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Xavier Montsalvatge: Piano Music, Vol. 3

Montsalvatge / Ensemble Barcelona 216 / Izquierdo
Release Date: 08/28/2012 
Label:  Naxos   Catalog #: 8572636   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Xavier Montsalvatge
Performer:  Jordi MasóMiquel VillalbaMiquel Angel MartinezPia Freund,   ... 
Conductor:  Ernest Martínez Izquierdo
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Barcelona 216
Number of Discs: 1 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

MONTSALVATGE Barcelona Blues.1 Calidoscopio.1 Homenatge.1 Three Divertimentos on themes by forgotten composers.1 Sum Vermis.2 Invocaciones al Crucificado3 1,2,3Jordi Masó (pn); 1,2Miquel Villalba Read more (pn); 2,3Pia Freund (sop); 2Ferran Carceller (pc); 2Miquel Àngel Martínez (pc); Ernest Martínez Izquierdo, cond; 3Ensemble Barcelona 216 NAXOS 8.572636 (63:14)

This is the third release in the Naxos series of piano music by the Catalan composer Xavier Montsalvatge and it concentrates on his output for two pianos. A substantial part of the disc is comprised of two late song cycles, where the piano is part of a larger ensemble, adding sonic variety to the program (as the inclusion of concertos did for the preceding solo piano releases in the series). On this evidence, two pianos stimulated the composer’s creative juices in interesting ways. The opening Barcelona Blues (1956-61), originally conceived for a ballet company, sounds like pure Gershwin. One section is practically a steal from the second of Gershwin’s Three Preludes for piano. The three-movement suite titled Calidoscopio (Kaleidoscope) contains a winning homage to Albéniz in its final movement, while the second movement is deliberately crafted in the form of a Satie-esque Gymnopédie, though with an Iberian lilt in the central section. The composer’s true voice, at least in his neoclassical style, may be heard in the first movement, wittily titled Approximation of a Fugue. (How many actual fugues ought to share that title?)

The short and tender Homenatge (Homage) of 1998 was written in tribute to Victoria de los Angeles and is based on a Catalan folk song she often included in her recital programs. The Three Divertimentos are lighter fare, more overtly Spanish in their musical language, but they share with the other works the composer’s typical clarity of texture (not always achieved in music for two pianos), rhythmic zest, and harmony spiced with slight acidity. These pieces come closest in style to Montsalvatge’s best-known work, the song cycle Canciones negras. The song cycles on this disc are rather more serious works. Sum Vermis from 1976 sets poetry by Jacint Verdaguer, a poet who dealt in harsh imagery. The ensemble reflecting that of Bartók’s Sonata for Two Pianos and Percussion, underlines the desperation in Verdaguer’s words, which are sometimes set in unaccompanied arioso. (The English title is “I am a worm.”) Finally, the Invocaciones al Crucificado (Invocations to the Crucified Christ) of 1969 see Montsalvatge on home ground. Quoted in the sleeve note, the composer writes that these songs represented “memories of my childhood years, when the Holy Week processions through the narrow streets in my native Girona’s old town filled me with unspeakable fear.” The uncompromising emotional spirit of the saeta is captured in this work, and especially in this expressive performance by an excellent, vibrant soprano, Pia Freund.

Jordi Masó has recorded a great deal of Spanish music for Naxos, but there is nothing routine about his playing. All the performances on this disc (and its predecessors) are first-rate. I have little on hand for comparison: only one 1999 Columna Musica disc of Barcelona Blues and Calidoscopio with Mac McClure and Raimon Garriga. Their sharply etched, drily recorded performances perhaps bring more character to these pieces, strongly evoking the influence of Stravinsky. Still, that is merely a matter of preference. Masó and Villalba’s warmth definitely suits the divertimentos, and the song cycles are vividly done.

FANFARE: Phillip Scott   


Perhaps surprisingly for those to whom his name is still unfamiliar, Catalan composer Xavier Montsalvatge is fairly well represented on CD, with five recordings available, for example, of the Concierto Breve and more still of the Sonatine pour Yvette. The recently-founded Xavier Montsalvatge society provides a huge, comprehensive discography.
This is the third volume in Naxos's survey of the piano music, all performed by Jordi Masó (previous volumes on 8.570744 and 8.570756). There is assistance from others as required - the Granollers Chamber Orchestra on the first two discs, and here by various musicians and ensembles, since these recordings are by no means a simple 'music for two pianos' the front cover advertises.
Montsalvatge's music is nothing if not eclectic, ranging across a number of styles, particularly neo-classicism and impressionism. Many of his works also draw on serialism and polytonality, and in later years he was seen as part of the European avant-garde. All these ingredients pop up in various arrangements on this CD. However, things begin sensibly at the more approachable end with the very Gershwinesque Barcelona Blues, one of Montsalvatge's most popular works. In the short Homenatge ('Homage'), written for Alicia de Larrocha to play at a tribute concert in honour of the great soprano María de los Ángeles, Montsalvatge quotes freely from the Catalan folksong El Cant dels Ocells, which she and Pau Casals between them made famous. The punchy Three Divertimentos bring some exotic flavour into the mix - rhythms and melodies from Scotland and Cuba.
Variety is the keynote of Calidoscopio too, in which Montsalvatge delivers a dazzling array of styles promised in the title, yet all still in a highly accessible idiom. He even quotes his own Barcelona Blues. Jordi Masó and Miquel Villalba give suitably laid-back but technically poised accounts of these works.
On the whole, melody is seldom far away in Montsalvatge's music and an attractive Spanish/Catalan - or more accurately, Latino - colour is splashed across much of it. In the final two works, though, there is some indication of what endeared Montsalvatge to modernists. Arguably, Sum Vermis and the Five Invocations are out of place on a CD of piano music - vocal works are not usually included in such anthologies. At any rate, Sum Vermis ('I am (a) Worm') is a stark, gloomy work that revels in the ‘miserabilism’ of the Catalan poem by Jacint Verdaguer it brings to life. It seems rather perverse, however, for Naxos to have asked Pia Freund to perform this work. As good as her voice is, she is Finnish rather than Catalan, and her training in the language seems rather basic. Some Catalan sequences prove too difficult for her, and clarity of enunciation suffers at times. Unfortunately, the multilingual texts of the Cinco Invocaciones are even more demanding of a polyglot ability. Freund makes a valiant attempt, but she is always the foreigner with the slight accent.
Be that as it may, neither of these is a piano work by any stretch, but they are recorded rarities and for anyone with an ear sympathetic to late Stravinsky or Orff, likely to prove memorable, especially given the impressive instrumental performances on offer here.
Sound quality is very good, warm and intimate. Jordi Masó's booklet notes are detailed and well written/translated. The sung texts are all included in the booklet except the middle of the five Incantations, which for some reason is omitted.

-- Byzantion, MusicWeb International
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Works on This Recording

Divertimentos (3) for Piano by Xavier Montsalvatge
Performer:  Jordi Masó (Piano), Miquel Villalba (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1941; Spain 
Notes: Version for 2 pianos. 
Barcelona Blues by Xavier Montsalvatge
Performer:  Jordi Masó (Piano), Miquel Villalba (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: Spain 
Homenatge by Xavier Montsalvatge
Performer:  Jordi Masó (Piano), Miquel Villalba (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1998 
Sum Vermis by Xavier Montsalvatge
Performer:  Miquel Angel Martinez (Percussion), Miquel Villalba (Piano), Jordi Masó (Piano),
Pia Freund (Soprano), Ferran Carceller (Percussion)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1973 
Invocaciones al Crucificado (5) by Xavier Montsalvatge
Performer:  Pia Freund (Soprano), Miquel Villalba (Celeste), Jordi Masó (Piano)
Conductor:  Ernest Martínez Izquierdo
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Barcelona 216
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1969 
Calidoscopio by Xavier Montsalvatge
Performer:  Jordi Masó (Piano), Miquel Villalba (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1990 

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