Chopin and Flamenco - A brilliant live concert recording from the National Chopin Institute by Paco Peña and the Flamenco Company
Among the many CDs I have before me, occasionally one stands out prominently for the uniqueness of its subject and the spiritually as well as physically enhancing nature of the music.
Unless blessed with a vivid imagination and a feeling for Spain, one does not readily associate the music of Fryderyk Chopin and Spain. We are partly familiar with the creative yet blighted period Chopin and Sand spent at Valldemossa on Mallorca. Perhaps not the incredible destiny of the small local Spanish piano by Juan Bauza that Chopin struggled with until his Pleyel pianino arrived from Paris. That extraordinary story is covered in detail in Chopin's Piano - A Journey through Romanticism by Paul Kildea (London, Allen Lane 2018).
We also adore the modern lightness and charm his Bolero in A minor Op.19, a first indication of a Spanish touch or enthusiasm. The guitar was one of Chopin's favourite instruments, chosen by his teacher Józef Elsner to serenade with singers his departure through a Warsaw gateway, never to return.
One must also never forget the vein of exotic, even erotic orientalism that threads its scarlet path through the various decorative arts of remarkable Sarmatian Poland. Chopin's own fascination with the emotional scope of folk music is sublimated in his mazurkas with their adventurous, occasionally eastern, harmonic transitions. Some of his Nocturnes embrace us in 'the perfumes of Sarmatia' with their dream atmospheres.
In November 1838 at the villa ‘Son Vent’, near Palma, Chopin wrote to Julian Fontata (himself influenced by Cuban music) his amanuensis:
‘I am in Palma, amidst the palms, cedars,
cactuses, oranges, lemons, aloes, figs, pomegranates, etc. What only the Jardin
des Plantes has in its ovens. The sky like turquoise, sea like azure, mountains
like emerald, air like in heaven. During the day, sunny, everyone walking as if
it were summer and hot; at night, guitars and song for hours on end. […] The
piano has not yet arrived. What route did they send it? You will soon receive
the preludes. […] And my life, I am living a little more… I am close to that
which is most beautiful. I am better’.