Xavier MONTSALVATGE (1912-2002)
Piano Music 3: Music for two Pianos
Barcelona Blues (1956/1961) [5:16]
Calidoscopio (1990) [13:13]
Homenatge (1998) [1:58]
Tres Divertimentos sobre Temas de Autores Olvidados (1941/1983) [6:36]
Sum Vermis, for soprano, two pianos and two percussionists (1973) [15:24] +
Cinco Invocaciones al Crucificado, for voice, piano, celesta, harp, three flutes, double bass and five percussionists (1969) [20:31] *
Jordi Masó (piano); Miquel Villalba (piano II, *celesta)
Pia Freund (soprano); +Ferran Carceller (percussion); +Miquel Àngel Martínez (percussion); *Ensemble Barcelona 216/*+Ernest Martínez Izquierdo
rec. Auditori de Barcelona, Spain, 13-17 July 2011. DDD

Perhaps surprisingly for those to whom his name is still unfamiliar, Catalan composer Xavier Montsalvatge is fairly well represented on CD, with five recordings available, for example, of the Concierto Breve and more still of the Sonatine pour Yvette. The recently-founded Xavier Montsalvatge society provides a huge, comprehensive discography.
This is the third volume in Naxos's survey of the piano music, all performed by Jordi Masó (previous volumes on 8.570744 and 8.570756). There is assistance from others as required - the Granollers Chamber Orchestra on the first two discs, and here by various musicians and ensembles, since these recordings are by no means a simple 'music for two pianos' the front cover advertises.
Montsalvatge's music is nothing if not eclectic, ranging across a number of styles, particularly neo-classicism and impressionism. Many of his works also draw on serialism and polytonality, and in later years he was seen as part of the European avant-garde. All these ingredients pop up in various arrangements on this CD. However, things begin sensibly at the more approachable end with the very Gershwinesque Barcelona Blues, one of Montsalvatge's most popular works. In the short Homenatge ('Homage'), written for Alicia de Larrocha to play at a tribute concert in honour of the great soprano María de los Ángeles, Montsalvatge quotes freely from the Catalan folksong El Cant dels Ocells, which she and Pau Casals between them made famous. The punchy Three Divertimentos bring some exotic flavour into the mix - rhythms and melodies from Scotland and Cuba.
Variety is the keynote of Calidoscopio too, in which Montsalvatge delivers a dazzling array of styles promised in the title, yet all still in a highly accessible idiom. He even quotes his own Barcelona Blues. Jordi Masó and Miquel Villalba give suitably laid-back but technically poised accounts of these works.
On the whole, melody is seldom far away in Montsalvatge's music and an attractive Spanish/Catalan - or more accurately, Latino - colour is splashed across much of it. In the final two works, though, there is some indication of what endeared Montsalvatge to modernists. Arguably, Sum Vermis and the Five Invocations are out of place on a CD of piano music - vocal works are not usually included in such anthologies. At any rate, Sum Vermis ('I am (a) Worm') is a stark, gloomy work that revels in the ‘miserabilism’ of the Catalan poem by Jacint Verdaguer it brings to life. It seems rather perverse, however, for Naxos to have asked Pia Freund to perform this work. As good as her voice is, she is Finnish rather than Catalan, and her training in the language seems rather basic. Some Catalan sequences prove too difficult for her, and clarity of enunciation suffers at times. Unfortunately, the multilingual texts of the Cinco Invocaciones are even more demanding of a polyglot ability. Freund makes a valiant attempt, but she is always the foreigner with the slight accent.
Be that as it may, neither of these is a piano work by any stretch, but they are recorded rarities and for anyone with an ear sympathetic to late Stravinsky or Orff, likely to prove memorable, especially given the impressive instrumental performances on offer here.
Sound quality is very good, warm and intimate. Jordi Masó's booklet notes are detailed and well written/translated. The sung texts are all included in the booklet except the middle of the five Incantations, which for some reason is omitted.
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Melody is seldom far away in this music.