Classical CD Reviews

MONTSALVATGE, Music for Two Pianos (Piano Music 3) – Jordi Masó, piano 1 /Miquel Villalba, piano 2 and celeste; Pia Freund, sop./ Rerran Careller and Miquel Àngel Martínez, percussion / Ensemble Barcelona 216 /Ernest Martínez Izquierdo – Naxos

Wide-ranging music from one of modern Spain’s most important composers.

Published on January 5, 2013

MONTSALVATGE, Music for Two Pianos (Piano Music 3) – Jordi Masó, piano 1 /Miquel Villalba, piano 2 and celeste; Pia Freund, sop./ Rerran Careller and Miquel Àngel Martínez, percussion / Ensemble Barcelona 216 /Ernest Martínez Izquierdo – Naxos

XAVIER MONTSALVATGE, Music for Two Pianos (Piano Music 3) = Barcelona Blues; Calidoscopio (Kaleidoscope); Homenatge (Homage); Tres divertimentos sobre temas de autores olvidodos (Three Divertimentos on Themes by Forgotten Composers); Sum Vermis (I Am a Worm); 5 invocaciones al Crucificado (5 Invocations to the Crucified Christ) – Jordi Masó, piano 1 /Miquel Villalba, piano 2 and celeste; Pia Freund, sop./ Rerran Careller and Miquel Àngel Martínez, percussion / Ensemble Barcelona 216 /Ernest Martínez Izquierdo – Naxos 8.572636, 63:14 ****:

Two thousand twelve was the centennial of Catalan composer Xavier Montsalvatge’s birth. This album, which joins two others devoted to the composer’s piano music, was issued in time to celebrate the occasion; sorry my review was not. I haven’t heard Volume 1, which concentrated on works from Montsalvatge’s early maturity, but Volume 2, concentrating on later works, is very attractive, as is this latest release, dedicated to music for two pianos.

Montsalvatge can be considered a nationalistic composer but also an eclectic and cosmopolitan one; he’s sort of a Spanish Benjamin Britten (or maybe Britten is an English Xavier Montsalvatge). Not only does he incorporate elements of Catalan music but also of Andalusian music, which is better known to most classical music lovers thanks to the works of Falla, Turina, and the many non-Spanish imitators of flamenco and other Andalusian music (Bizet, Debussy, Ravel, Rimsky, etc., etc.). Also, Montsalvatge often channels the music of Latin America and sometimes Africa, which adds even more rhythmic and harmonic variety to his work. Stylistically, Montsalvatge blends elements of Impressionism and neo-Classicism, while his later work is often highly chromatic, grading into atonality and free serialism. Quite a range of influences. Luckily, Montsalvatge nonetheless has an individual voice.

Pianist Jordi Masó speaks of Calidoscopio (1990), written for Fundación Albeníz as “a compendium of the various idioms he had employed throughout his long career. . . .” These idioms include neo-Classical, occasionally tongue in cheek à la Les Six; Latin American (specifically Cuban); Andalusian (in the last movement titled Collage para Albeníz), and even jazz/blues, recalling Montsalvatge’s earlier Barcelona Blues (1956, two-piano version 1961). In fact, in line with this idea of musical retrospective, Montsalvatge quotes from himself. Harmonically, the music ranges from pop-inspired diatonacism to hard-edged chromaticism.

The brief Barcelona Blues was commissioned by the Juan Tena Ballet and reflects Montsalvatge’s longstanding “passion for ballet.” Even when he’s not writing music specifically for the stage, there is an often balletic quality about his music, thanks to that aforementioned rhythmic vitality and variety. This element shows up in very different fashions in Tres divertimentos (1941, two-piano version 1983) and Sum Vermis (1974). Tres divertimentos is based on the music of itinerant Spanish musicians, its three movements taking the form of a Chotis (schottishe), a habanera, and a waltz-cum-jota. Stylistically, it recalls the cheeky neo-Classicism of Poulenc and Francaix.

Sum Vermis is based on an anguished, self-flagellatory poem by Jacint Verdaguer. Montsalvatge maintained it wasn’t the kind of poetry that usually inspired him, “but its tortured symbolism made quite an impact on me. . . . the poet’s entire drama can be divined from a few images of pathetic masochism, of a kind of alienated elation comparable to that of the greatest mystics in Spanish literature.” Heavy—and a bit bombastic. But the music is evocative, its instrumentation for two pianos and percussion recalling Bartók’s Sonata for Two Pianos and Percussion. However, Sum Vermis sounds like that work filtered through the musical consciousness of another Bartók admirer, Alberto Ginastera. Sum Vermis and the more varied and colorful 5 invocaciones are the most memorable works on the program. The latter piece ranges from an agonized portrayal of the Passion to a setting of a medieval poem expressing an ardent desire to have lived in Jesus’ day and experienced his spiritual journey from birth to death. This work best demonstrates the emotional range Montsalvagte is capable of in his music.

As in Volume 2, Barcelona-born Jordi Masó is a skilled and sympathetic interpreter of his countryman’s work and gets expert support from Miquel Villlalba and Barcelona 216. Soprano Pia Freund, who studied at the Sibelius Academy far north of sunny Spain, brings passion, intelligence, and a beautiful instrument to the last two works on the program. All this music is captured in bright, atmospheric sound. Recommended without hesitation.

—Lee Passarella




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