Delfín COLOMÉ (1946-2008)
Scherzo Over Beethoven, for string quartet (1995) [9:01]
Boracay Beach, for three saxophones (1999) [6:36]
Variations à propos d'un Bateau qui s'Endort, for guitar (1984) [6:09]
Solo para un Solo, for bassoon (1986) [6:32]
Singapore Sling, for string quartet (2006) [3:22]
Dels Ocells, for cello and guitar (2007) [6:58]
Semioesferas, for guitar, string quartet, contrabass (1998) [12:32]
Zortziko, for guitar (2007) [4:33]
Amar Como el Mar, for piano with sound effects (1982) [12:29]
Ad hoc string quartet*:
*Celeste Williams (violin)
*Cristina Castillo (violin)
*Ana María Alonso (viola)
*Michael Kevin Jones (cello)
Alfredo Carlavilla (saxophone)
Marcos Palancares (saxophone)
Francisco Alcocer (bassoon)
Luis Navidad (contrabass)
Agustín Maruri (guitar)
Delfín Colomé (piano)
rec. Convento de San Antonio, Capilla Románica, La Cabrera, Madrid, July 2010; Basilica de San Francisco el Grande, Madrid, August 2010 [Scherzo, Solo, Semioesferas]; Santa Eufemia de Cozollos, Palencia, 2007 [Dels Ocells]; Oslo, 1982 [Amar]. DDD
EMEC E-096 [68:48]

One work on this disc, Dels Ocells, cropped up on a previous release by EMEC - the very same recording, in fact - which was reviewed here. Otherwise this is the first appearance on this site of Catalan composer Delfín Colomé, who died prematurely just over three years ago.

Like a latter-day Ives or Paderewski, Colomé lived an interesting double life, devoting himself not only to composition and conducting, but to a career in the diplomatic service as the Spanish Ambassador to The Philippines and both Koreas. In 1998 he gave a piano duet recital with the wife of the Filipino president to the Spanish royal family!

The disc opens with the oddly-named Scherzo Over Beethoven. This string quartet work repeatedly quotes the opening bar of Beethoven's bagatelle, Für Elise, but otherwise is more serious than the title or Colomé's notes suggest. According to the composer, "the musicians of my generation grew up under the strong influence of rock and roll. A real masterpiece was Chuck Berry's 'Roll over Beethoven'" - but thankfully there is no trace of this evidently trendy side of Colomé in the Scherzo which, whilst not particularly profound, is certainly of interest. Eagle-eared listeners may spot other brief allusions to Beethoven elsewhere on this disc. The other work for string quartet is the Singapore Sling, a title which might suggest some jazz influence. In fact the work is simply a brief but catchy homage to Singapore the city/country, which includes a bit of wood-tapping percussion and, near the end, a declamation of the title by the players.

There is a certain notoriety attached to some Spanish recording technology, and in some ways this disc attempts to succour that reputation. Firstly, there are a few redactional 'blips' dotted about - one in Singapore Swing, one towards the end of track 4, and one halfway through track 8, for example. The final track, Amar como el Mar, was recorded in 1982, and has a very 1980s feel to it - more on that below. Four further works were recorded in a convent in Madrid; one of these is track two, Boracay Beach, which sounds as if the microphones were placed at the other end of the chapel. This is a pity, because this work, written for three saxophones played by two saxophonists, has plenty of energy, colour and texture - although neither the eponymous tropical beach Colomé says he wanted to evoke nor the intended thematic minimalism are much in evidence.

Both works for solo guitar also suffer from this 'spacious' recording - the Variations on 'Un Bateau qui s'Endort', a French tune Colomé sang in his childhood, and Zortziko, a piece commissioned by the guitarist Agustín Maruri. Again, each is rendered rather two-dimensional - almost as if the microphones had been placed in the confessional. And once more this is a shame - both works are delectably evocative, the Variations despite their origin very Spanish, the Zortziko more exotic - the title refers to a Basque dance rhythm in 5/8 time.

Oddly, Solo para un Solo - a straightforward monologue for bassoon, along the lines of a thoughtful improvisation - was ostensibly recorded at the same time and place, yet the microphones have been either moved or adjusted and the recording, the tiny blip already mentioned aside, is fine.

The track most suspect for having been doctored, however, is Semioesferas - in fact, there is no question; the only doubt remains over how many times. Semioesferas, for guitar and string quintet, is in fact one of two first-rate works on this CD, along with Dels Ocells, for cello and guitar, the main theme of which will be instantly recognisable to anyone familiar with Catalan folk music - it is the Cant dels Ocells ('Song of the Birds') made famous by Colomé's illustrious fellow Catalan, Pablo Casals, and commissioned by the duet performing in this recording. Semioesferas also quotes a famous Spanish tune for the listener to spot, although this time from a 20th century original. Both this and Dels Ocells contain some quite imaginative string writing, particularly for guitar and cello, but there is no denying that Semioesferas is almost ruined by the producer's scalpel.

Listeners prone to sea-sickness - or bilious attacks in general - would be well advised to skip the last track. Amar como el Mar ('To love like the sea') is a duff confection for piano - a rather tinny sounding one at that - with the superimposed sound of waves breaking vigorously on the seashore. At times it sounds as if the sea is about to swallow up the piano - if only!

The CD booklet is informative, although those who can read Spanish will find it all the more so - reminiscences by Colomé's wife of their life together - including the interesting fact that her husband could earn more in two days as a conductor than in two weeks as an ambassador - are only available in that language. Also, Colomé's own notes on his music lose something in the unauthored translation - in fact, some of the Spanish and English versions are inexplicably quite different, and sometimes accidentally quite funny - for example, in his description of the background to Boracay Beach, Colomé refers to "this music from the country I have lived in over two centuries"!

Recording issues aside, and apart from the last track, this is a disc of varied, entertaining music, and a fitting tribute to a colourful composer.

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Varied, entertaining music, and a fitting tribute to a colourful composer.