The first half of the concert was indeed music inspired by Granada, starting with Isaac Albéniz’s 'Granada Serenade' from his Suite Espanola, a beautifully lyrical piece, lulling you into the belief that you are going to have an evening of gentle music. Not so: this piece is followed by Claude Debussy’s 'La Puerta del Vino' from his Preludes. De Falla, who greatly admired Debussy and was extremely grateful for his help when he arrived in Paris, had sent him a postcard of one of the gates in Granada – La Puerta del Vino. Debussy never got further into Spain than San Sebastian on the north coast, yet his Spanish music was and is admired for containing the essence of Spain.
Joaquín Achúcarro explained to us that Carmen was in the Habanera-style but Granada was also Moorish, combining violence and sweetness. The Debussy pieces, particularly the second one, 'La Soirée dans Grenade' do just this - quite different in mood from the gentle Albéniz. We also heard three pieces by Manual de Falla – 'Andaluza' from Pièces Espagnoles; 'El Albaicin', from Iberia (El Albaicin is the part of Granada which contains the Alhambra fortress); and the piece he wrote at his friend’s death, 'Hommage à Debussy', which was originally written for guitar and transcribed by the composer. Even when played on the piano, the rhythm of the flamenco guitar can be clearly heard. Joaquín Achúcarro described the piece as 'Habanera transcribed into a funeral march'.
After the interval, we were treated to all 24 of Chopin’s Preludes – and what a treat. In his introduction, Achúcarro explained that as well as exploring every tonality, Chopin presents us with 24 different moods – he called it 'an exploration of the human soul' and indeed the contrast between the pieces, some quite short, is dramatic. We are buffeted from one emotion to another with barely a pause.
At the end this generous man gave us not one, but three encores: it looked and felt as if Joaquín Achúcarro’s greatest pleasure is playing the piano and treating his audience to beautiful, uplifting music.
At 85, Joaquín Achúcarro is a small neat man with the most extraordinary gift. When he is sitting at the piano, the music flows seemingly effortlessly from his fingers – legato as Sir Simon Rattle says when describing this man’s talent: ‘The piano is a percussion instrument... Joaquín can make it appear that the piano goes legato and the notes grow into each other...there is a very particular sound that he can make that now very few pianists can make...which is instantly recognisable’.The International Piano Series, now in its fifth year, continues with performances on 12th and 24th May; 14th and 23rd June and 29th September and I can highly recommend them.