This is the fifth and final recording that Marco
Polo is devoting to the works of Manuel Martínez-Sobral
whose music is said to be a blend of Mozartian classicism, Chopinesque
romanticism and French impressionism. Suzanne Husson is the one
constant in the three works of Volume 5. She was born in Buenos
Aires to French parents and started studying music at the age
of five; her first public performance was just three years later.
Husson eventually moved to Europe to study with esteemed teachers
including Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli. She now lives in Geneva
and performs solo concerts as well as being a member of chamber
ensembles. Her recorded legacy up to this point includes recordings
for Fonè, Erato and Marco Polo.
The pianist Michel Bourdoncle joins Husson for
"Acuarelas chapinas". His credentials include first
prizes in solo and chamber competitions, study with Dominique
Merlet and Jean Hubeau, and a professorship at the Paris Conservatoire.
Well, I have been avoiding the main issue which
is the quality of Martínez-Sobral’s music. After intensive
listening over the past few weeks, I have yet to work up any enthusiasm
for the three works of Volume 5. The composer certainly knows
his architecture, but I cannot detect any significant degree of
In essence, Martínez-Sobral gives us a
retread of the Chopinesque style and salon-type music not of the
highest order. A basic problem is the complete lack of any memorable
tunes or themes. The salon music of a Poulenc or Satie sticks
in the memory, but Martínez-Sobral’s music vaporizes once
Emotional breadth is almost non-existent, as
most of the pieces are merely pleasant and innocuous. Even the
rather nostalgic "Romanza sin palabras" from the "Cinco
piezas" which is a delicate and loving tribute to the composer’s
mother refuses to plumb any depths. Also, not a single piece or
passage contains a kernel of excitement and the pianists do nothing
to alter the situation.
Extensive repetition is also one of Martinez-Sobral’s
calling cards. I have a little test I employ when it seems that
repetition is over-cooked. I keep fast-forwarding every twenty
seconds or so to hear if the phrasing changes significantly, and
this music often doesn’t change in the least as phrasing, flow,
and note clusters are generally stagnant.
The best I can report is that the recorded sound
is rich and detailed. I had hoped that continued listening would
lead me to revise my initial opinion, but it has only served to
galvanize my lack of appreciation; the music cannot handle intensive
listening. Each piece on its own conveys a degree of pleasure,
but hearing the disc in one sitting is a mind-numbing experience.
The performances may not be exceptional, but I doubt that any
pianist could lift this music to a recognizable level.
In conclusion, the lack of variety, contrast
and inspired music-making mandates a recommendation to pass on
the recording which wouldn’t even be a worthy acquisition at budget
also review by Gary Higginson
Posted by Xavier Beteta
on February 24, 2004,
In response to the reviews posted by
Gary Higginson and Don Satz on Guatemala
Volume V I would like to clarify
some aspects regarding the Guatemalan
composer Manuel Martinez Sobral (1879-1946).
The works by Manuel Martinez Sobral
were discovered by the composer Rodrigo
Asturias in 1989. For a long time Martinez
Sobrals music remained unpublished
and unknown and to some extent it was
considered lost. Before 1989 only two
works were fairly known of all Martinez
Sobrals output and they were published
by Gallet et fils in Paris,
From different perspectives I would
say that Manuel Martinez Sobral occupies
a special place in Latin American musical
history. As a matter of fact, almost
all serious music composed in Latin
America between 1850 and 1950 has a
strong folkloric influence. In some
sense this folklorism could
be considered the musical epidemy
of that époque in the region.
In this sense, Martinez Sobral remained
neutral to this tendency, developing
a particular musical personality, being
profoundly Latin American (specifically
very Guatemalan) but not falling in
the excesses of folkloric references.
He could be compared to Edward Macdowell
who was educated in Europe, but developed
his own american musical
language without being folkloric.
Martinez Sobrals music is full
of tradition. In his music prevails
the balance and the concept of the classical
forms. He was also influenced by Chopin
but by any means he could be considered
an imitation of the great polish composer.
For example, Martinez Sobral does not
present the fioritures or
ornaments so characteristic of Chopin.
To some extent Martinez Sobral created
his own personal impressionism.
His musical language is so particular
that it cannot be labeled under any
It is also known that his personal musical
library is still intact. From that we
know that he knew very well the music
from Bach to Liszt. Apparently he never
heard or had any contact with the works
of the post-romantics and the nationalistic
movements of the early XX century. It
is less possible that he had any reference
of the French Impressionism.
His musical craftsmanship was very
strong as it is shown in pieces like
the Acuarelas Chapinas, the final movement
of the Piano Sonata, the first piece
of the Evocaciones or the Vals Brillante
de Concierto (based on a ternary form
A-B-A combining rondo form and variation
form). This only gives us a sense of
to what extent Martinez Sobral approached
the real problems of composition and
His musical language shows great spontaneity,
being concise, flowing as a necessity
and focusing on a direct aesthetic pleasure.
It is never redundant or of bad
taste and his harmonies and musical
ideas present a particular refinement.
His melodic language has some relation
with the musical forms of the époque.
That gives as a result, memorable melodies
so easy to recognize. Of this type I
would mention Hojas de Album, piezas
como Danza, Tempo de Vals Lento, Mazurka
and Berceuse. Even, the first movement
of Acuarelas Chapinas presents a memorable
first theme that will be recapitulated
at the end simultaneously with the no
less attractive second theme.
Unfortunately Martinez Sobral had to
quit composing at age 42 to dedicate
himself to his other profession, law.
Now we know that the musical scene in
Guatemala of that time made him to take
this decision. There was a lack of interest
in musical culture in the Guatemala
of the 1920s where dictatorships
were taking place one after another
destroying any form intellectuality
and artistic sensibility.
Composition, Musicology and Theory Division
College Conservatory of Music
University of Cincinnati