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Columna Musica

Joan GUINJOAN (b.1931)
Passim Trio (1988) [17:35]
Elegia: Monodia (1996) [10:42]
Jondo (1979) [8:01]
Duo (1970) [14:18]
Retaule (1972) [11:10]
Aniversari (1993) [6:38]
Trio Kandinsky: Corrado Bolsi (violin), Amparo Lacruz (cello), Emili Brugalla (piano)
rec. 8-9 January 2009, Auditori Josep Carreras, Vila-seca, Spain
Columna Música 1CM0217
Experience Classicsonline

To say that Joan Guinjoan is one of the senior figures of Catalan - and Spanish - musical life is a simple truth, though like all such statements it is in danger of sounding like the kind of faint praise that mildly damns. Such statements can imply that the person so described is terribly worthy, that he is respected in his advancing years, but that the actual music he writes is of no particular interest. In the case of Guinjoan any such implication would be very wide of the mark. He is a fine composer, full of creative wit, in the best sense, exploratory and stylistically diverse.

Born in Ruidoms, a hazelnut and olive-oil producing town in the Baix Camp region of the Spanish province of Tarragona, Guinjoan thus comes from much the same area as did Antonio Gaudí; in his youth he played the accordion at local festivals, before taking up the piano. At the age of twenty he made his way to Barcelona, studying at the Conservatorio Superior de Música de Liceu before, in 1952, moving to Paris and studying at the École Normale de Musique. To this point, Guinjoan’s ambition was to become a concert pianist but this desire was gradually overtaken - as a result of his exposure to the musical life of Paris - by a fascination with the new possibilities of composition. He studied composition in Barcelona, with Cristofor Taltabull, whose students also included Josep Soler and Xavier Benguerel, and back in Paris at the École Normale, with Jean-Etienne Marie. In Paris in the early 1960s he was a regular at the concerts of the Le Domaine Musical, under the direction of Pierre Boulez. Returning to Barcelona he soon established himself as a composer and since then has gone on to win many an award, to direct and conduct some significant ensembles, to run festivals, to write extensively, collect honorary degrees and be awarded membership of various distinguished academies.

But to turn to Guinjoan’s music itself. It is various in both genre and style. The major works include the Tres piezas par clarinete solo (1969) and the extraordinary Magma of 1971, for a sixteen instrument ensemble and written as a tribute to the Barcelonese painter August Puig; the fascinatingly-textured orchestral work Ab origine (1974) and the 1975 Marcus-Aurelius-inspired chamber cantata Acta est fibula; the Música per a violoncel i orquestra (1978), with its very individual take on the concerto form and his opera Gaudí; the latter written in 1992, though not, I think, performed until 2004.

Here the focus is on some of Guinjoan’s chamber music which – outside Catalonia, at any rate – has received rather less attention. It is played by the members of the excellent Trio Kandinsky. We only get to hear the trio playing en masse, as it were, in the Passim Trio, which opens the disc. Elsewhere, Elegia is for unaccompanied cello and Jondo is a piece for solo piano; Anniversari, Retaule and, obviously, Duo are duet pieces for, respectively, violin and cello, violin and piano and cello and piano.

Guinjoan is steeped in the music of, to name but a few, Berg and Stravinsky, Boulez and Schoenberg. But it is worth remembering that he has described his single opera, Gaudi, as “anti-central European” music; no doubt there was some rhetorical exaggeration in that particular phrase, but what is undeniable and valuable is that Guinjoan’s reworking of that particular modern tradition has about it elements quite absent from the work of such central European composers: the subtitle of Augustí Charles’ 1996 book – Joan Guinjoan: música mediterránea – is significant and to the point.

Mediterranean elements are perhaps most obvious in Jondo, which was premiered in Saint Germain-en-Laye in April 1979 - and which has been recorded more than once previously. The “deep song” of the flamenco tradition isn’t imitated in any direct fashion in Guinjoan’s piece, but there are allusions and evocations, and the rhythms of the saeta (a kind of flamenco-based song of religious devotion most often performed in Holy Week) are hinted at at more than one point low in the keyboard part. Jondo gets an authoritative performance from Emili Brugalla, not least in the passionate climax. The other solo work, Elegia, had its premiere in Barcelona in June of 1996. The score carries the dedication ‘Recordant la mort de la meva mare’ (Remembering the death of my mother). It is an emotionally intense piece grounded in memories, of the composer’s childhood and its background, as well as specifically of his mother, drawing as it does on a children’s song and a traditional Easter Week song from his native village. Elegia is played persuasively and with passionate expressiveness by Amparo Lacruz. Cellists planning solo recitals should surely take a good look at Elegia.

Of the three duets, Retaule is an interesting example of Guinjoan’s early work, more thoroughly “central European” - even if it also has a French inflection - than the later work. The title, Retaule, is the Catalan equivalent of the Spanish retablo, designating a feature set behind the altar, essentially a screen framing pictures, sculptures or mosaics. Such screens or paintings, or sculptural complexes more often than not are in the form of a triptych – and so is Guinjoan’s composition, structured in three distinct sections. Indeed the structure of the work rather dominates its other elements and the result is relatively dry, more correct in terms of the textbook than engrossing to the ear. Duo, written some two years earlier, has greater vitality, not least in its employment of an ostinato rhythmic pattern and some striking writing for the cello. Better still is Anniversari, written over twenty years later – it was premiered in Barcelona in December 1970. Here the influence of Jean-Etienne Marie is evident in Guinjoan’s use of microtonal techniques. A haunting opening layers harmonics in a fashion which is lyrically expressive and the piece develops a sequence of fragmentary melodic phrases which are interwoven and exchanged between violin and cello in an increasingly intriguing dialogue.

The major work here is the Passim Trio of 1988, a work which had its premiere in Barcelona in October of that year, and is dedicated to the Trio de Barcelona. This substantial trio is built around a single main theme - related to the Dies Irae - hinted at in the work’s opening but only stated fully later and then becoming the subject of a series of variations. The emotional range is considerable, in a work by turns melancholy, menacing, animated and calmly deliberative. Though the piano takes the dominant role, musical leadership is shared with the strings and the writing is constantly inventive and not without a certain humour as well as considerable power.

Guinjoan’s musical vocabulary is distinctive; thoroughly grounded in the language of modernism – both central European and French. His work yet has qualities that mark it as distinctively Spanish, in some of its rhythms, in occasional allusions and quotations and – above all – in a refusal, at least in his mature works, of any kind of compositional dogmatism. He favours a stylistic pluralism working in the service of a truthfulness to personal sensibility and an essentially lyrical expressiveness.

Glyn Pursglove




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