Mompou's character pieces and dances have long exercised a pull
on the exploratory pianist. The Ukrainian Olena Kushpler has
selected six of the Preludes and eight of the Canciónes
y danzas, adding the complete Impressiones intimas
to create a well-balanced programme. Purists might have wished
for complete sets of the former, but maybe they will appear
in due course. Kushpler has a warm tone and good instincts for
the music's plangency and dreamy qualities. Nor is she innocent
of its tangier, dance-like vitality. It's often a question of
how the pianist characterises the moods and impressions Mompou
presents: a question too of how to approach and bind those tricky
contrastive B sections. Too big a contrast and the structure
fractures; too small a contrast and the mood dissolves.
Mompou recorded a large tranche of his own music in 1974 when
he was on 81. The box set on Brilliant was reviewed by me some
years ago. He is almost always more percussive and with a dryer,
more hard-edged sound than others who record this music. Partly
this is a question of the piano and the recorded sound, but
also it's part of a composer-executant’s stand-offish
view of his own music: gimlet-eyed, taut, and not inclined to
linger unnecessarily. Maybe, too, it's a question of age, though
he doesn't seem unduly taxed technically. Kushpler is another
in the line of pianists who are less arresting rhythmically
than the composer, but who offer compensation in tonal breadth.
This is true in the fifth and seventh Preludes. When Mompou
writes 'languido' as he does of the Ninth prelude Kushpler takes
him at his word and plays with considerable charm and colour.
Mompou's objectivist stance is of a piece with his performances
generally. Sometimes this duality of response can change a piece's
character. The Tenth Prelude, for instance, is more chordally
warm and ebullient in her hands but with the composer things
are cool, almost quizzical.
In the lovely Canciónes y danzas, we find that
where she is youthful and light, he is full of regret
and tristesse (No.5) and that where she savours the lyricism
(No.6) he absorbs it but passes on without show. Where she is
eager and excited (No.8) he is fragile and nostalgic - though,
as this is a Lento, who's to gainsay the composer here? What
remains incontestable is her subtly coloured playing, attractive
chording and enthusiasm for the richness inherent in the music.
And, in any case, it's rather enjoyable to find in the Impressiones
intimas that where Mompou espouses a tensile directness
laced with rubati (No.3) she prefers sweetness and light.
One can enjoy Kushpler's performances alongside the composer's
very different recordings, some of which, it's true, do suffer
tape flaws. She offers a warmly textured series of performances,
well recorded. My only concern remains whether she intends to
complete the sets. Collectors might not necessarily look favourably
on the complete Impressiones but only half of the other
two sets. Let's hope she concludes the undertaking.