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Joaquim HOMS (1906–2003)
Orchestral Works – Volume 1

Biofonia (1982) [13:15]
Presències (1967) [23:15]
Dos Soliloquis (1973) [13:48]
Variacions sobre un tema popular català (1943, orch. 1948) [11:15]
Orquestra Simfònica de Barcelona i Nacional de Catalunya/Juan José Olives
rec. Sala Simfònica de l’Auditori, Barcelona, July 2005
COLUMNA MUSICA 1CM0169 [65:52]



Over the last few years the music of the Catalan composer Joaquim Homs has become somewhat better known and appreciated. This is thanks to the three discs of his piano music released by Marco Polo (8.225099 Volume 1; 8.225236 Piano Music Volume 2; 8.225294 Piano Music Volume 3). They are played by Jordi Masó who writes the insert notes here.

Homs was the late Roberto Gerhard’s only pupil and his life-long friend. Although he graduated in engineering and spent his entire professional career as an engineer, music never was a mere pastime or a hobby, as his substantial output clearly testifies (www.joaquimhoms.org). While reviewing some of the Marco Polo discs, I became deeply convinced that Homs was an important composer whose music deserves to be better known. The present disc, apparently the first volume devoted to his orchestral music, rather confirms that impression.

The four works here span some forty years of his compositional life, so that his stylistic progress may be assessed in a fairly comprehensive way. That said, three of these works were originally composed for piano. The orchestral versions were made either almost simultaneously or some time later (in the case of the Variations). The Variacions sobre un tema popular català were composed for piano in 1943 and orchestrated in 1948. The orchestral version was in fact Homs’ first orchestral work. The tune is that of a lullaby drawn from Pedrell’s Songbook ("Cancionero"). It may be noted that Pedrell was Gerhard’s first teacher and that Gerhard composed a very fine work for voice and piano or orchestra titled Cancionero de Pedrell (1941/2) as well as a symphony Homenaje a Pedrell (1942), of which the Finale was ‘rescued’ under the title of Pedrelliana. Homs’ handling of the tune is quite personal and the finished work far from the folksy romp that one might have expected. For all its variety, the music is nevertheless mostly on the slow side. It explores a wide range of techniques, including polytonality as well as some touches of Impressionism; but it already proves entirely personal in spite of its apparent, superficial eclecticism.

Presències is a suite of seven short studies that make up a tombeau composed in memory of Homs’ wife, the painter Pietat Fornesa who died in May 1967. Originally written for piano (on Marco Polo 8.225294), the piece also exists in the orchestral version heard here. However, the orchestral version more than once betrays its pianistic origins, in that the scoring includes a fairly important piano part. This set of concise, lapidary epigrams sometimes brings Stravinsky’s Movements for piano and orchestra to mind. Brevity and austerity, however, never exclude real feelings and emotions; they rather enhance them. One never doubts the deeply felt sincerity that this music exudes. In whatever version, Presències is a major work by a major composer.

The death of his wife was a permanent blow for Homs, who again reflected on it, as well as on Gerhard’s death in 1970, when composing Dos Soliloquis. This diptych, too, was originally composed for piano and later transcribed for various instrumental groups and finally for orchestra. Like Presències and several late works (Tres Evocacions and Remembrances, both for piano), this piece has something to do with memory and is yet another tombeau. The music is again austere, sparse and desolate in much the same way as in Presències.

The most recent work here is Biofonia completed in 1982. Homs’ last orchestral works (Biofonia – 1982, Memoràlia – 1989 and Derivacions – 1990) all deal with different aspects of memory. To a certain extent, Biofonia may be considered as a biography in sound. This is further reinforced by the number of quotes from some of his earlier works woven into the musical discourse, although a close familiarity with these works is of course necessary in order to ‘read’ this subliminal programme. What comes clearly through is the strength of the music and this more than ever places Homs in the wake of his mentor and friend Roberto Gerhard. The music is often austere, astringent, dissonant and uncompromising in its abstraction. Biofonia is a massive, compact monolith of great expressive strength, and a great piece of music in its own right; definitely a tough nut to crack, but well worth the effort.

Although he was deeply influenced by Gerhard, Homs managed to find his own way out of any all-too-strict dodecaphony, which he clearly adapted to suit his own needs. His music is firmly atonal, at times serial but never dogmatically so. He painstakingly devised his own brand of twelve-tone writing but this is never at the expense of expression though Homs is not one to wear his heart on his sleeve.

These four works from various periods of his creative life show both the breadth of his vision and his resourceful formal and orchestral mastery. I am eagerly awaiting the forthcoming volume 2 that includes several major orchestral works.

These performances and recordings are very fine indeed, and certainly give Homs’ consistently fine music its long-deserved due.

Hubert Culot

see also Volume 2

 


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