quirky but even though no one plays the music quite this way (it's usually done in a snappier, flashier fashion by the better Spanish pianists), Block is completely convincing and the producer had provided just the kind of miking to allow the piano's sound to coalesce. One of the best Spanish piano recitals you will likely to hear by one of the greatest pianist you will likely not hear (he no longer plays in public); let's hope he can be tempted back into a recording studio before 1999.
LISZT: Benediction de Dieu dans las solitude. ll pensleroso. Peter noster. Spozallzio. Hymne de l'enfant a son revell. Marche funebre. Angelus! Preire sux anges gardiens. Funerallies. Michel Block, piano. O.M. RECORDS OM 80504 (DDD); 67:08. Produced by Jonathan R. Wearn. (Distributed by Albany.)
This is the fourth recent release by Michel Block in a series by Opus Magnum. As I found out from the first three, Block is a highly individualistic, idiosyncratic artist, with some of his idiosyncrasies being exasperating, especially so with pacing. But I also found that he's an exceptionally sensitive, probing artist, with much to offer. This disc has no idiosyncrasies, but it had a great deal of that sensitivity and penetration to the core of the music. Four of the pieces here are from the set Liszt called Poetic and Religious Harmonies, and the others are from Year of Pilgrimage. Block brought them together either because of their explicit religious connotations or because of what he must consider their implicit connections to religion; hence the disc's title, The Holy Music Of Franz Liszt. For years I considered several of these pieces inconsequential, but Block's alternately subtle and powerful, poetic and expressive playing has changed my opinion.
This is especially true of Benediction, an eighteen minute work that contains some of Liszt's most unusual ideas - it is, I think, an important piece. Block's phrasing all through the disc is full of meaning, the kind of playing that makes the listener think "this is the way it should go." Even the Pater noster, which I still think is boring, gets a committed, deeply felt performance. The most well-known piece here, Funerailles gives Block a chance to exhibit his dynamic range, which goes from an almost inaudible whisper to to a thunderous roar, almost orchestral in its huge sonority - one of the most impressive recordings of the music I know. The reproduction is excellent, but a couple of passages in Funerailles made me wonder whether the piano had been properly adjusted.
As with the other releases in this series, we are given examples of Block's writings. Obviously, his approach to music is colored by the idea in the writing. Ordinarily, a reviewer might be expected to address such connections. But Block's concept of reality is so far from mine that I'd prefer not to comment on what he says. Rather than read his prose, I'll be content with listening to him play piano, which he does supremely well.