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Song of the Stars
Pau CASALS (1876-1973)
Rosarium Beatae Virginis Mariae [10:41]a,c
Recordare, Virgo Mater [2:26]a,c
Enric GRANADOS (1867-1916)
Salve Regina [5:06]a,c
Pau CASALS (1876-1973)
Nigra sum [4:29]a,c
Enric MORERA (1865-1942)
El Rossinyol [1:32]a
Enric GRANADOS (1867-1916)
Romanza [5:56]b,d
Enric MORERA (1865-1942)
Ave Maria [2:21]a,c
Enric GRANADOS (1867-1916)
Escena religiosa [4:32]b,c,d
Manuel BLANCAFORT (1897-1987)
Cant d’amor [2:45]a
Manuel OLTRA
Eco [2:06]a
Preludio [1:46]a
Enric GRANADOS (1867-1916)
Cant de les estrelles [17:36]a,b,c
aVoices of Ascension/Dennis Keene; bDouglas Riva (piano); cMark Kruczek (organ); dErica Kieswetter (violin)
rec. 21-22, 24 March 2007, Church of the Ascension, New York
Texts and translations included (except for tracks 18 and 19)
NAXOS 8.570533 [62:44] 


Experience Classicsonline

Any music-lover finding him or herself in Barcelona will surely head – before too long – for the Palau de la Música, designed at the beginning of the last century by Lluís Domènech i Montaner. One of the great monuments of Catalan modernism, it is a dazzling assemblage of the decorative arts. The moving spirit behind the creation of the Palau – a building of remarkable beauty, designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997 – was the city’s choral society, the Orfeó Català. The Palau, which still hosts a very impressive series of high-quality concerts, is an effective symbol of the Catalan musical tradition in general, and of the importance of choral works within that tradition. It is a tradition which has perhaps not yet received its full due beyond the borders of Catalonia – so it is a delight to encounter this American-performed collection of music by some of the finest modern composers of Catalonia. They include Granados and Blancafort - a number of works by both had their premieres in Barcelona’s Palau - and also the great cellist Casals, whose bust graces the Palau. No less than seven of the works – Morera’s El Rossinyol and Ave Maria, Blancafort’s Cant d’Amor, Oltra’s Eco and Preludio and Granados’s Escena religiosa and Cant de les estrelles – are recorded here for the first time.

The most substantial work here is Granados’s Cant de les estrelles. It is a work that has had an odd history and for a piece of such quality it is remarkable that this should be its first recorded performance. It was premiered on 11 March 1911 in the Palau de la Música at a concert devoted entirely to the music of Granados, a concert at which Goyescas and Azulejos were also premiered. It must have been quite a night. Though Cant de les estrelles was much admired it received no further performances and in 1938 the manuscripts of the work were taken to America by the composer’s son Victor, where they were sold. Legal disputes followed – in part concerned with questions about Victor’s right to sell the manuscripts. After the War the manuscripts remained in the collection of Nathaniel Shilkret and were then believed lost in a fire in 1964. Eventually, primarily through the efforts of pianist Douglas Riva and Shilkret’s son Niel Shell, the score came to light again. It has therefore had to wait almost a century for its second performance and its first recording. Cant des estrelles might be described as a piano concerto in which an organ and three choirs replace the orchestra. The piano part - fittingly played by Douglas Riva - is far more Germanic than Spanish in nature, with a general indebtedness to Schumann and Chopin and some late-Romantic chordal writing. The text is a poetic response - by an unknown author, just possibly Granados himself - to Heine. The work carries the subtitle of “poem for piano, organ and voices inspired by a poem by Heine. It isn’t a setting of a poem by Heine, but explores themes of “infinite vastness” and of the imprisonment of love in a manner that echoes texts by Heine. The resulting work is grand, even grandiose, but full of interesting detail and possessed of some genuine power. All those involved in its performance acquit themselves admirably and the work makes a considerable impact. It surely won’t have to wait another century for its next performance.

Granados is elsewhere represented by a pleasant but conventional Salve Regina of 1896; by Escena religiosa, scored for piano, violin and organ which has an elegiac, even funereal quality, and in which a moving violin line played with unforced expressiveness by Erica Kiesewetter; by Romanza, for violin and piano, a piece of sophisticated salon music, in which Riva and Kiesewetter play with sensitivity and appropriate sentiment.

The music of Pau (Pablo) Casals has always taken second place to his playing. It is good, then, to hear some pieces from what is, I believe, a relatively small output as a composer. These three choral works - it is a pity that no dates are provided, it would have been interesting to know how they fitted, chronologically speaking, into his career - were written for the male choir of the Monastery at Montserrat, near Barcelona. The music is uncomplicated, but exudes an air of Catholic piety and is often movingly beautiful.

Born in Barcelona, Enric Morera was a very important figure in the musical revival of the Catalan modernist movement. The list of his works stretches to over 800, including operas, orchestral works, symphonies, choral works, settings of Catalan folk music and much else. Too much of his work remains unexplored – especially beyond Catalonia. Such exploration will surely only be encouraged by the hearing of his two pieces included here. His Ave Maria for soprano, women’s voices and organ is a marvellous gem, a setting of real beauty in which the writing for soprano is exquisite and gets a very fine performance from Melissa Kelley. El Rossinyol is a pleasant choral arrangement of a Catalan folk-song, a genre to which Morera made a major contribution.

Manuel Blancafort’s Cant d’amor has charm and a certain harmonic unexpectedness to recommend it in its setting of a traditional text. Though pleasant, it lacks the memorability of the two compositions by Manuel Oltra which constitute two of the highlights of this very interesting disc. Oltra was born in Valencia, but his family moved to Barcelona in the year of his birth. Oltra was later to study at the Barcelona Municipal Conservatory of Music, where he went on to teach harmony, counterpoint and musical form there, from 1959 until his retirement in 1987. Such pieces of his as I have heard suggest an absolute master of the craft with a distinctive and personal voice, albeit one which seems always to suggest the Catalonian tradition. The two pieces recorded here, Eco and Preludio, come from his Tres Canciones de Amor, settings of poems by Lorca. The music and the performances are alike quite splendid and my only complaint is that we don’t have the third song which completes the set, Madrigalillo. These are pieces of magical beauty, intelligently responsive to the Lorca texts - unfortunately not provided, for copyright reasons but readily accessible elsewhere - and with a glorious sense of musical proportion and grace.

Some, perhaps all, of these pieces were recorded live in concert. But there are no distracting off-stage noises and the sound quality is excellent. 

Glyn Pursglove




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