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Mompou: Música Callada Books 1-4 / Haskell Small

Release Date: 11/11/2008 
Label:  Msr   Catalog #: 1282   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  Federico Mompou
Performer:  Haskell Behrend Small
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 1 Hours 14 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

MOMPOU Música callada Haskell Small (pn) MSR 1282 (74:15)

The father of Federico Mompou operated a bell factory within earshot of the composer’s boyhood home in Catalonia. This biographical tidbit came to mind repeatedly as I listened to this new disc of the composer’s solo piano work, Música callada , a monumental opus subdivided into four multimovement books spanning an hour and a quarter. These four Read more style="font-style:italic">cahiers were composed in stages between 1959 and 1974.

The title roughly translates as “Silent Music,” suggesting (among other things) a languid pace that places as much emphasis on silence and sustain as the chords and melodies themselves. There is an open, modal quality to the music that suggests states of meditation and obliquely reflects his lifelong passion for Catalan music of the high Renaissance. There is also a superficial resemblance to the simple bell-like chordal sonorities of some works by Satie, but the musical intent could hardly be different. In this work at least, Mompou is as sincerely devotional as Satie is ironic. Chopin’s preludes were also no doubt an influence, though that composer’s spontaneity stands in stark contrast to the inevitability inherent in most of these 28 movements. In addition, there is a generalized Gallic sensibility to the work, not surprising, given the composer’s long sojourns in Paris. There are also a couple of brief, fleeting references to blues intervals, but these are perhaps better viewed through a prism of French taste than an overt acknowledgement of the American art form.

Book 1 is consistently understated and gentle, even when the composer ventures briefly into dissonant sonorities and bitonality. Book 2 is, if anything, even more subdued and introverted, its languid nature calling to mind the stasis of some of Feldman’s music, although their respective languages are worlds apart. Book 4 shares the same obsession with quiet dynamics as the rest of the piece, but woven into the fabric is a heightened sense of resignation and despondency. Book 3 holds out the most promise for dramatic contrast, with mood swings more sharply defined than elsewhere.

As satisfying as this music may be at any given moment, there remains a question as to how well a single solo piano work can hold one’s attention for well over an hour, especially one so fixated on meditative moods and slow tempos. This work has many built-in repetitions, but even when these are absent, a sameness of spirit conveys a numbing sense of fatigue. One can count on a single hand composers who have ventured into such long forms for the keyboard and achieved unqualified success. Not surprisingly, given its tone, one of the other recordings (with Herbert Henck) appears on the ECM label. One can easily understand the attraction fans of new-age music might have for at least some of the movements of the work. Unfortunately, like most music from that justly maligned genre, repeated hearings rarely bear additional fruit.

Haskell Small clearly feels this music deeply, tracing the gentle melodic contours with sensitivity and letting the music soar when called for. His pacing is appropriately patient and methodical, and he is careful to pull out the melodic figures when they occur outside the top register. Sticklers for original intent can hear the composer perform Música callada on the Ensayo label. Other notable versions have been recorded by Javier Perianes (Harmonia Mundi) and Jordi Masó (Naxos).

FANFARE: Michael Cameron
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Works on This Recording

Música callada: Book 1 by Federico Mompou
Performer:  Haskell Behrend Small (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1959-1967; Spain 
Música callada: Book 2 by Federico Mompou
Performer:  Haskell Behrend Small (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: Spain 
Música callada: Book 3 by Federico Mompou
Performer:  Haskell Behrend Small (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: Spain 
Música callada: Book 4 by Federico Mompou
Performer:  Haskell Behrend Small (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: Spain 

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