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Spain / Vanessa Perez

Debussy / Perez Release Date: 02/12/2016
Label: Steinway & Sons Catalog #: 30036 Spars Code: DDD
Composer:  Manuel de Falla ,  Claude Debussy Performer:  Vanessa Perez ,  Stephen Buck Number of Discs: 1

Shimmering musical portraits of Spain by Manuel de Falla and Claude Debussy come to life through the vivid and stylish pianism of Vanessa Perez.

Album Credits:

Recorded November 24-25, 2014, and February 24, 2015 at Sono Luminus Studios, Boyce, Virginia.
Producer: Dan Merceruio
Engineer: Daniel Shores

Executive Producers: Eric Feidner, Jon Feidner
Design: Cover to Cover Design, Anilda Carasquillo
Photo: Maria-Grazia Facciolla
Piano Technician: John Veitch
Piano: Steinway Model D #590904 (New York)


This album is titled Spain—a rather broad description, considering only one of the two composers here is
Read more Spanish. The program intersperses Debussy’s three Iberian-flavored piano pieces with music by Manuel de Falla, primarily transcriptions of his most popular orchestral music.

The main thing to note is that the piano is stunningly played and extremely well recorded. Venezuelan pianist Vanessa Perez uses rubato frequently but subtly to emphasize the contours of the music, in both the lyrical and dance-like sections. (On this showing, she would shine in the music of Granados.) The only time her rhythmic freedom does not work for me is in the Pantomime from El amor brujo: Falla’s languorous melody is in 7/4, but like many pianists (and conductors too) Perez contrives to make it sound like a triplet followed by a duplet in 4. Overall, there is not a perfunctory moment in these performances. Perez is skilled at setting an atmosphere, whether it is the flammenco panache of the opening of El amor brujo—almost an announcement of intent—or the nocturnal atmosphere of Debussy’s “La soirée dans Granade.” Her weighting of chords is finely considered, while the sensitivity of her phrasing is highlighted by a full, warm piano sound. In Falla’s major work for the piano, the Fantasía Bética, she cedes to the harder-edged virtuosity of Alicia de Larrocha, but provides a thoughtful alternative even so.

The notes are only adequate. Most of this program consists of transcriptions, but no arranger is acknowledged. Minimal research reveals that Falla made his own transcriptions of the ballet pieces, and also of his late Homage to Debussy, originally written for guitar. Debussy’s Lindaraja was the French composer’s first work for two pianos. Initially I thought Perez might be playing a transcription for piano solo—one exists from 1926 by Jean Roger-Ducasse—but I decided she must have been double-tracking the two-piano version. Then, in the smallest font anywhere on the CD cover, I discovered a reference to a second pianist: Stephen Buck. He also adds to the excitement in the Second Dance from La Vida Breve. Buck gets no other mention, so allow me to tell you that he serves on the faculty of the Conservatory of Music at SUNY Purchase, has a Doctorate from Yale, and studied with Peter Frankl.

To sum up: This is an enjoyable program, the music-making is vital, and Perez is clearly a musician of distinction. I look forward to hearing more from her.

-- Fanfare

"It's always so nice when someone figures out how to take warhorse repertoire and find a way to re-present it in a fresh way. First class classical pianist Perez reaches back to the beginning of the 20th century when de Falla first bought his Spanish music to France and Debussy wrapped his ears around it. She counter points the two of them in this program, with her virtuosity at the core, and brings it around to a whole that's greater than the sum of it's parts."

-- Midwest Record

The young Venezuelan pianist Vanessa Perez, a product of that country's famous music education system, has confidently traversed repertory from across the Iberian and Latin American worlds and has gained a good deal of attention in her adopted country, the U.S. With Spain, however, she tries something different: a close interrogation of the musical relationship between Manuel de Falla, the composer who arguably did the most to define the national image of Spain in music, and Claude Debussy, the Frenchman who both mightily influenced Falla and was in turn influenced by him. Sample Perez's reading of Falla's Homenaje: "Le tombeau de Claude Debussy" (track 14), which quotes from Debussy's own La soirée dans Grenade (track five), a work that influenced Falla profoundly, and you get an idea of the currents at work here. You might be able to find more slashing Falla or more atmospheric Debussy, but the program is strong and consistently executed. To make it work, Perez has to use a variety of Falla transcriptions, but you do get the rarely performed Fantasía bética (commissioned by Arthur Rubinstein) of Falla and the equally exotic Lindaraja (for two pianos) of Debussy. The Steinway label contributes fine sound from the Sono Luminus studio in Virginia to a satisfying outing from an exciting young artist.

-- AllMusic Guide

Using the piano as a medium to emulate a number of musical traditions and instruments, Perez performs pieces by Falla and Debussy that pay tribute to Spanish culture. Weaving together some of Falla’s most celebrated pieces and a number of Debussy’s glimpses into Spanish life, the album encapsulates the vivacity of early twentieth-century Spain.


Venezuelan-American pianist Vanessa Perez presents shimmering musical portraits of Spain in works by Manuel de Falla and Claude Debussy. Falla was a Spaniard with an attraction to French culture, and his friend and mentor Debussy was a Frenchman with a longing for Spain. In two selections, Perez is joined by her husband, Stephen Buck.

-- WFMT, Chicago

The playing of Vanessa Perez on a new Steinway & Sons release is excellent, too, and this is another program whose unusual elements make it especially attractive. Perez interweaves music by Manuel de Falla, much of it familiar in orchestral guise, with several works by Claude Debussy, whose sensibilities are scarcely Spanish but who managed, time and again, to create impressionistically Spanish works. Uniting the two composers is de Falla’s Homenaje—“Le tombeau de Claude Debussy,” although for some reason it is placed midway through the recital rather than at the end (presumably to allow the “bookend” effect of de Falla’s Spanish Dance No. 1 opening the CD and Spanish Dance No. 2 closing it). De Falla and Debussy were friends, and Debussy was actually de Falla’s mentor, so there is considerable reason to perform somewhat similar examples of their music together. Nevertheless, the differences between the works are what stand out, primarily because most of the de Falla music heard here is taken from his stage works, La vida breve, El sombrero de tres picos and El amor brujo—whose Ritual Fire Dance, which Perez handles with aplomb, is a greatest-hits item. Far less known than these pieces is the highlight of the CD, Fantasía bética, a highly virtuosic work in which lush harmonies, strong flamenco dance rhythms, and guitar-like and percussive sounds are juxtaposed and mingled to delightful effect. Perez tosses off the pyrotechnics with apparent ease, and while Fantasía bética is scarcely profound music, she gives it as much heft as possible and as much pleasure as it can deliver. The Debussy pieces are left somewhat in the shadow of those by de Falla, even though Perez handles them very well. Partly this is because two are taken out of context: La soirée dans Grenade is the second movement of Estampes, while La puerta del vino is from the second book of Preludes. The third Debussy piece, Lindaraja, is the first written by this composer in Spanish style, and it is the most interesting Debussy work here, partly because it is nicely scored for two pianos. Here Perez’s husband, Stephen Buck, is the second pianist; he also joins her for the concluding dance from La Vida Breve, and in both cases matches her enthusiasm for the music.

-- Infodad

Venezuelan-American pianist Vanessa Perez has come a long way since she made her debut in Caracas at the age of 11, playing the Grieg Piano Concerto. Since leaving her native land, she has studied in London at the Royal Academy of Music, in Italy, and in the United States, where she completed her graduate studies at Yale University under Peter Frankel. She has performed in the U.S., Latin America, and Europe. In New York City the Steinway Artist has played in venues ranging from The Blue Note to Carnegie Hall.

I’ve reviewed this engaging artist once before, in her Chopin Preludes (see Phil’s Classical Reviews, June 2012), at which time she remarked, “I wanted the music to sound organic and real, above all. I didn’t want pretty. I wanted honest.” That comment goes double for the present program of music by Spanish composer Manuel de Falla and his French contemporary Claude Debussy. All the pieces are inspired by the land and culture of Spain. The Falla pieces are mostly drawn from his ballets El Amor brujo (Love the Sorcerer) and El Sombrero de tres picos (The Three-Cornered Hat) and the two Spanish Dances from his opera La Vida breve (The Short Life). I don’t know who made the present arrangements for piano (probably Peres herself), but they are luminously beautiful, particularly in the way she plays them, and provide a finer focus into the music.

El Amor brujo is the most compelling of all. Elements of love passion, the supernatural, and longing for release compete in Falla’s vivid tale of a gypsy woman trying to break free from the ghost of her dead lover and find fulfillment in a new love. The most spectacular numbers—Dance of Terror, The Ghost, and Ritual Fire Dance—deal with this struggle. My personal favorite is “Pantomime,” with a lilting melody that seems to soar effortlessly into a realm beyond pain, sorrow, and corrosive passion. Ms. Pérez does some of her best work in the under-performed Fantasia bética, which celebrates the natural beauty and folk culture of Falla’s beloved province of Andalusia (known in Roman times as Baetica), particularly in the ways it evokes the beautiful sounds of plucked strings.

Debussy, who was Falla’s close friend and mentor, is represented by three pieces inspired by Spain. Of “La soirée dans Grenade” (Evening Stroll in Grenada), Falla observed that, without actually using a single folkloric theme, Debussy had conveyed Spain in the most minute details. “La puerta del vino” (The Wine Gate), said to have been inspired by a postcard from Falla, depicts the picturesque portal through which the wine was delivered to the Alhambra. In Linderaja, the name of the name of a beautiful gem of a garden surrounded by a courtyard on the south side of the Alhambra, Perez is joined in a piano duet by fellow pianist Stephen Buck (also heard in Falla’s Spanish Dance No. 2). The exalted music making depicts the exquisite beauty and deep sense of peace that many visitors have remarked of this spot.

-- Audio Video Club of Atlanta

This should have been a terrific album, and it is. As I wrote in an ARG review of Vanessa Perez’s Telarc recording of the Chopin Preludes, this is a pianist with everything: powerful technique, impeccable taste, and plenty of passion. She rarely pauses to make a point, but when she does it is for a reason. There is always a keen sense of structure; she knows where each piece is going.

Here Perez presents an imaginative program of Manuel de Falla pieces juxtaposed with Debussy’s “Spanish” works. Debussy’s well-known affinity for Spanish colors and idioms is thrown into sharp relief when set against Falla’s “real” Spanish works.

Alicia de Larrocha, Richter, and other pianists offer stiff competition in individual pieces, but this combination of works makes a unique point. Falla claimed that Debussy captured the essence of Spain better than most Spanish composers, and Perez makes us see why. In her reading, ‘La puerta del vino’ is played with a minimum of pedal and maximum poetic nuance; the ending is pure magic. ‘La soirée dans Grenade’ also strikes an ideal balance between crisp, guitar-like articulation and dreamlike atmosphere. ‘Lindaraja’ (a piece you don’t hear every day) is full of wit and surprise. Perez presents a French vision of Spain that evokes a lost world full of nostalgia brought into the modern world.

The Falla pieces are more straightforward, and Perez plays the hell out of them, unleashing all the emotional fervor I remember from her Chopin coupled with a sure sense of Spanish colors and rhythms. The opening dance from 3-Cornered Hat alternates steely percussion effects with dreamy lyricism; the finale has an explosive crunch. Perez’s tone is often orchestral: listen to the bells and harps in El Amor Brujo. The opening piece is a good illustration of Perez’s rich, supple tone.

Steinway & Sons offers stunningly realistic sound. This is a seductive release, not to be missed.

-- American Record Guide

Vanessa Perez’s previous solo releases—both devoted to Chopin (VAI; Telarc, 8/12)—revealed a pianist with an excellent technique, a passionate, impulsive temperament and a sometimes cavalier approach to the text. By contrast, the musical portraits of Spain comprising her first outing for the Steinway & Sons label showcase a more centred, straightforward artist. The three dances from Falla’s El sombrero de tres picos are cases in point, while the suite from El Amor brujo also contains memorable features. Notice, for example, the stylish understatement with which Perez shapes the right-hand melody against the left hand’s billowy chords in ‘Canción del fuego fatuo’, along with the crisp repeated notes of ‘Danza del terror’.

However, her quest for clarity and cleanliness in the ‘Danza ritual del fuego’ yields stiff results, especially when you consider Arthur Rubinstein’s far more incisive, swaggering rendition (RCA). The same holds true for Falla’s Fantasía bética, where some of Perez’s erstwhile impulsiveness might have infused the reading with more energy and dynamism. Even the lyrical, introspective central Intermezzo sounds as if it’s parked in neutral when measured alongside Miguel Baselga’s stronger rhythmic definition (BIS).

Rhythm proves Perez’s weak point in Debussy’s two Spanish-tinged selections. While her little expressive nudges in ‘La puerta del vino’ convey attractive tonal allure, Jean-Efflam Bavouzet finds comparable nuance and colour without fussing over the basic habanera pulse (Chandos, 7/07). Likewise, Perez’s amorphous trajectory in ‘La soirée dans Grenade’ pales next to Bavouzet’s shapelier, more meticulously voiced interpretation (1/08). However, Debussy’s Lindaraja and Falla’s Spanish Dance No 2 receive vibrant and characterful performances, buoyed, I suspect, by the presence of second pianist Stephen Buck. The recorded sound is full-bodied and well defined but a little too close-up and dry for music that calls out for a more resonant ambience.


The Venezuelan pianist Vanessa Perez could hardly have given us a more vivacious view of Spain: castanets click, guitars strum and bodies whirl in the true spirit of Andalusian flamenco. Her interaction between Debussy (with his lifelong fascination with a once exotic neighbour) and Falla (his music as ‘Abrupt as when there’s slid/Its stiff gold blazing pall/From some black coffin-lid’) is subtle and telling. Whether in the swaying seduction of Pantomima or in the bitter and acerbic utterance of Fantasia betica, Perez has no need of the American pianist Anthony di Bonaventura’s advice concerning the lack of rhythmic focus in a student’s playing (‘imagine your body without a skeleton, it would just be a great lump’). She is joined by pianist Stephen Beck in two items, making this a scintillating and enterprising disc, finely recorded.

-- International Piano Read less