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Xavier MONTSALVATGE (1912-2002)
Paráfrais concertante (1975) [14.33]
Lullaby (1957) [2.47[
Spanish Sketch (1943) [2.09]
Tres Policromías (1994) [12.36]
Variations on a theme of Giles Farnaby ‘La Spagnoletta’ (1945) [9.42]
Piano Trio (1986-8)* [14.21]
Eva Léon (violin), José Ramos Santana (piano), *Sibylle Johner (cello)
rec. Patrych Sound Studios, New York, 22 April, 25 May and *26 May 2011

This disc advertises itself as the ‘complete works for violin and piano’ by Montsalvatge, and includes a recording of the Piano Trio for good measure. It is the fifth in a series of discs produced by the ever-enterprising Naxos of the music of Montsalvatge. I reviewed a CD of orchestral music from the same source earlier this year. In that review I concluded with the observation: “For many years the reputation of Montsalvatge outside Spain rested largely on the occasional appearances of his songs in recitals by Spanish singers. In more recent years his music, always well constructed and appealing to audiences, has gained a wider circulation through such works as the Concierto breve. This present release is a valuable contribution to this process; is there any possibility that the series could be extended?” I am delighted to see that this request was already being anticipated through this recording made in 2011.
It is unfortunate that this disc does not present the works in the order of composition, since it is apparent that the composer’s style evolved considerably during the course of his life. The Paraphrase concertante shows the clear influence of Bartók, a spiky set of three pieces with a decidedly astringent flavour which makes a rather unprepossessing start to this CD. The Lullaby from eighteen years earlier demonstrates the lyrical gifts which we know from the songs. It’s a delightful miniature which is a transcription of one of the 1945 Canciones negras and loses nothing by the omission of the words. The Spanish Sketch, even earlier, has a languidly lolloping habañera accompaniment that has a nicely cheeky air well captured here by the players.
The Tres Policromías is another work in Montsalvatge’s more astringent later style. Its more lyrical elements are less overtly Bartókian than in the Paréfrais concertante and the music has a certain frail charm. The Farnaby Variations are again much earlier, romantic in feeling and doing nothing unexpected although not sounding very English in flavour. The cadenza in the penultimate Siciliano variation looks forward to the style of the later Montsalvatge, although the final Deciso is more in the nature of a folk dance with its jig rhythms.
The Piano Trio is another late work, and its first two movements have programmatic titles: Balade a Dulcinea and Diálogo con Mompou. The first of these opens with a colloquy between violin and cello, and develops into a warmly expressive movement which has more immediate attractiveness than the other late works here. Despite its title the second movement has none of Mompou’s fragile delicacy, although it does capture some of the sense of repose that one finds in the older composer’s music. The final movement has unexpected tango elements.
The recording is made in a rather airless-sounding studio named after the producer and engineer of this disc Joseph Patrych. The lack of a hall resonance does not really do the music any great favours. The players are all too closely observed to allow for a sense of live performance. On the other hand this serves to demonstrate the spectacular technique of both Eva Léon and José Ramos Santana. The playing of the harmonics by the former in the last-movement cadenza of Paréfrais concertante (track 3, 3.10) is absolutely assured. Richard Whitehouse’s booklet notes are, as always, a mine of valuable information.
There is another recording listed in the current catalogues of Montsalvatge’s music for violin and piano, issued on Columna Musica in 2002 and performed by Alla Voronkova and Mac McClure - who has made something of a speciality of Montsalvatge. That has a rather more ingratiating acoustic, with more resonance around the sound of the players, although again they are positioned very close to the microphone. It also includes Montsalvatge’s complete music for cello and piano. Those who have that earlier recording may well rest content. Those with an appetite for exploration may well find this Naxos disc at a lower price more attractive.
Paul Corfield Godfrey