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Federico MOMPOU (1893 – 1987)
Roger Padullés (tenor), Iain Burnside (piano)
rec. 10-12 September 2008, St John’s, Smith Square, London
Sung texts with English translations enclosed
Songs listed at end of review
OPUS ARTE OACD9021D [61:25]

The Catalan composer Frederic (or Federico) Mompou has slowly become better known during the last few years. This has been mainly through his piano compositions which also represent the major part of his oeuvre. There's also a ballet, written with Xavier Montsalvatge; a couple of choral pieces, including Los improperios in memory of Francis Poulenc; some guitar music, including Suite compostelana, written for Segovia; and some songs, most of which are recorded here. His very personal variant of impressionism, often spiced with knotty harmonies, which makes his piano compositions so easily identifiable, also characterises many of his songs.

The opening cycle Combat del somni (Dream Combat), based on texts by his close friend Josep Janés, was recorded by Victoria de los Angeles in the late 1960s, but then in an orchestral arrangement by Antoni Ros-Marbà (review). It is available on The Maiden and the Nightingale, issued in the Great Recordings of the Century (EMI), but only the first three. José Carreras also recorded the same three songs with piano in 1984. These were the only two recordings I could find in my collection, but there at least another three: Montserrat Caballé, Carmen Bustamente and Marisa Martins. Bustamente sings four of them while Martins includes all five, but not in the published order. Neither does Roger Padullés, and reading through the poems I really can’t find a natural progression, a story-line – they are more a group of images and thus possible to read in random order. Hugo Wolf’s Italienisches Liederbuch, though much longer, is of a similar kind and those songs are often performed in an order of the singers’ choice, though the first and last songs are always the start and beginning.

The first song, Damunt de tu només les flors, is very beautiful with a simple accompaniment, but in the interludes Mompou shows his mettle with some harsh dissonances. There is a lot more of that in Ara no sé si et veig, encar (tr. 3), which is the last song in the published order. Jo et pressentia com la mar (tr. 2) is also very beautiful and the whole is an attractive, rather melancholy cycle, possibly Mompou’s best known vocal work.

All the songs here are in fact very fine, and very typical. After a few songs you know it’s Mompou. Many of them are little gems, one of those is Pastoral (tr. 7), a setting of Nobel Prize Winner Juan Ramón Jiménez from 1945. The Trois comptines (Three ditties) from 1931 are entertaining but No. 2, Margot la pie, is cruel: “Margot the magpie built her nest / in David’s courtyard. / David catches her, / cuts off her leg, / snip-snip, snip-snip, / like a potato.”

Becquerianas is a group of settings of poems by Gustavo Adolfo Bécquer (1836 – 1870), a Spanish poet of German descent, who was a follower of Heine, de Musset and Uhland. Here are more gems: the fiery Yo soy ardiente, yo soy morena (tr. 13) and the following Yo sé cuál el objeto, which is one of those melodies where the next tone rarely is the one I would have expected. One of the strongest songs in the whole collection is Olas gigantes (tr. 16), a dramatic picture of a stormy sea.

Cantar del alma (Song of the soul) (tr. 20) is a setting of 16th-century mystic St John of the Cross. Mompou said that it should be performed in Gregorian style, and it is very simple – and poetic. The concluding Neu (Snow) is a lovely little song that one wants to hear again after playing it. I played it four times in a row.

Roger Padullés has a beautiful voice and he has the ability to express the soft nuances as well as the dramatic outbursts with equal ease. Just listen to his pianissimo in Aquesta nit un mateix vent (tr. 4) and his glorious singing in Aureana do Sil’ (tr. 21). Iain Burnside is a sensitive accompanist. With excellent recorded sound – and mostly unhackneyed songs of immense beauty – this is a delightful disc that should be heard by everyone with an interest in art-songs.

Göran Forsling
Songs listed
Combat del somni
1. No. 1 Damunt de tu només les flors [4:00]
2. No. 3 Jo et pressentia com la mar [2:15]
3. No. 5 Ara no sè si et veig, encar [2:56]
4. No. 2 Aquesta nit un mateix vent [2:53]
5. No. 4 Fes-me la vida transparent [2:59]

6. Cançó de la fira [2:33]
7. Pastoral [2:46]

Trois comptines (1931)
8. No. 1 Dalt d’un cotxe [0:38]
9. No. 2 Margot la pie [1:37]
10. No. 3 He vist dins la lluna [0:47]

11. Hoy la tierra y los cielos me sonríen [2:00]
12. Los invisibles átomos del aire [1:52]
13. Yo soy ardiente, yo soy morena [1:24]
14. Yo sé cuál el objeto [3:45]
15. Volverán las oscuras golondrinas [4:26]
16. Olas gigantes [2:27]

Trois comptines (1943)
17. No. 1 Asserín, Asserán [1:25]
18. No. 2 Petite fille de Paris [2:05]
19. No. 3 Pito, pito, colorito [0:57]

20. Cantar del alma [5:09]
21. Aureana do Sil’ [2:20]
22. El niño mudo [1:55]
23. Le nuage [3:49]
24. Primeros pasos [2:04]
25. Neu [1:55]



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