As musical discoveries go this is an intriguing disc. Not only
is Mompou unfamiliar to me but the items in this collection
– discovered by the composer’s wife in 1985 – will also be unknown
to you. This world premiere recording is just the kind of release
that makes Naxos such a rewarding label; and, as I’ve discovered,
many of these super-budget issues are a steal at any price.
As for the Barcelona-born pianist Jordi Masó, I’m pleased to
report that although he’s also new to me, his playing here is
both distinguished and delightful. Factor in a splendid, atmospheric
recording and this collection becomes irresistible.
To the unsuspecting ear Mompou’s early sketches of suburban Barcelona – the first five tracks – will come as a pleasant surprise. El plany del captaire (The beggar’s lament) has a deceptive charm – not to mention an unmistakable Iberian twist of harmony and rhythm – that’s most invigorating. Although these pieces are modest in scale it’s clear there’s a substantial musical intellect at work here, subtle colours embedded in the smallest phrases, such as those of Record de platja (Beach memory). Masó’s easeful delivery and his control of dynamics are most impressive – sample the contrasting tunes of Camins de sorra (Sandy paths) for instance – and savour the natural, well-balanced piano sound as well.
Of the 5 Impressions No. 1 has the most sparkle and energy. Masó’s clear, meticulous playing is enhanced by a real sense of warmth and spontaneity. This is especially true of the second Impression, whose winsome lilt had me reaching for the repeat button. I suppose one could hear Debussy or Ravel in this music – with a dash of Gottschalk, perhaps – but Mompou’s ‘voice’ strikes me as a very distinct and individual one. While there’s always the possibility of longueurs in anthologies such as this, I’m pleased to say there’s no hint of that here. Indeed, these ear-pricking Impressions are a good example of the variety and contrast of this collection as a whole, whether it’s quiet or animated, inward or extrovert. And just listen to those lovely harp-like swirls in No. 5, so discreetly done.
Mannered, even precious, playing is the enemy of such repertoire, but there’s none of that in Masó’s playing. Pastoral en la boira (Pastoral in the fog) could so easily be disfigured by posturing pianism, yet it’s given with a gossamer lightness that’s just magical. Even in the salvoes of Pastoral salvatge (Wild pastoral) Masó retains a sense of dynamic control and structural balance that’s just perfect for these multi-layered miniatures. Added to this pianist’s many virtues is a keen ear for colour and nuance – sample the tiny Cami de muntanya (Mountain trail) and El cami del jardi (The garden path) for instance – and I couldn’t help but think of Gottschalk once more in the pirouettes of Montseny.
There’s much to enjoy here – L’eco is so cleverly done – the three Impressions de Muntanya (Mountain impressions) and imperious Pensament (Thought) infused with Mediterranean warmth and piquancy; and every note is presented in the most natural and unpretentious way. The bell-like Petits preludis (Little preludes) are an absolute delight as well, the two Arabesques rather more hard-edged than the Debussian variety. But that’s not to suggest there’s anything stiff or unyielding about Masó’s playing, the soft, pastel wash that opens Estanys de paper de plata (Tinfoil pools) nicely contrasted with the bold brush strokes that follow.
One of the many pleasures of this disc is hearing how beautifully Masó integrates left and right hand, especially in the stamp and click of the whimsically titled Dansa dels tres reis que han caigut del camell (Dance of the three kings who have fallen off their camels) and the modulations of Cançó i dansa del pessebre (Nativity song and dance). The recital ends with the sonorous, but judiciously weighted, Les hores (The hours) and the insistent Ball pla (Low dance).
All this, and lucid liner-notes from the pianist himself, makes for a most attractive issue. Indeed, I’ve added the rest of this Mompou cycle to my ever-growing wish-list; I suggest you do the same.
Nominating Naxos releases as Bargains of the Month is becoming a habit with me, but when the music - and musicianship - is as assured as this, nothing else will do.