Monday 5 May 2014

Sebastian Stanley brings exceptional playing to his new recording of Granados’ Goyescas that he couples with the Danzas espanõlas on a release from EMEC Discos

Sebastian Stanley is a young and critically acclaimed English pianist of Spanish origin. Born in Andalucia he moved to the UK aged four and had his first piano lesson aged thirteen after expressing a sudden and extreme desire to learn. In 2008 he graduated with Distinction from the Royal College of Music with his Advanced PGDip after studying with Niel Immelman and Ruth Nye. He has most recently been working with the guidance of Christopher Elton, Head of Keyboard Studies at Royal Academy of Music.

Stanley has received master classes from Menahem Pressler, Shai Wosner, Claude Frank, Gary Graffman, Olga Kern, John Lill, Joanna MacGreggor and Stephen Kovacevich to name a few. Since graduating, Sebastian’s career has gone from strength to strength with his performances receiving highly praiseworthy reviews.

The winner of several international prizes including the coveted Chappell Medal at the RCM (2006), the London Emanuel Trophy (2007) and 1st Prize in the International Louise Henriette competition in Germany (2004), Stanley has given recitals around the world as well as at over 100 venues around the UK as a soloist for festivals, music clubs and concert societies. His concerto repertoire includes works by Tchaikovsky, Liszt, Rachmaninov, Beethoven, Schumann, Grieg, Mozart and Lambert.

Sebastian has been a regular accompanist for many instrumentalists and his permanent duo partnership with clarinetist, Jonathan Parkin has seen the pair give many recitals around Britain, with a strong focus on the British clarinet and piano repertoire. He has broadcast on BBC Radio 3’s In tune and Breakfast shows, Celtic Music Radio, and has been signed by the label EMEC Discos for whom his first disc El amor y la muerte has been released to critical acclaim.  

Sebastian Stanley’s latest release from EMEC Discos is a two disc set of works by Enrique Granados (1867-1916), his Danzas espanõlas and Goyescas.

E - 105/106
The first CD in this set brings us the Danzas espanõlas, Op.37 that appears in four volumes in 1890. The forward moving rhythmic qualities of Danza I are combined with a poetry that is well brought out by Stanley. He holds back in a way that adds a certain tension. Danza II ‘Oriental’ retains a sultry feel with this pianist displaying a light touch that creates a rather haunting quality at times. In Danza III, Stanley pulls as much interest as he can from the rather rustic opening theme. The second subject, with its Chopinesque trills, is most attractive.

Danza IV ‘Villanesca is nicely nuanced with this pianist’s transition into the central section nicely done and the striking rhythms of Danza V ‘Andaluza’ are well brought out. Stanley doesn’t rush these pieces, always structuring the music to bring out the atmosphere and poetry. Danza VI ‘Aragonesa’ builds in tempo to a fine pitch with Stanley giving the feel of a live performance, never holding back or providing too much polish that would rob this music of its rustic origins.

There is a great sense of rhythm in Danza VII ‘ Valenciana’, a lovely rhythmic bounce with fine intricate detail. Danza VIII brings a lovely atmosphere, a more sultry feel, before the stronger rhythms appear that firm up the music. Danza IX has a lovely firm, rich left hand motif in this equally atmospheric piece with some fine touches from Stanley in the more thoughtful passages.

In Danza X Stanley keeps the music moving with many fine, subtle features.  There are many attractive features to Granados’ Danza XI, something brought out by Stanley’s sensitive playing, fine pacing and sense of the overall structure in music that could sound fragmented in the wrong hands. The attractive dissonances of Danza XII are nicely brought out with a fine sense of atmosphere in this, the most unusual of the set, before a lovely coda.

There are many fine elements to these performances but it is the second disc that I found truly impressive. This disc features Granados’ Goyescas from 1911, a suite for piano, subtitled Los majos enamorados (The Gallants in Love) and inspired by the paintings of Francisco Goya (1746-1828). The suite was published in two books of three pieces each.

The first piece, Los requiebros, opens with a lovely flourish in this strong performance, full of fine little details, again showing this pianist’s fine touch. There are lovely rippling phrases and some attractive little rhythmic lilts. This is a very fine performance indeed.

Coloquio en la reja opens darkly with more, fine playing from Stanley, lovely dynamics allowing the underlying subtleties to emerge. He brings out all the subtle little inflections as well as providing some terrific swirls of sound.

With El Fandango del candil, Stanley points up the rhythms so well fine with immensely fluent playing, excellent rubato and such fine colouring of phrases.

Stanley brings much beauty to the lovely Quejas o La maja y el ruiseñor, with a natural rise and fall and some lovely little, delicate decorations. He gives just the right amount of weight to the occasionally more dynamic parts and some lovely fluidity of playing in the attractive coda.

There is certainly a fine weight to the opening of El amor y la muerte, full of drama, well caught by Stanley. When the lovely theme emerges from amidst the drama it is spellbinding as are the lovely limpid phrases that appear later, when the main theme appears again. There is some gorgeous, sensitive playing in the later stages of this piece leading right up to the coda.

With Epilogo, Stanley brings all the spectral feel needed, keeping together all the disparate elements of this piece and becoming quite forceful midway with some impressively fine playing. It is lovely when the theme appears, gently, before building in power and concluding quietly.

El Pelele is not strictly one of Goyescas but is usually included in most performances of the set. It certainly casts aside the gloomier feeling of the previous piece with music that is light and joyful with some beautifully fluent details from Stanley.

Sebastian Stanley is certainly a fine pianist. Whilst his Danzas espanõlas contain many fine things, it is the Goyescas that are truly impressive with some exceptional playing.

He receives an excellent recording made in the Auditorio Centro Cultural La Marina, Caja España, Zamora, Spain. There are informative booklet notes but unfortunately with occasional printing errors. The packaging places one disc above the other making it very tall which may not be convenient for all collectors.

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