Albéniz: Iberia. Peter Schaaf, piano. Victor Elmaleh Collection. $15.

Peter Schaaf’s recording of Isaac Albéniz’s Iberia showcases very different personalities, both in composition and in performance. Schaaf is not as facile at the keyboard as Marangoni, and Albéniz is not as accessible or trenchant a composer as Rossini. Yet this is an exceptionally fine Iberia performance, drawing listeners in through Schaaf’s sheer intensity and the dedication that he so clearly brings to each of the 12 pieces. One thing that this recording has in common with Marangoni’s is that it is hard, in both, to choose “best” or “favorite” tracks, since every one has so much to recommend it. The contrast between the slow and solemn central part of El Corpus en Sevilla and the bravado at the end of the piece is one highlight; the effective way Schaaf brings out the alternation of 3/4 and 6/8 bars in Rondeña is another. But Schaaf’s handling of these pieces from the first two of the four books of Iberia is ultimately less impressive than his way with the more-complex pieces of the third and fourth books. El Albaicín is simply beautiful here in its textural variety; the literally off-beat accents of El Polo come through clearly and effectively; the rhythmic sway of the final Eritaña is a worthy capstone to the overall work. The only piece that is not quite what it could be is Lavapiés, whose fiendish difficulty Schaaf surmounts well enough—but at the expense of some of the humor and expressiveness that this piece should ideally have. That is less a disappointment than a small detail, though: as a whole, Schaaf’s Iberia is a very considerable achievement, delightful to hear and played with enthusiasm that is absolutely infectious.

MARK ESTREN, www.infodad.com
February 9, 2012