Still warm, my newest CD released by NAXOS with (almost all) piano works of Jesus Rueda is creating a buzz. Honestly, perhaps this IS the CD that all piano lovers in Spain (and many abroad) have been waiting for these years. Anyway, I'll keep it short this time, since you can check it out at : http://www.naxos.com/catalogue/item.asp?item_code=8.572075 . And I'll paste my article in the booklet of that CD here. Hope you enjoy the new 21st century pianistic adventure !
Jesús Rueda (b. 1961)
A recording of Jesús Rueda’s piano works is long overdue. Rueda is today unquestionably the foremost living Spanish composer for the piano. Although he has never been a performer, his understanding of the resources and potential of the piano is nevertheless broader than that of most. His pianistic masterpieces would not have existed—as he himself openly acknowledges—had it not been for his intensive studies of the pianism of Chopin, Liszt, Ravel and Prokofiev; but it is his highly individual language that makes his music not only so new and radical, but highly expressive and communicative. He has successfully produced a mesmeric blending of ‘classical’ and contemporary elements: his compositions might ask the instrument to whisper in utmost secrecy or, in Walt Whitman’s words, to sound its “barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world”.
This ‘Rueda’ pianistic soundworld was launched with his First Piano Sonata, composed in 1990–91. Entitled Jeux d’eau, the sonata is clearly influenced by Ravel, its nine-minute gorgeous wash of sensuous music evoking radiating light, sweeping surges and powerful torrents of water. This is Rueda the master draughtsman at his most shimmering and seductive. The subtle use of pedal should always be observed by the pianist in order to take full advantage of the extensive palette of colours.
More than a decade separates Rueda’s first sonata from his Second, entitled Ketjak. This time—even more virtuosic than the first—the influences are jazz and Balinese Kecak dance rhythms, and I am so profoundly grateful for the honour of being its dedicatee. The motif of the whole piece is introduced in the very first bar, roaring in the lower registers of the instrument. This motif develops in many different ways throughout the piece, trembling with a textural density spanning from hollowness of unearthly splendour to dense cascades of pummelling electric charges.
The 24 Interludes are sophisticated short pieces which immediately engage us. The majority stem from true life experiences, and they contain the most ravishing musical expression Rueda has hitherto articulated. Their wealth of expression ranges from the most poignant anguish to the most ecstatic rapture and even ironic wit. Some were conceived and developed in Rome—where Rueda lived 1995–2000—evoking impressions of the city (Movimiento, Niebla, Grazioso, Corrente, Sospeso, Dibujo). Others are musical gifts for the new-born babies of close friends (Canción de cuna, Berceuse, and for my own baby daughter born in 1998: Il filo di Alicia sull’acqua). Rueda does not hesitate to look back in time, and in some numbers he indulges the inextinguishable romantic urge: Chopin is directly inspired by Prelude No. 16 of the great Polish composer; Vision is a Lisztian study borrowing the title from one of his Transcendental Etudes; Prokofiev’s ghost appears in Toccata; and Rueda was possessed by Scriabin’s spirit while writing Campo de Estrellas. Notturno in Bali depicts the fearful 2002 night when the terrorist bombs exploded in Bali; Seikilos is based on an old Greek epitaph; and Rueda conjured up impressions of his close friends in Retrato, Omaggio, Registros separados and Corale. These exquisite pieces sometimes also serve as studies or sketches for a larger future work.
Mephisto (1999) is one of the pieces originating from my invitation to a number of Spanish composers to write a ‘hommage’ for the seventieth birthday of Luis de Pablo, who had once been Rueda’s teacher. The piece’s gestation took place while Rueda was travelling in Syria, Lebanon and Jordan. Modelled on Liszt’s famous first waltz, it is certainly a terrifying tour-de-force for any pianist, fiercely erupting in a Dionysian catharsis in the third—and final—section of its five-minute countdown to the apocalypse.
Being a great composer, Rueda understands the piano so well that he can write—as composers of the past have done—(very) simple and highly attractive pieces for children to play. In 2003 he started writing these Inventions, dealing with basic piano techniques and ranging technically from the very simple to the moderately difficult. In this recording we hear nine of them. Bouncy Black is for black keys in intervals of a second, and Inner Piece is its counterpart for white keys. Then there is the Ligetian “blocked keys” technique in Watch Your Steps, the unending cascade of notes in To Be Continued and amusing rhythmic games in The Happiest Seconds. Rueda continues to add attractive short pieces to the approximately fifty he has already written; Inventions is thus an essential contribution to the musical education of the young.