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Manuel BLANCAFORT (1897-1987)
Complete Piano Music: Volume 3

Camins (Roads) (1920-1923): (I. Camí del solitari [6:12]; II. Camí de festa sense alegria [02:26]; III. Camí del darrer encontre [03:35]; IV. Camí damunt del turo [02:35])
Cants íntims II (Intimate Songs) (1919-1924) (I. L'Absència [03:56]; II. Confidencia [03:08]; III. Epitafi [02:36]; IV. Epitafi [02:57]; V. Canco vespral [04:04])
El parc d’atraccions (Fun Fair )(1920-1924) (I. L'orgue dels cavallets [03:07]; II. El tumult desvetlla records [04:14]; III. Abstraccions [03:44]; IV. Polca de l'equilibrista [01:44]; V. La terrassa i la musica militar [04:37]; VI. Prop del dancing [06:37])
Pastoral en sol (Pastoral in G) (1926) [08:39]
Miquel Villalba, piano
Recorded Spain, Jan 2004. DDD
NAXOS 8.557334 [64:12]

The Naxos project to record Blancafort’s complete piano music proceeds chronologically. The first volume consisted of youthful miniatures written during the Great War. With volume 3 we move into the nineteen-twenties, a significant period for Blancafort. It was at this time that he was developing his ideas about creating music that was culturally tied to his native Catalonia rather than associated with Spain in general.

You may wonder what the fuss is about because the musical language of the piano music on this disc is, in style, early twentieth century French. By that I mean it is directly influenced by Debussy and Ravel with whole-tone scales, bare intervals, weak harmonies and so on. So if you like Debussy’s Images and Ravel’s Le Tombeau de Couperin, for example, you are likely to be attracted to these neatly crafted miniatures by a much lesser-known composer. You may need to be warned though that there is a good dose of Satie-esque naiveté thrown in which may not be to everyone’s taste.

There are three works here. They are in effect suites: collections of pieces that average out at three minutes each. In addition there is a single movement, extended piece, Pastoral en sol. Blancafort’s way with these miniatures tends to be to alternate between fast and slow, the transitions often handled by accelerando and rallentando. The impression given is that the slower music is the default position. In other words there is a feeling that we will always be taken back to a kind of melancholy. Perhaps melancholy is too strong a word. Other words that come to mind would be "wistful" and "ruminating" although there is a strong pastoral element that is in keeping with Blancafort’s quiet character and his love of countryside.

Of the suites, El parc d’atraccions is probably the composer’s most played work. It shows a development in his piano music towards musical unity, achieved by cyclic means: that is, to play with the same themes across the six pieces. In spite of this structural device, the music has an improvisatory doodling feel about it. Blancafort would not necessarily have regarded that as a criticism, believing that he was following his hero, Debussy, in the words of the pianist Miquel Villalba in the booklet, "by .... producing sonorities without intellectual arguments, reasons or theories to justify what he did." Villalba adds further that Blancafort was seeking to write music that was, "simple, without excessive counterpoint or nebulous chromaticism which would drown out our lyrical tradition’s purity of expression". By "our ... tradition" he means Catalonian and since the pianist comes from Barcelona, his geographical credentials in playing the music are impeccable.

Where Blancafort differs most from Debussy as well as Ravel is perhaps in personality. In this music, Blancafort never really lets his hair down or allows himself to get over-excited. El parc d’atraccions is an evocation of a fiesta, but it is a very restrained affair: more English fete with a French accent. I have been to Spanish Fiestas and they were pretty raucous affairs, even without the bull running through the streets. But they weren’t in Catalonia where maybe things are different.

Miquel Villalba interprets the music in this spirit and certainly captures Blancafort’s quiet moods and there is much beauty in the fluidity of his playing.

The piece I like best is the single-movement Pastoral en sol. It is constructed like a miniature sonata in three continuous movements and with more space it allows the composer to take some flight. I was comforted by the more certain sense of form, but that probably says more about me than it does about Blancafort.

John Leeman

see also review by Tim Perry

 

 



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