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Xavier MONTSALVATGE (1912 – 2002)
1. Folia daliniana (1995) [14:07]
2. Madrigal sobre un tema popular (El cant dels ocells) (1991) [5:15]
Concertino 1 + 13 (1975) [12:15]
3. I. Allegretto [5:00]
4. II. Moderato [5:06]
5. III. Moderato energico [2:05]
6. Serenata a Lydia de Cadaqués (1970) [9:33]
Cinco invocaciones al Crucificado (1969) [21:16]
7. I. De passione Christi [4:44]
8. II. Pianto della Madonna [4:20]
9. III. La Vierge couronnée [2:59]
10. IV. Lamentación [6:16]
11. V. D’Oració de temps [2:53]
Sasha Cooke (mezzo) (2, 7.11), Tim Fain (violin) (3-5), Sato Moughalian (artistic director; flute) (1, 6), Wendy Sutter (cello) (2), Blair McMillen (piano) (6), James Austin Smith (oboe) (1), Todd Palmer (clarinet) (1), Monica Ellis (bassoon) (1), Perspectives Ensemble/Angel Gil-Ordóñez
rec. Greenville Community Church, Scarsdale, New York, 7, 17-18, 26 September 2012
Sung texts with English translations enclosed
NAXOS 8.573101 [62:36]

Xavier Montsalvatge i Bassols was one of the most important Catalan composers during the second half of the 20th century – even longer than that in fact: his best known work, Cinco canciones negras, was published as early as 1945. There he was influenced of the music of the Antilles, but his style, or rather styles, underwent many changes, from an early interest in twelve-tone music and Wagner to the free-tonality of Messiaen, whom he knew and with whom he was frequently in contact.

If this sounds somewhat forbidding to more traditionally inclined readers it should be added that even though much of his music is rather complex it is also highly accessible and permeated with enticing rhythms, lavish and often surprising orchestral colours, attractive melodies, fresh vitality and humour. This is also what characterises the works on this disc, spanning more than 25 years. They are presented chronologically backwards, beginning with music he wrote when he was well past 80 and ending with a work from his late fifties.

Folia daliniana is a sinfonietta for four woodwind soloists, strings and percussion. It is based on the 16th century dance La Folia, which has often been used as ground for variations. Literally it means ‘folly’ and Montsalvatge adopts this meaning by introducing some rather weird sounds, produced on odd instruments by the percussionists, as well as in the sense that Salvador Dali, who is portrayed in the work, made a lot of ‘mad’ paintings. This is rhythmically alert music with thrilling colouring and a lot of exposure of the solo instruments. Virtuosity is paired with melodious lyrical episodes, including a very beautiful and atmospheric one for the oboe after circa four minutes. The clarinet has some eerie growling noises before he reluctantly hands over the baton to the bassoon. The plangent tone of the bassoon contrasts well with the other three woodwind colleagues. At around 13:30 comes the crazy finale, short but efficient.

The Madrigal was written for the closing ceremony of the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona, where it was performed by Victoria de los Angeles and Lluis Claret. It is based on a Catalan Christmas Carol, which the legendary Catalan cellist Pablo Casals in all his concerts ‘as a symbol of love for his homeland’, having left Spain in 1939 when Franco seized power. In 1971, at the age of 96, he played it at the United Nations General Assembly. Sasha Cooke has a bigger, meatier voice than de los Angeles but sings marvellously and Wendy Sutter plays the cello part truly beautifully. A little gem.

Concertino 1+13 was a commission for the XIII International Music Festival of Barcelona in 1975. Written for a solo violin and 13 strings this is harmonically rather daring. The first movement sets the soloist against the string band’s ostinato and Tim Fain excels in rhythmically taut playing. The more lyrical middle movement opens with plucked strings in the orchestra. The soloist then weaves a long affecting melody over this background but then indulges in some amazing technical wizardry. In the short finale thematic material from the previous movements is reintroduced. A lot of testosterone is required here.

The Festival Internacional de Musica de Cadaqués commissioned Montsalvatge to write a piece for Jean-Pierre Rampal, Serenata a Lydia de Cadaqué. Cadaqués is a seaside town in Catalonia, and many Spanish artists went there, Dali, Picasso and Miró among them, as well as the author Eugeni d’Ors. The Lidia of the title was a fishmonger and ran a boarding-house, where both Dali and d’Ors stayed. Lidia wrote to Dali, believing that she was the model for one of his works. After her death d’Ors and Dali wrote a book about her. Around the turn of the last century people from Cadaqués went to Cuba and when they returned they brought with them the habanera, music which Montsalvatge had learnt from locals and published in 1948. When he got this commission he remembered the book about Lidia and made use of the habanera rhythms, composing this rather unusual work. It opens with a three-minute cadenza for solo flute, starting on a single repeated note before it sails away in virtuoso cascades, brilliantly played by Sato Moughalian. After this follows an extended dialogue for flute and piano, which grows in intensity, then there is a passage of habanera rhythms. After another outburst the music is phased out, ending as it began, on an extended single note.

The longest work on the disc, Cinco invocaciones al Crucificado from 1969, also employs Caribbean rhythms. It is an interesting and deeply gripping composition with unusual instrumentation. The second movement, Pianto della Madonna, is especially ethereal with flutes, piano and harp accompanying the solo mezzo. Movement 3 is a beautiful cantilena with three flutes and harp. In the two concluding movements the textures thicken but are still transparent. The short final movement is rather incisive and even ecstatic — a great conclusion to a great work. Sasha Cooke sings marvellously throughout and the playing is immensely assured and committed.

Technically the recording is spotless and Sato Moughalian’s informative liner notes, from which I have culled most of the background information in the review, are exemplary.

Those whose only acquaintance with Montsalvatge’s music so far has been the Cinco canciones negras should grab the opportunity to expand their knowledge by acquiring the present disc. Why not start with the Madrigal sobre un tema popular (tr. 2). You are most likely to recognise the beautiful melody. From there you can explore the more demanding pieces. They are worth the effort. Montsalvatge should definitely be better known.

Göran Forsling