When conceiving his Spanish-themed album Recuerdos, violinist Augustin Hadelich turned not to the flashiest of Iberian repertoire but instead to concertos by a British and a Russian composer. The concept was not as outlandish as it might seem. Benjamin Britten wrote his Violin Concerto in response to the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War of 1936-1939 and completed it while exiled in the US. The technically demanding score is among his most insistently pacifist statements, and the second movement contains echoes of Spanish flamenco. “I thought about the Britten Concerto’s connection to Spain, which is often overlooked,” says Hadelich. “Usually, people mention it in program notes, but it is also present in the music. Still, I didn’t really know this would be a Spanish album until I thought about the things that would go with the Britten.” Sergei Prokofiev’s Second Violin Concerto was at the top of the list. Premiered in Madrid in 1935, the score evokes an off-kilter peasant dance in the finale, spiced with the snap of castanets. Not only does the concerto share a Spanish element with Britten’s score, but it is stocked with ravishing moments. “The contrasts are so unbelievably big,” says Hadelich. “It goes from these expressionist moments that are kind of scary, to incredibly lyrical, warm, and inspired writing.” Hadelich then brought his theme into sharper focus by framing it with music by two Spanish masters: Sarasate’s Carmen Fantasy and a transcription of Tárrega’s guitar piece Recuerdos de la Alhambra. “I’m always interested, when I place pieces next to each other on an album, how you hear them differently,” he says. While recording this album, Hadelich found contemporary parallels with the time of Britten and Prokofiev, when democracies were in peril and global conflict loomed. “There were many other things going on in Europe that were really alarming,” he notes. “So, it was maybe very timely to think about these things.” Read on as Hadelich takes us through Recuerdos, work by work. Carmen Fantasy “Sarasate really knew how to write for the violin and how to bring out its greatest qualities. The phrasing I go for is the one that sounds most like a singer, with some added violin flourishes. One inspiration was Maria Callas’ famous live recording, where she sings the Habanera and it’s just fabulous. Not just beautifully sung, but very expressive, suggestive, and flirtatious—but so tasteful, too. And Sarasate doesn’t try to pack every famous theme in here. The “Toreador Song,” for example, isn’t in this piece. Sarasate knew that less is more. If you pack a huge opera into a violin showpiece, then it’s just overload.” Violin Concerto No. 2 in G Minor “Prokofiev has its own connection to Spain. In truth, the piece couldn’t be more Russian, but he uses castanets in the last movement, and he wrote it partially in Spain, just before the civil war broke out. Prokofiev had this incredible talent for telling stories. And in this case, there’s no programmatic story behind this concerto, but you can easily just imagine a story unfolding, like a fairy tale. We think of fairy tales as being childish sometimes, but they are extremely dramatic and evocative, actually. There are some moments where it sounds like witchcraft, like witches cackling! And he does that by using all the possibilities of orchestration, having the strings play on the bridge or extremely short and percussively. The opening of the concerto is haunting and mysterious in the way the violin starts on its own. The end is incredibly exciting, sort of a roller-coaster ride, and you just keep going and hope you get to the finish line.” Violin Concerto in D Minor “The Spanish quality is present at certain places in the music. There are just tiny hints of flamenco, or very, very subtle figurations. Also, the piece deals with the Spanish Civil War. Britten was very young at the time but was already very passionate about pacifism and it affected him a lot. Although it’s not overly programmatic, I think it can be seen as reflecting his emotions about the war. The opening could be seen as pre-war Spain. It’s quite idyllic, but this kind of militarism starts intruding, and then in the second movement comes real conflict and the war. The third movement deals with the emotional devastation that results from trying to come to terms with what is happening. It starts with a passacaglia, which is a form that can communicate tragedy and loss and a search for hope.” Recuerdos de la Alhambra “I love the Recuerdos so much as a guitar piece. I learned this Ruggiero Ricci arrangement and found it was a very powerful encore after the Britten, because it’s such a beautiful meditation that it almost feels like it looks back at everything that was lost. I try to get this sense of calm in how I play it, so that it’s unhurried and it really feels like a meditation. It's not really about playing the notes as fast as possible, but there's something kind of quiet about this. And that’s a feeling that I try to achieve.”

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