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Manuel BLANCAFORT (1897-1987)
Complete Piano Music volume 3
Camins (Roads) (1920-1923) [14:48]
Cants íntims (Intimate Songs) (1919-1924) [16:41]
El parc d'atraccions (Fun Fair) (1920-1924) [24:03]
Pastoral en sol (Pastoral in G) (1926) [8:39]
Miquel Villalba (piano)
Rec: L'Auditorium, Jafre, Spain, 2-3 January 2004, DDD
NAXOS 8.557334 [64:31]

Manuel Blancafort was the grand old man of Catalonian music until his death in 1987. With this third edition in its exploration of his piano music, Naxos brings together music written during the composer’s mid-to-late 20s. And what attractive music it is! The young Catalonian composer had a wonderful ear for keyboard sonorities. This was developed in part, apparently, through his involvement in the family pianola roll business. This is music full of colour and beauty.

Appropriately, our guide is Miquel Villalba, a native of Barcelona and the pianist for this series of recordings. Villalba clearly loves this music. He is a fine advocate and a sensitive pianist: just listen to the gossamer sounds he produces in the first of the Cants íntims, and his play with the inner voices of the last piece of the same suite, for example. He also wrote the brief but informative booklet notes.

The ghost of Debussy hovers over all of the music on this disc, but haunts the first two suites in particular. Camins is full of lush chords, flocks of scattered notes and modal quirks and concludes with a hint of a swagger in its final movement.

Cants íntims inhabits the same sound-world but feels more of a piece, with the melodic material of the first song being bent and softly manipulated by supple fingers to reflect changes of mood as a lake reflects clouds that pass above it. For all the Debussy, there is also something Lisztian about the treatment of the thematic material, particularly in the two Epitafi movements.

Although largely at the same time as its disc mates, El parc d'atraccions has a stronger sense of purpose and feels immediately a more mature work. It integrates Catalonian folksong and paints not individual pictures but the scenario of an uneasy jaunt through a fairground. Debussy's influence remains and is coupled with that of Les Six and a touch of the Stravinsky of Petrushka. Of the six pieces in the suite, III. Abstracciones, with its sudden flashes of notes sending ripples across its melancholy surface, and VI. Prop del dàncing, with its cheeky reference to Dvořák's Humoresque, in particular will stay with me. IV. Polca de l'equilibrista is also an attractively jaunty tune which sounds a little poker-faced here, but this is nonetheless effective.

The recital concludes with the Pastoral in G, a bright neo-classical sonatina with danceable rhythms.

Anyone who cares about early 20th century pianism in general, and French (or Catalonian) piano music in particular, will enjoy this disc and play it repeatedly. I certainly did.

Tim Perry



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