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Joaquim HOMS (1906–2003)
Suite “Between Two Lines” (1948) [9:52]
Concertino for Piano and Chamber Orchestra (1946/7)a [16:42]
Suite for Piano Op.1 (1921)a [5:34]
Adagio for Strings (1950) [10:55]
Cycle I “El caminant i el mur” (1962)b [9:11]
Diptych I (1976)a [4:58]
Soliloquy II for Strings (1974) [6:26]
Jordi Masó (piano)a; Montserrat Torruella (mezzo-soprano)b;
Granollers Chamber Orchestra/Francesc Guillén
rec. Teatre Auditori de Granollers, Spain, January 2006
NAXOS 8.570306 [64:24]

Though mostly perfectly apt, the collective title of this release (Music for Chamber Orchestra) is a bit misleading. In fact it includes two works for solo piano, not previously included in Masó’s near-complete survey of Homs’ piano output released by Marco Polo. This release provides a most interesting appreciation of Homs’ stylistic progress over the years since his Suite for Piano Op.1 was written in 1921 when he was a mere fifteen year old budding composer and Diptych I at the other end of his composing life.
Although a youthful essay in composition inevitably displaying a number of stylistic influences, the Suite for Piano, to which the composer proudly affixed his first (and apparently last) opus number is far from negligible. It already displays several Homs hallmarks such as concision, clarity of line and of thought. Of course, echoes from older Spanish composers and from French Impressionism may be heard throughout these short movements, but the young composer’s assurance is quite remarkable. The Concertino for Piano and Chamber Orchestra (1946/7) and the Suite “Between Two Lines” (1948), still display some of the earlier influences, although the composer is now fully the master of his trade. The Piano Concertino, written for the Belgian pianist Pauline Marcelle who performed several piano works by Homs, is clearly Neo-classical with some echoes of Stravinsky and Prokofiev. The strongly contrapuntal nature of much of the music is still emphasised by the clear-cut, light scoring for small orchestra. The first two movements function as a sort of Prelude and Fugue leading into a spiky, slightly ironic Scherzo. The fourth movement restates some of the earlier material and swiftly moves through a fugal episode before heading for its abrupt and slightly enigmatic ending. The contemporary Between Two Lines is a suite of short didactic movements originally composed for piano. When preparing this version for chamber orchestra, the composer incorporated an earlier piano work Vals de suburbi (1931). Again, the scoring for small orchestral forces emphasises the Neo-classical and hints at Stravinsky, Bartók and Les Six.
Homs composed eight string quartets - a priority for future recordings - that span more than forty years of his composing career. In 1952 he arranged the slow movement of his Third String Quartet (1950) for string orchestra as Adagio for Strings heard here. By that time, the composer had matured and was reaching the peak of what is often referred to as his first compositional period. This is a deeply-felt, intense, unsentimental but strongly expressive elegy in spite of its apparent restraint.
By the time he composed Cycle I “El caminant i el mur” in 1962, he had absorbed twelve-tone writing, although he never fully adhered to it. This short song-cycle was originally written for voice and piano. Much later, in 1976, the composer scored it for voice and small orchestra, which is what we have here. The cycle sets short poems by Salvador Espriu, and consists of a suite of almost haiku-like songs. The music may be serial but nevertheless retains its strong expressiveness for all its succinctness and economy of means. One might be tempted to compare Cycle I to some of Webern’s song-cycles for voice and instruments, but Homs is certainly much warmer than Webern although the scoring for small orchestra is tellingly calculated to bring the most expressive strength from a minimum of orchestral gestures. For all its brevity, Cycle I is a minor masterpiece.
Diptych I and Soliloquy II date from the composer’s last period, in which he achieved a sort of stylistic synthesis. He composed Diptych I for harpsichord in 1974 and made the piano version in 1976. It consists of two strongly contrasted studies: a rather stern, dissonant Adagio and a somewhat lighter Allegro. In 1972 Homs wrote Two Soliloquies for piano. This diptych was composed after the death of the composer’s wife and of his teacher and friend Roberto Gerhard. He went on making several versions of the work for various instrumental combinations as well as one for orchestra. He arranged the Second Soliloquy for strings in 1974. Although the music is rather more austere and more astringent, the string version of Soliloquy II resembles the earlier Adagio for Strings, in its expressive strength.
Thanks to Jordi Masó’s untiring championing and to a handful of adventurous recording companies - principally Marco Polo, Naxos and Columna Musica - Homs’ music may now be appreciated for all it is worth. I have no doubt about it: Homs was an important composer, whose music never excludes expression and emotion, even when adopting dodecaphony or serialism. It generously repays repeated hearings. This release, obviously recorded to mark the composer’s centenary, offers the best introduction possible to his personal, endearing sound world.
Hubert Culot


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