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Ivory Classics Music

Ralph Votapek: Fire and Passion of Spain

Ralph Votapek: Fire and Passion of Spain

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Ivory Classics CD-72007
Ralph Votapek: Fire and Passion

Enrique Granados (1867-1916):
Goyescas - Los Majos enamorados (The Young Men in Love)
01. El pelele (The Straw Mannequin)04:34 ('01)
02. I. Los requiebros (Flattery)08:12 ('01)
03. II. Coloquio en la reja (Conversation through the Bars)10:34 ('01)
04. III. El fandango de candil (Candlelight Fandango)06:17 ('01)
05. IV. Quejas, ó la maja y el ruiseñor (The Maiden and the Nightingale)06:20 ('01)
06. V. El amor y la muerte: Balada (Love and Death: Ballade)12:05 ('01)
07. VI. Epilogo: Serenata del espectro (Epilogue: The Ghost Serenade)07:14 ('01)

Manuel Falla (1876-1946):
Pièces espagnoles
08. Aragonesa02:53 ('01)
09. Cubana03:36 ('01)
10. Montanesa04:11 ('01)
11. Andaluza03:54 ('01)

Piano: Ralph Votapek

Producer: Michael Rolland Davis
Engineer: Ed Thompson

Total Time: 70:42
Piano: Steinway

Recorded at the WFMT Studios, Chicago, Illinois May 13th & 14th, 2001
This disc has been recorded using state-of-the-art original 24-bit HDCD encoding.

Artist's Biography

Ralph Votapek was born in Milwaukee in 1939 and began his musical studies in Milwaukee's Wisconsin Conservatory at the age of nine. He studied at Northwestern University with Guy Mombaerts, earning his Bachelor's Degree, and subsequently attending both the Manhattan and the Juilliard School of Music. Although his principal teachers were Rosina Lhevinne and Robert Goldsand, he also studied with Nadia Reisenberg and Rudolf Serkin. In 1959, he won the Naumburg Award which offered him a New York debut at Town Hall. Mr. Votapek skyrocketed to world prominence when he won the Gold Medal at the first Van Cliburn International Piano Competition in 1962. The prize brought with it a cash award of $10,000, headlines around the world, a Carnegie Hall debut recital, a contract with famed impresario Sol Hurok, and an RCA Victor recording contract.

Since 1962, Mr. Votapek has maintained a versatile and remarkable performance and recording career. Following the Van Cliburn Competition, Votapek scored a tremendous success in London with the Philharmonia Orchestra and was hailed for his performances across the United States. In 1966, he made his first tour of South America, where he has performed in countless venues including Buenos Aires' famous Colon Theatre. Mr. Votapek has a special commitment to South America, where he has toured every other year for the past three decades. In August 1997, the Buenos Aires Herald said, "Votapek, now in his fifties, keeps his characteristic boyishness; handsome, dynamic and ingratiating, he communicates easily. Artistically he is as consistent as they come; a rock-solid technique, a catholicity of taste that knows no bounds, and beautifully varied and interesting programs. You'll never be disappointed in a Votapek recital." In 2001 he will make his 19th concert tour of South America.

He has appeared with virtually all major American orchestras and has been partnered by such legendary conductors as Rafael Kubelik, William Steinberg, Joseph Krips and Erich Leinsdorf and Arthur Fiedler. He has been guest soloist sixteen times with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and has also appeared frequently with the orchestras of; Los Angeles, Pittsburgh, San Francisco, Philadelphia, Washington D.C., Boston, Saint Louis, Houston, Dallas, Louisville, San Antonio and Memphis.

Equally at home in Chamber music, Mr. Votapek has performed with the Juilliard, Fine Arts, New World and Chester String Quartets. The PBS television network and other educational stations draw frequently on Mr. Votapek's video series of over forty recitals broadcast throughout the U.S.

Mr. Votapek has held the title of Artist-in-Residence at Michigan State University for over 30 years.

A new release by pianist Ralph Votapek who skyrocketed to world prominence when he won the Gold Medal at the first Van Cliburn International Piano Competition in 1962. Since that time he has maintained a versatile and remarkable performance and recording career. Mr. Votapek has a special affinity for Spanish music. His performance of the most important piano suite in Spanish literature, Enrique Granados’ Goyescas,is especially vibrant. His full-bodied sonority sings with lyric simplicity. Although the Manuel de Falla Pièces espagnoles(Four Spanish Pieces) are among his earliest compositions, they represent a clearly defined personality with a highly polished technique to match. Composed at the same time as Albéniz’s Iberia, they represent Spanish nationalism at its height.


American pianist Ralph Votapek, Gold Medal winner at the first Van Cliburn competition (in 1962, for those with long memories), shows uncommon ability to get into the Spanish idiom in a program featuring the Goyescas of Enrique Granados and the four Pieces espagnoles by Manuel de Falla. The Goyescas are an unforgettable series of tableaux based on the highly evocative, sometimes eerie and even grotesque, paintings of Francisco de Goya. Here Goya's street people, the flirtatious majas and lusty majos of early 1800's Madrid, come alive under the hands of a skilled master of the keyboard. With titles like "Conversation through the grille" (of a barred window), "Fandango by candlelight," "The Maiden and the Nightingale," "Love and Death," and "The Spectral Serenade," one suspects a program of passionate love, and in fact Granados later re-worked his material into a successful opera.

Votapek does a commendable job here of keeping his focus on the contour and shape of the complex structure of the Goyescas amid Granados' fantastic flights of imagination and languid melodies. This work has been described as "the finest written-out improvisation," and Votapek is adept at preserving its deceptively improvisory quality.

Falla's Pieces espagnoles are an early work only in terms of publication, as he was past 30 when he published them. Like his French mentor Paul Dukas, Falla was his own most severe critic, allowing few of his works to appear in print. These are highly polished pieces of great delicacy and charm that create indelible impressions of four regions of Spain: Aragonesa, Cubana, Montanesa, and Andaluza. Falla went beyond the simple folkloric element to create music that was original and universal. In Montanesa, for instance, we are plunged into the misty distances of a Castilian valley at nightfall, punctuated by drifting cattle bells and twinkling stars. Votapek's performances are so well characterized that we seem to see, as well as hear, these tableaux.

Classik Reviews, Oct. 2003

In the 40 years since he won the Gold Medal at the first annual Van Cliburn International Piano Competition, Ralph Votapek has kept up a distinguished dual career as both performing artist and teacher, serving for more than three decades as Artist-in-Residence at Michigan State University. He's recorded far less than his talents merit, a situation rectified by Ivory Classics with the pianist's splendid 1998 Latin American/French collection, and again with the present release featuring music of Granados and Falla.

He does a splendid job in the six pieces that make up the piano cycle Goyescas. The labyrinthine textural strands in the opening Los requiebros are clearly dispatched, while Coloquio en la reja takes on an optimistic, less brooding facade than Alicia de Larrocha's broader, darker reading. In El fandango de candil, Votapek's elegantly contoured inner lines and turns are marvelously timed, if not with Larrocha's sultry snap. Quejas o la maja y el ruisenor receives a caressing, lyrical reading, although the final cadenza's cooing, bird-like passagework could have been more magical still. Votapek truly comes into his own in the final two selections as he seizes upon the large-scaled drama and rhetoric of El amor y la muerte and imbues the Epilogo with plenty of alluring lilt.

Just as Granados himself used El pelele as an introductory piece when he performed Goyescas in concert, Votapek's sparkling rendition (replete with memorably murmuring trills) leads off the disc. To conclude his recital, Votapek illuminates the subtle harmonic felicities and rhythmic variety throughout Falla's four Pieces espagnoles with idiomatic grace and sensitivity. A thoroughly enjoyable disc.

Classics Today, Nov. 2002

Who is this guy? He plays with grace, intelligence, maturity, sensitivity and elan... I love when you discover a great artist. He's been great for some time. You're the one who has been in the dark. Well, do these performances hold up to the inevitable comparison with de Larrocha? Yup... Are they better? No -- but on the same plain -- just different -- certainly intriguing, thoughtful performances that deserve to be heard. And the recorded sound quality is excellent. This is pianism on the level that other pianists take notice of. I hope I can hear more of him. Lucky people at Michigan State who have him as an artist in residence., Feb. 2002
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