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Federico MOMPOU (1893-1987)
Prélude VII [3:01]
Damunt de tu només les flors (transc. Volodos) [4:12]
Scènes d'enfants [9:41]
Hoy la tierra y los cielos me sonrien (transc. Volodos) [2:15]
El lago (Paisajes, No. 2) [5:26]
...pour appeler la joie (Charmes, No. 6) [1:13]
Prélude XII [4:10]
Dialogues 2 [2:20]
Dialogues 1 [3:10]
Música callada Nos. 1, 2, 27, 24, 25, 11, 15, 22, 16, 6, 21 [27:35]
Arcadi Volodos (piano)
rec. 25-28 October and 17-19 December 2012, Teldex Studios, Berlin
SONY CLASSICAL 88765 433262 [63:03]

This disc seems to present seemingly irreconcilable poles in the shape of the introspective oeuvre of Mompou and the volcanic Volodos, oftime purveyor of the conveyor belt of romantic warhorses. In fact the tension generated between repertoire and interpreter proves remarkable. I’ve reviewed several all-Mompou recitals lately but none has proved nearly so vivid and in many ways revelatory.
The main sequence is a selection from Música callada. This was a collection Mompou wrote between 1959 and 1967, and all of which he recorded in an extensive series of sessions in 1974 [Brilliant 6515] amongst most of his solo piano music. Mompou remains the starkest interpreter of his own music, with a direct, un-refulgent, occasionally aloof but harmonically fascinating approach. He is generally, as with most composers, fleeter in tempi than other executants, and that’s almost always the case here as well. The dryer, less dreamy aesthetic is explicit in Callada No.1 but it’s No.2 that shows Volodos most on his mettle. He varies his tonal weight and rubati with great subtlety and whilst he prefers a more lateral approach than the composer - he doesn’t explore the harmonic implications so searchingly - he vests the music with considerable beauty. What I sometimes miss in Volodos’s interpretations, as I do in many of those of his contemporaries, is an appreciation of Mompou’s occasional strangeness. Through sparing use of the pedal and a sense of distance and reserve, the composer turns No. 27, a molto lento, in to a truly inspiring but very otherworldly affair. Employing far more pedal and richer tonal weight Volodos rather misses out on the extra poignancy of the very lyrical B section here. Thus equally in No. 25 - the pieces are not programmed chronologically in Volodos’ recital - one finds that his dynamics are quite sculpted and emphatic: a beautiful touch to be sure, but sometimes one feels that there’s an enveloping quality at work that smoothes out the individual pieces’ individual character.
For Volodos it’s limpid delicacy, the shimmering and richly toned that lies at the heart of Mompou’s music. I’ve always found Mompou’s stoicism and emphatic structural quests remarkable examples of his playing even when his technique was no longer quite what it had been. Thus whilst Volodos seems to assert the Debussian element in No. 16 Mompou points the left-hand harmonies in preference to stylistic homage. I suppose that I am groping toward the fact that Volodos, for all his aristocracy of phrasing and tone, can be just too overtly sophisticated in this repertoire; his battery of expressive devices in No.21 seems sometimes alien to the sparer aesthetic of the composer’s own performances.
The Scènes d'enfants offer a rich variety of effects, many of which are pronounced in the extreme, and Volodos’s tonal reserves are alluring, to say the very least. The variations of texture and colour Volodos evokes are remarkable; the half-lights too. That said, the composer’s own plain speaking performances offer a perspective that no self-respecting lover of the repertoire can possibly do without. Note, too, how in the last of these brief five pieces the insinuating waltz that emerges does so in a very much more pained way under the composer’s fingers; the sense of loss, of looking back, is tautly evocative, whereas Volodos’s view is, if I can put it this way, more conventionally romantic.
Mompou is very much faster in Le Lac, the sixth of Paisajes but Volodos is full of suggestive metrical elasticity and rippling quietude. It’s a ravishing performance though not one, perhaps, that Mompou quite envisaged. There are also two lovely transcriptions by Volodos to round out a programme that reveals his identification with - and mastery of - this music. Presented in a sumptuous hard-backed ‘book’ and engagingly illustrated, the performances have been recorded with great warmth and richness. I enjoyed them greatly, but the composer’s own way with his music remains a very different landscape altogether.
Jonathan Woolf
See also review by Brian Reinhart