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Manuel BLANCAFORT (1897-1987)
Complete piano music vol.2: 6 Short Pieces; Country Games and Dances; Intimate Songs I; 8 Piano Pieces
Miquel Villaba (piano)
rec. 4-5 January 2003, L’Auditorium, Jafre, Spain DDD
NAXOS 8.557333 [61'29]

This is the second volume of Blancafort's piano music to be issued on the Naxos label. Volume 1 covers his earliest output and received a warm welcome on this website. The works on the present CD are still those of a young man but are, as the notes say, "the last in a series of piano miniatures". Blancafort, who did not have a formal training as a pianist, had served his apprenticeship and moved on to larger forms. His later works include two string quartets, piano concertos and a cantata Virgo Maria. A larger piano work, El Parc d'Atraccions was premiered by Ricardo Viñes in Paris.

Blancafort shared Catalan ethnicity, extreme longevity and the influence of French composers - Fauré, Debussy, Ravel - with his exact contemporary Frederic Mompou. And, a few bars in, their music sounds similar too. But not for long; both the style and atmosphere differ a great deal. Volume 1 in Naxos's Mompou series, played by the excellent Jordi Maso (Naxos 8.554332), includes a work from the period under discussion; in Charmes, we hear more advanced harmonies, a freer style and extensive use of ostinati.

But there is also a big difference in the emotional ambience. Where Mompou's music in Charmes is serene and confident, albeit in a quiet sort of way, what I hear all the time in Blancafort is his "incomprehensible sadness" referred to in the notes. Even in the most apparently lively of pieces (and liveliness never lasts long in Blancafort), there is an undercurrent of melancholy. The fact that the sadness was with him since childhood suggests depression which seems to imbue almost all the pieces on this CD with a tearful quality which is reinforced by such epigraphic titles as ‘Bitterly bemoaning my lot’, the fifth of the Cants Intims. These are the most explicit and painfully introspective works on the CD but even the Jocs I danses al camp (Country Games and Dances), ostensibly more playful, never lose the core of melancholy.

The Cants Intims ,with highly personal titles reminiscent of Janáček’s On an Overgrown Path, seem to reflect a personal, inward way of dealing with depressive feeling, bringing to mind Chopin’s "What's this? Tears? How long it is since they flowed! How is this, seeing that an arid melancholy has held me for so long in its grip? How good it feels - and sorrowful. Sad but kindly tears! What a strange emotion! Sad but blessed. It is not good for one to be sad, and yet how pleasant it is - a strange state..."

Not everyone will find the same emotional qualities as I and may even be able to listen to the whole CD in one sitting which I was quite unable to do. However, that same comment might well apply to whole discs of pieces by much more famous composers. Individually, the pieces are beautiful miniatures, deserving of wide hearing and more frequent programming in mixed recitals. They are most sensitively played on this CD by Villaba who catches their spirit perfectly.

I look forward to Naxos continuing the Blancafort series to El Parc d'Atraccions which was an immediate success in Paris where his music was very fashionable in the happy twenties. In the meantime, this CD may be enjoyed for its own singular virtues.

 

Roger Blackburn



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