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Joan MANÉN (1883-1971)
Works for violin and piano – Volume 2
Caprice No. 1, Op. A-14 1897 rev 1922) [10:11]
Concerto Espagnol: Lamento Op. A-7 (1897) [9:36]
Elégie Op. 25 (1899) [3:35]
Caprice No. 2, Op. A-15 (1897-99 rev 1922) [7:00]
Romancita Op. 7 (1897) [2:06]
Aragón (Jota) Op. 33 No. 1 (1899) [2:48]
Caprice No. 3 (Catalan), Op. A-33 (1899) [10:29]
Romanza mística Op. A-46 (c.1957) [11:01]
Interludio Op. A-30 (early 1930s) [4:37]
Danza Ibérica No. 1, Op. A-25 (early 1930s) [8:25]
Kalina Macuta (violin)
Daniel Blanch (piano)
rec. 2015-16, Sala 4 Alícia de Larrocha (L’Auditori de Barcelona)
LA MÀ DE GUIDO LMG2138 [69:52]

I’ve been calmly waiting for a couple of years for this second volume in La Mà De Guido’s series devoted to Catalan violinist and composer Joan Manèn. The succinct biographical facts in that earlier disc should give a general flavour of the violinist and his milieu, and I reprise my hope that his acoustic 78s could yet be collected, not least his set of the Beethoven Violin Concerto, the first-ever made of the work. If I were to be extra-greedy I’d like the live broadcast performances released too.

But looking at what we have here we find a similar cast to the previous volume. Many of the pieces were the work of a very ambitious and digitally advanced virtuoso-executant in his teens. The years between 1897 and 1899 saw a flourishing from his pen and these pieces, doubtless written to be performed in his recitals - à la Sarasate – reveal his musical affiliations of the time.

The Caprice No.1, Op.A-14 – in the rather complex numbering system applied to his music – was revised, as were a number of similar pieces, in the early 1920s. It fuses melancholia with a proud Catalan B section, sturdily confident. One of the most significant pieces here is the reduction for violin and piano of the slow movement, the Lamento, from his 1897 Concerto Espagnol, a fiery and youthful work. A recording of the complete concerto is forthcoming on Naxos. Its wistful lyricism has a dreamy interior quality and rich thematic material. In its day, according to the fine and extensive notes, it was considered potent enough to be played by such as Isolde Menges and Bronisław Gimpel. The notes also add that it was recorded twice by the composer – that was news to me as I can’t find any indication otherwise that he did record it.

Manén’s works embrace the Iberian muse established by the Pamplonan Sarasate but also evoke the salon periphery too, as in the rather beautiful Elégie, Op.25. The Caprice No.2 employs extensive use of sautillé bowing and its whistling energy and very violinistic cadential passage suggest a fully-armed and charismatic performer. The evocative variations embedded in the Third Caprice – which was written in 1899 but not published until 1953 – are expressive though the virtuosic fireworks that end it are designed for a showy dismount.

Clearly there are derivative elements in these largely early pieces, such as the sweetly lyric Romantica, Op.7 but when redolent of Granados, as in Aragón, a jota, the music makes an altogether more striking effect. Manén was certainly more than just an occasional composer and at a time when executants were often expected to compose, or at least to offer their own arrangements, these smaller pieces would have healthily sprinkled his numerous recitals. Other pieces are more awkward to programme. The more advanced harmonies of Romanza mística reveal a much later work, which the composer premiered with Eduard Toldrà, himself a violinist, directing the orchestra. The Interludio sounds more like a study than a viable concert piece but the avuncular, technically demanding and Sarasate-showy Danza Ibérica would make a nice change to hear on today’s concert stages.

Once again Kalina Macuta and Daniel Blanch have been entrusted with the honours. I assume that a number of these are premiere recordings, though the label modestly (if so) doesn’t make a thing about it. Sometimes Macuta’s tone can sound rather thin and some of the music could be more alluringly projected but she and Blanch make a confident duo. I’m hoping for volume 3 – and those historical items too.

Jonathan Woolf



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