Federico MOMPOU (1893-1987)
Piano music - Volume Two - Discoveries
Martin Jones (piano)
rec. Wyastone Leys, Monmouth, 23 June, 31 Oct, 1 Nov 2011
see track listing at end
NIMBUS NI 5877/9 [3 CDs: 2:46:00]
Mompou once said that “my only desire is to write works in which nothing is missing and nothing is superfluous” and he never strayed from that conviction. His earliest works follow on from the same track established by Satie’s early Gymnopédies, but while Satie subsequently moved far away from his earlier style Mompou’s music remained much the same for the next fifty years. In point of fact one work here, entitled The dance of the three Kings who fell from their camels, has a decidedly Satie-esque title; but the music, like some of Satie’s jeux d’esprit, shows its sense of humour purely in the title and not in the music itself.
A ballet based on a number of Mompou’s piano pieces orchestrated by Alexandre Tansman - an odd choice, it would appear - and given under John Lanchbery in London during the 1950s seems to have made little lasting impression on the musical world. At the time of his death in 1987 Mompou remained little known outside his native Catalonia, and was certainly regarded as far less significant than his fellow Iberians such as Albéniz, Granados or Falla. In the last twenty years his star has blossomed and there are now several sets of recordings of his piano works. He also wrote songs, choral works and a guitar suite for Segovia; but it is by these piano works that he has established his reputation.
The extreme simplicity of Mompou’s piano music does not mean that his music is simple to play; far from it. In order to distil its special essence the pianist has to reflect very precisely the delicacy of the composer’s imagination; the composer laboured with great intensity to achieve his pearl-like, deceptively simple style. Any hint of over-emphasis - on the rare occasions that emphasis is called for - or over-precise ‘interpretation’ will kill this stone dead. Martin Jones’s approach is direct, and ideal. He makes no attempt to make Mompou seem any more complex than he is. There is no forcefulness, and no unwarranted lingering.
This three-disc box assembles a large number of miniatures which do not form part of the larger sets of Mompou’s music. As such it is most valuable for those who have already purchased recordings of (for example) the miscellaneous Cançons and Dances or the Musica callada – or even Jones’s first volume of Mompou which assembles all of the major works on four discs. Many of the pieces are very inconsequential indeed – the fragmentary El camí del jardí which opens the second disc is only just over half a minute long. Many others come in at under two minutes but all share the same sense of calm rapture which we know from Mompou’s larger collections. Many of the tracks contain suites of more than one movement; the longest is the single track containing the Ballet Suite written for inclusion in a bibliophile edition of poems by Ricardo Permanyer. This contains a series of brief Gallic-flavoured sketches including a rather unlikely ‘blues’. Even so, any attempt to single out individual tracks would be invidious. This is an absolutely beautiful collection including many real ‘discoveries’, which is unlikely to be bettered.
Especially valuable is the third disc, which contains a complete performance of Mompou’s largest score, the ballet Perlimplinada which Mompou wrote in collaboration with Xavier Montsalvatge, who composed two additional dances and orchestrated the whole score. Although this was first performed in 1955, it was not given again until 1992, five years after Mompou’s death. It is presented here in the piano version which reflects more closely the work which Mompou himself did on the score. The music has a distinctively Spanish flavour and more vigour than is usual with Mompou, and at only just over half an hour it is short measure for a CD. It is in fact hard to detect any obvious influence by Montsalvatge, and one is inclined to treat the work as purely representative of its composer. The section of Rideau which describes Belisa singing from the balcony has a pristine beauty reminiscent of Ravel at his most jewel-like. One is not surprised to be informed by the detailed scenario which is given in the booklet that “Perlimpin listens to her in ecstasy” - my translation, as the booklet gives the scenario only in French – which seems slightly odd, given that the rest of the booklet is exclusively in English.
There are many works here which I was delighted to ‘discover’ for the first time. One is grateful to Jones for returning to the music of Mompou and making these recordings to complete his survey of the piano music. The earlier recordings included in the first volume were made some years ago (NI5724/7) but share the same excellent qualities. The booklet tells us that all these works remained unpublished during Mompou’s lifetime, and many of them - including many early pieces - only came to light in 2008 when his apartment was being cleared out. This accounts for the fact that the date of composition of several of them is not known. Although some of the early pieces are more forthright than one would expect to find in the works of Mompou’s maturity, it is most enjoyable to make their acquaintance. The composer’s sincerity and style shine out in every bar. The booklet also refers to Mompou’s “small output”, but the seven discs now included in Jones’s survey make for a very substantial body of work.
It should perhaps be noted that quite a few of the new items on these discs appear to be rejected movements from suites that Mompou himself published. It could be objected that it is unfair to posthumously raid composers’ waste-paper baskets in this way to the possible detriment of their reputation. However if composers are really dissatisfied with a particular piece as unworthy, it is always open to them to destroy the manuscript. If Mompou, for example, had been totally unhappy with an item, he could have done so. The fact that he preserved the original implies that he considered it could be employed again – possibly in a reworked version – at a later date or in another context. In fact there is no perceptible difference in quality between these supposedly rejected movements and those selected by Mompou for publication. It may simply be that the omitted movements were left out purely and simply because they did not fit into the context of that publication.
The sound of the piano can be tricky to capture on disc. Recording engineers often have a tendency to put their microphones too close, with the result that the sound can seem dry and airless. Nimbus have for a number of years adopted a diametrically opposite approach, recording in a resonant room with the microphones placed at a slight distance from the instrument. This can lead to a lack of clarity in romantic music, with a blurring of the notes in fast passages. Oddly enough, here the microphones seem to be a little closer than usual from this source but that sound is still exactly ideal for Mompou’s chiselled gems. It gives a halo around the sounds which Jones conjures from his instrument. By comparison Jordi Masó’s survey for Naxos is a little too ‘immediate’ in sound and performance in a rather small acoustic. Mompou’s own recording of Musica callada puts the sound under a close-up microscope, with what sounds like added reverberation failing to lend any sense of distance. The sound is important in music like this, where it plays a major part in creating the right atmosphere. The atmosphere here is exactly what is needed.
I would suggest that in order to avoid indigestion these three discs are probably best sampled piecemeal. They are nevertheless most enjoyable from beginning to end.
Paul Corfield Godfrey
Most enjoyable from beginning to end.
CD 1 [68:53]
1 Impressions de muntanya (1910) [3.43]
2 Dues Impressions (1915/16) [2.16]
3 Impressions sobre la vida d’un miner (1914) [6.57]
4 Impressions de La Garriga (1913/16) [12.56]
5 Cinq Impressions (1918) [11.41]
6 L’eco (1914) [1.09]
7 Les hores (1915) [2.40]
8 Festa triste (1915/16) [2.47]
9 Deux Arabesques (1915) [3.52]
10 Les amigues retornen del camp (1916) [1.49]
11 Serious fox-trot (1916) [5.24]
12 Tango (1919) [3.18]
13 Ball pla [2.53]
14 Dues Cançons [2.53]
15 Les fabriques prop de la platja [2.15]
16 Sis variacions harmoniques sobre un tema popular La canço d’en Jaumet [3.58]
CD 2 [66:22]
1 El camí del jardí (1911) [0.39]
2 Dos petits preludis (1912) [3.25]
3 Montseny (1912) [1.31]
4 Preludi (1912/13) [1.17]
5 Canço i dansa del pessebre (1914) [2.32]
6 Record de platja (1914) [2.11]
7 Variacions Aura-Mazda (1915) [6.27]
8 Fox-trot (1916) [2.49]
9 El plany del captaire (1916) [5.32]
10 Camins de sorra [ 2.32]
11 Danse dels tres reis que han caigut del camel [3.21]
12 Estanys de paper de plata [2.38]
13 Pensaments [2.04]
14 El pont de Montjuic (1941/47) [4.48]
15 Romança (1944) [0.44]
16 Moderato expressive (1946) [0.54]
17 Glossa sobre Au claire de la lune (1946) [1.30]
18 Fantasia sobre Au claire de la lune (1946) [2.45]
19 Preludi XI (1943?) [1.42]
20 Preludi XII (1960) [3.17]
21 Ballet Suite (1949) [13.51]
CD 3 [30:42]
1-6 Perlimplinada (1956) [30.42]