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Brilliant Classics

Federico MOMPOU (1893-1987)
Música Callada (Cuadernos 1-4: 1959, 1962, 1965, 1967)
Cançons i danses (1921-62)
Canción de cuna (1951)
Cants màgics (1917-19)
Paisajes (1942-60)
Préludes (1927-60)
Variations sur un thème de Chopin (1938-57)
Trois Variations (1921)
Dialogues (1923)
Souvenirs de l'Exposition (1937)
Impresiones intimas (1911-14)
Scènes d'enfants (1915-18)
Pessebres (1914-17)
Charmes (1920-21)
Suburbis (1916-17)
Fêtes lointaines (1920)
Federico Mompou (piano)
rec. 1974, Casino d'Alianca del Poblenou, Barcelona, Spain. ADD
BRILLIANT CLASSICS 6515 [4 CDs: 69:50 + 73:20 + 69:50 + 67:50]


I have to admit that Mompou’s own piano discs have escaped me until now. I knew he’d recorded a large swathe of his music in old age but had never grasped the full implications of exactly how much, though I was aware of the Ensayo re-releases (until recently available in the USA but not in Britain). Brilliant have collated those 1974 sessions in one formidably important box set of 4 CDs. The results will mightily please admirers of the subtle art of this composer and adherents generally of composer-performer interpretations ... or both.

Mompou was eighty-one when he recorded these discs. His technique was strong but no longer consistently impeccable and there is some evidence of slightly splashy chording and other signs of digital compromise. These are, however, well nigh negligible when set beside so much strength of purpose, so much colour and subtlety of phrasing. This defines the required flexibility within prescribed Mompou limits, the famous self-advocated "freedom" that lesser players interpret as metrical indulgence.

The arc of Mompou’s development went from immersion in impressionism to a Satie-esque hypnotism, through a relatively late discovery of counterpoint to a spiritual realm that embraced stillness and the mystical. The four CDs range back and forth over his long compositional life. The first features the four Cuaderno (1959-67). These are essentially wistful and melancholic and benefit greatly from Mompou’s reluctance to sentimentalise them. He brings out the Antique air at the heart of No.III from the first book as he does the powerful dialogue that transfers between the hands in No.7. He is ineffably witty in No.XI (Book Two) and controls the relatively eruptive material of No.XIII with power. The hypnotic bell peals of No.XXI vie for attention with the yearning romance and harmonic sophistication of No XXII, a kind of contemporary lied. The influence of serialism on Mompou can be felt in No.XXV (Book Four) written in1967 and the Lento molto (No.XXVII), the penultimate study, shows a sophisticated but quietly affecting simplicity (deceptive, and always achieved through the most harmonically dextrous of means).

The second disc gives us the Cancons i danses, Canción de cuna, Cants màgics and the Paisajes. There are twelve Cancons i danses written in a huge span between 1921 and 1962. This is the more externalised Mompou, more pressingly extrovert. The first dance of 1921 is one of his most famous works, a lilting and insistent one with a pressing B section and even some hints of Schumann. The warmth and generosity of spirit engendered by these pieces, and not always evident from his more still and contemplative later works, is palpable in these generous but not flawless performances. No VII is full of pert dancing rhythm and No X courses with a courtly profile (when Mompou looked back it was invariably not as a pastiche but with a sense of a living current – there’s no spirit of irony in these affectionate historical retrievals, they take their place in the compositional palette open to him). The Canción de cuna fuses nostalgia with ineffable rhythmic charm – those who write off Mompou’s charms as vaporous or vapid are invited to lend an ear. In El lage from 1947, part of Paisajes we can hear another of the influences on Mompou, namely Debussy who even at this relatively late stage, was still exerting his old allure on the already fifty-year-old Mompou.

Disc Three has the Préludes, written between 1927 and 1960. The first is somewhat redolent of Chopin, the second full of Spanishry with Mompou heeding his own direction (très clair). The vigour and brief flirtation with fugato that seethe through No.VII are excitingly conveyed, as is the strictly lyric quality of No.VIII. There’s a problem on some of these Preludes, Nos 7 and IX especially, and that’s there’s what sounds like tape distortion or degradation; first of all the piano sounded grossly out of tune but something has gone badly awry with the tapes on a few of these pieces and it makes for temporarily uncomfortable listening. The Chopin Variations are quite witty, an emulation rather than a harmonic exploration of any great depth and the Satie side of Mompou emerges very clearly in the Dialogues – unlike the extrovert Souvenirs de l’Exposition, a picturesque rompy piece. Some of his very earliest pieces turn up on the final volume. The Impresiones intimas date from just before the first war and are changeable, French influenced and alluring. One of the most famous of the 1915-18 Scènes d’enfants is Jeunes filles au jardin, which receives a richly evocative reading here. These early genre pieces lack the harmonic sophistication of the later, more concentrated works but certainly show quite clearly the versatility within constrained form of which Mompou was an adept.

The booklet is one of the best such I have seen from Brilliant. It has a number of essays from authoritative writers, biographical notes and well-produced, sharply detailed photographs of the composer. Excepting the tape distortion this is a notably fine set of four important CDs. Mompou’s (at the time) unissued 1950 London recordings have now been issued on EMI. And of course for those who seek more of a pianist-poet there is always Alicia de Larrocha, friend and dedicatee of a number of Mompou works and whose authority could hardly be bettered, or maybe Stephen Hough or the multi-volume Naxos series from Jordi Maso. Still, there’s now no excuse not to seek out these valuable examples of the composer-pianist in his maturity and to admire playing that gets to the heart of the matter.



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