Albums like this are like a puzzle. On top of enjoying mad chops, trying to figure out why Simon threw down these specific tracks in this particular order is one of the fun parts of going through this motherfucker. So, enough stalling, let’s dive in.
First track on this bitch is “Recuerdos de la Alhambra: which was composed for the classical guitar but has been transcribed for the piano by Simon. This song is OG for tremolo, an effect where you hammer on a single note all sexy and smooth styles. Fast plucking a string and quickly fingering a key aren’t the same fucking thing. But Simon figured out how to work it so that this tremolo doesn’t sound forced and it isn’t about all about that breakneck speed. The tremolo is smooth as melted butter. It floats in the air like a dried leaf in the wind. This piece was written to represent the fountains inside the Alhambra, which is a badass Spanish palace. You can feel, through his playing, the water pouring out that sexy bitch.
Next track comes from Charles-Valentin Alkan’s “La chanson de la folle au bord de la mer” (Trans. “The Song of the Madwoman by the Seaside”). Water again? Guess we found the theme of this album. On this track, instead of the beautiful water coming from a fountain we get the story of a woman icing herself in the sea. Is it dark? What the fuck do you think? Immediately after this is the song “Alfonsina y el mar” by Ariel Ramirez, which is a tribute to Alronsina Storni, who drowned herself. Sure the subject is grim, but the notes aren’t that heavy. It feels like an answer to the previous song.
At the heart of this album is Schumann’s Humoreske which clocks in at around 27 minutes. You can go ahead and look for something about water in Humoreske. You won’t fucking find it. And with Chilly Gonzales’s “Robert on the Bridge” and Philip Glass’s “Raising the Sail” coming later in the album, you know the water theme is there. So it becomes time to ask the question behind the question, what the fuck is up with Simon and water? I read somewhere that Simon had a fear of water as a kid which, sure? This probably contributes to the theme. But I don’t think that’s it. This feels like a shallow puddle answering the call of an oceanic depth. While listening over Simon’s rendition of Humoreske, one thing becomes very clear: this shit’s emotional as a motherfucker. This piece is bipolar on fast-forward. It has ups and downs, ins and outs, it goes sideways and upways. It’s all over the fucking place. Yet, it never feels forced. You feel each moment. The emotions follow each other in a natural order. All of this led me to think of the piano player, the interpreter, and their relationship to water.
One thing about our liquid buddy is that it takes on the shape of whatever it goes into. The same goes for a good piano player. It’s their entire fucking goal. Simon himself has said, “I don’t compose, and I don’t improvise; I perform.” Simon’s entire job is to fill the space that motherfuckers like Mozart, Schumann, or Bach have left behind. To find hidden meanings within pieces, the caverns left untouched, is Simon’s life’s goal. It’s his motherfucking vocation. And at 33, how old Simon was when he recorded this album, it seems like that’s the theme he’s reflecting upon.
It’s kinda insane that the classical audience expects poor fucks like Simon to throw themselves entirely into dots of ink splashed onto a piece of paper. And the further they lose themselves inside a piece, the more we appreciate it. I don’t know what this kind of behaviour would do to a person long term. But, as an audience, we don’t fucking care. In this album Simon is telling us who he is. Within this beautiful music, his amazing technique, and this watery theme, Simon is telling us that his identity is whatever the piece in front of him requires him to be. Sure, there’s a kind of sadness to this theme. But when a pianist dives so deeply into a piece they lose themselves, we don’t throw them a life vest: we stand as an audience and bellow, “Bravo.”