Michel Block Goyescas
One does not wish to tire with repetition those of you who may, perchance, remember earlier reviews in this venue (many years ago now) in which I spoke with deep admiration of a unique and, in my opinion, sadly under-appreciated American pianist. However at that risk, I'd like to bring to your attention (or remind you of) an absolute treasure on the Pro Piano label: Enrique Granados' Goyescas, played by Michel Block (PPR224516). If this seems importune, perhaps it is because I am in hearty agreement with Walt Whitman’s rhetorical question, Do I repeat myself? Very well then, I repeat myself. This CD deserves it.
An earlier period of my life in audio was nourished with an implacable passion for Isaac Albenez' masterpiece, Iberia. I shall always be grateful to my friend Yosuke, a Julliard-trained concert pianist, for his recommendation of a two-disc recording on the Connoisseur label played by a pianist I had not heard of before, named Michel Block. Block's interpretation of Spanish piano music was, he told me, simply extraordinary.
Later when I no longer had a record player, I sought out this performance on CD. A lot of research revealed that the corporation that owns the master tapes not only blithely allowed the recording to go out of print, but also chose to let the master tapes languish and deteriorate in a vault in Paris. God knows what condition those tapes are in these decades later. God knows what piddling accountant's mentality led to the withdrawal of this cultural treasure. But withdrawn it was, and withdrawn it has remained.
This circumstance led to my writing Pro Piano, who publish a number of Block's recordings in CD format. Pro Piano generously provided email contact information for Maestro Block who was teaching at the University of Indiana. I wrote him and told him how much I missed listening to his Iberia. That I had tried other versions, including a couple by Laroccha who is very highly regarded, but was always dissatisfied by the memory of his incomparable playing. I told him that as a consequence I had invested nearly $1500 in a turntable and cartridge. Okay, I know fifteen hundred is peanuts as turntables go, but fifteen hundred simply to play two old, out-of-print Connoisseur discs? Next thing I knew, a couple of computer-burned CDs arrived by post along with a note from Block himself! Iberia, as I live and breathe, an autographed copy of a copy someone at Pathé had made for him for a sixtieth birthday present, converted from the original analog master tapes.
For awhile there was a vague rumor on the internet that Block's Iberia would soon be reissued in CD format. The rumor has grown a long beard and doesn’t get around any more. In the years before his death, Michel Block continued corresponding and occasionally sending copies of his relatively few published discs, many of which are long out of print.
For a brief while a pirated copy of his graduate performance at Julliard— Rachmaninoff's third piano concerto, in the lowest fidelity I've ever heard—was available on the internet. Till the eagle-eared guardians at that world-famous music school threatened the entrepreneurs with legal action.
I don't remember if Goyescas was a gift from Block or if I bought it from Pro Piano, but I quickly developed a fierce and special love for this music, perhaps equal to that I have for Iberia. Some people, I know for a fact, don't care for Spanish piano music. Some people don't like walking through woods full of birdsong on a spring morning. Some people don't like strolling on a balmy evening through an eastern city redolent of exotic spices arm in arm with a beautiful girl. De gustibus non est disputandum.
In case it's not already evident to you, this is not a review as such. It is only a friendly note from me, an overdue appreciation of a great artist. Two great artists. If you are unfamiliar with Spanish piano music, I can't guarantee you'll like it. I also can't proffer florid descriptions to entice you to take the plunge. Spanish music is unique. It is magical, evocative, sensual. It transports you to an unfamiliar and intense world. And I don't believe you'll find a more passionate and convincing performance of Granados' masterpiece than Michel Block's. Goyescas is in print, it's available on Amazon for $17. A damn small price to pay for genius.