Manuel BLANCAFORT (1897–1987)
Complete Piano Music – Vol. 5
Cinc Nocturns (1930-1942) [22:55]
Hommage à Fauré (1942) [3:22]
2 Tonades (1943) [5:38]
Sardana simfonica (1949) [5:20]
Obsessio (1954) [2:42]
La verge de Palau Solitar (1978) [4:33]
Tres consejos de Turina (1983) [8:28]
Elegia (1983) [3:51]
Peces petites per a mans menudes (1986) [14:11]
Miquel Villalba (piano)
rec. L’Auditorium, Jafre, Spain 13-14 December 2008

Blancafort’s biography is intriguing, encompassing as it does a failed pianola-roll business, an ill-fated cosmetics venture and a series of nondescript jobs in insurance and publishing. In between all this he was able to compose and play his own works, preferring the intimate salons of Barcelona to the city’s more public musical arenas. Which is probably why his output is relatively unknown – it’s certainly new to me. As enterprising as ever, Naxos have committed all Blancafort’s piano music to disc. This is the final instalment in the series, the first four volumes of which have already been reviewed on these pages. Miquel Villalba, who is also new to me, is the pianist throughout.

Of the five nocturnes, written before, during and after the Spanish Civil War, the first has a light touch, a Debussian delicacy, the second a more pronounced nocturnal quirkiness. Villalba modulates easily between the music’s soft- and hard-edged phrases, the latter reminiscent of Ravel, while preserving an intimacy of utterance that seems entirely right for these interior musings. Even the more extrovert moments of the third nocturne are beautifully proportioned, the notes projected with great clarity and fine articulation. Occasionally, though, I do feel Blancafort strives a little too hard for effect – in the fourth nocturne, for example – whereas the fifth, which seems to wander down a blind alley, strikes me as rather bland.

No such qualms about the delightful homage to Gabriel Fauré, which has plenty of charm and colour; as for the two tonades (tunes or melodies), they are somewhat skeletal but they have a strong rhythm pulse, most notably in the Tonade intermitent. That said, I still can’t quite shake a feeling of detachment here, something that Bob Briggs alluded to in his review of Volume 4 in the series. It’s all very accomplished and well played, but it’s just not very memorable. And that’s how I feel about the dance-based Sardana simfonica which, for all its outward mobility, seems curiously static within. The recording is good though, much better than some from this label, with reasonable depth and a clear, but not brittle, piano sound.

As its title suggests Obsessio has a somewhat unpredictable, volatile character, but again that last ounce of communicative strength just isn’t there. It’s a pity, as Villalba is clearly a talented and committed pianist working hard to present Blancafort’s œuvre in the best possible light. He certainly does a fine job with the much later La verge de Palau Solitar, based on Catalan songs. There’s a new sense of focus, a greater density of specification if you like, that strikes me as much less derivative than anything we’ve heard thus far.

Ditto the Tres consejos de Turina (‘Three pieces of advice from Turina’) which, as Villalba points out in his comprehensive liner-notes, is a reworking of earlier pieces. Blancafort’s colour palette seems subtler and more varied, any sense of detachment supplanted by a newfound – and very welcome – emotional directness. For my money these are the loveliest pieces on this disc, the dark-toned Elegia similarly concentrated and very atmospheric. Blancafort’s final project, Peces petites per a mans menudes (‘Simple pieces for small hands’), follows in that great tradition of works centred on children and childhood. Chockfull of light and wistful charm, not to mention some challenging rhythms, these pieces are most enjoyable. Villalba enters into the dimly remembered world of the nursery with playing of great delicacy and character.

Despite my initial misgivings this collection gets better as it unfolds. Not first-rate music by any means, but there’s enough quality in the music – and more than enough in the playing – to make this a very worthwhile purchase.

Dan Morgan