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Benet CASABLANCAS (b.1956)
Movimento per a Trio (1984) [9:43]
Impromptu (2009) [4:17]
Sí, a Montsalvatge (2012) [4:33]
Cant per a Frederic Mompou (1993) [2:40]
Tres Haikus (2008) [3:34]
Encore (1992) [4:07]
Haiku para Zurbarán (2010) [1:07]
Lamento, Haiku para Ramón Barce (2009) [1:29]
Jubilus, Homenatge a Jordi Savall (2011) [2:59]
Impromptu – Trio No.2 (1991) [10:57]
Come un recitativo (1995) [1:45]
Dos Apunts (1976) [1:35]
Triptico (1996) [8:21]
Tres Haikus (Segunda Colección) (2013) [2:48]
Haiku para trio (2007) [2:05]
B3: Brouwer Trio: Jenny Guerra (violin), Elena Solanes (cello), Carlos Apellániz (piano).
rec. July 2012, June 2013 & February 2014, Palau de les Arts ‘Reina Sofía, Valencia, DDD.
NAXOS 8.573375 [62:09]

Speaking pedantically, one might say that the title of this CD – “Piano Trios” – is a trifle misleading. Of the 13 shortish works recorded here, only 4 (Moviment per a Trio, Impromptu – Trio No.2, Haiku para trio and Tres Haikus [2013]) are actually for piano, violin and cello; 9 – Dos Apunts, Tres Haikus (2008), Haiku para Zurbaran, Jubilus, Si, Impromptu, Lamento, and Come un recitativo – are for solo piano; Triptico is for solo cello, Encore is for violin and piano and Cant per Mompou is for cello and piano. All of the works, in other words, require the instruments of the standard piano trio, though by no means always as a trio. Given the impressive musicianship of the members of B3: Brouwer Trio and the consistent interest of Casablancas’ music, surely very few (if any) purchasers will regard themselves as ‘cheated’ by the CD’s title.

The composer’s musical language is grounded in the second Viennese school, no doubt influenced, in part, by his postgraduate studies with Friedrich Cerha and Karl-Heinz Füssl in Vienna. Yet, as some of the titles here suggest, with their dedications to Mompou, Montsalvatge, Jordi Savall and the painter Francisco de Zurbarán, Casablancas also has his debts to the traditions of Spain (in general) and Catalonia (in particular). The composer was born in the city of Sabadell in Catalonia and has been in turn both a student and a Professor in Barcelona. Aurally, he is not an obviously ‘Spanish’ composer, though in much of the music he has written since approximately 1990 there is a turning away from serialism towards a greater sensuousness of sound and richness of timbre which might, in a somewhat subtle fashion be regarded as more ‘Spanish’.

I was previously familiar with some of the composer’s orchestral works, the contents of this present CD were largely new to me. After several hearings, four works have stood out : Encore, Impromptu – Trio No.2, Triptico and Haiku para Zurbarán. In Encore, for violin and piano, which was written as a test piece for a competition, the interaction of the two instrumental voices has, naturally, demanding technical dimensions; but it also has a certain human poignancy. The two instruments are, as it were, at odds in the work’s opening, before they find, in a climactic mid-section, a clear commonality of purpose and then, finally, in the words of Benjamin Davies’ excellent booklet notes, “the two instruments recede to the extremes of high and low”. There is a good deal of significance to be found in this piece which is little more than four minutes long. Casablancas’ attraction to brevity of expression is evident in his use, in his titles, of words like ‘haiku’ and ‘apunts’ (‘notes’, ‘annotations’).

The solo piano piece, Haiku para Zurbarán, though only just over a minute in length, is made up of three distinct sections, which the composer perhaps intended to correspond to the three phases/sections of the Japanese poetic form, made up, respectively, of five, seven and five sound units. What follows is, I confess, subjective and speculative, and may not correspond to anything Benet Casablancas had in mind when he wrote the piece. For me, the most compelling of Zurbaran’s paintings are his still lives. The Haiku para Zurbarán begins with a delicate and graceful melody, which is succeeded by denser and more dramatic music before the brief work closes with some darker chordal writing. I was reminded of a favourite painting (which, sadly, I have only ever seen in reproduction) by Zurbarán, the Still Life with Lemons, Oranges and a Rose (1633), in the collection of the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena. The painting is made up of three objects, these being, left to right, a dish of lemons, a basket of oranges and a rose on a silver plate. For a seventeenth century Spanish viewer of the painting, the Catholic faith which such a viewer shared with the artist (most famous for his explicitly religious paintings) would very probably have encouraged a reading of this visually chaste assemblage as an allusion to the Trinity. ‘Reading’ such a painting takes time, like listening to a piece of music. A first reaction is to the delicacy and beauty with which Zurbarán has represented the fruits and the flower, though this is soon followed by an awareness of what these objects traditionally symbolised, leading to a more complex and conflicted response. In the traditions of Christian art, for example, lemons (though generally bitter) were a sign of fidelity in love and of the purity of the Virgin Mary; the orange was a symbol of fertility, but was also often represented, rather than an apple, in paintings of the Fall of Man; the Rose, essentially a symbol of love and beauty, could also represent martyrdom and the brevity of life – Zurbarán’s rose certainly looks to be past its best. Such symbolic meanings can be traced in reference works such as James Hall’s Subjects and Symbols in Art (1979), and the more basic Dictionary of Christian Art by Diane Apostolos-Cappadona (1994). My suggestion is that these first and second stages of response to the painting, from simple pleasure to troubled thought are analogous to the first two sections of the Haiku para Zurbarán. Sustained reading of this painting, as so often where Still Lifes are concerned, brings with it reflections on the mutability of earthly life, for fruits, flowers and humans alike – and I don’t think it too fanciful to say that that is more or less the mood in which the Haiku para Zurbarán ends.

The booklet notes tell us that the three movements (Amorós, Illiurement – Passacaglia – Liebeslied) of Triptico (for unaccompanied cello) are “inspired by a verse from Rilke” without giving us any more details. In any case, the title suggests that once again works of visual art have been important to the composer, since ‘triptico’ corresponds to the English word ‘triptych’ – denoting a painting (or relief) on three connected panels. Casablancas’ Triptico is a powerful, densely lyrical exploration across a considerable emotional range. It is an impressive piece which deserves to find a place in the repertoire of cellists willing to look beyond the already acknowledged canon of works for unaccompanied cello.

Of the actual piano trios on this disc, I am found myself most frequently drawn back to Impromptu – Trio No. 2. Though consistently interesting, the music of Benet Casablancas can sometimes seem too exclusively intellectual, almost too carefully calculated. This second trio, however, a single movement almost eleven minutes along, lives up to at least some of the implications of the word ‘Impromptu’, having about it an air of the impulsive, of the quasi-improvisatory. Its contrasts of mood and manner – at times lyrical and inward-looking, at other times hard driven in rhythm with the dominant mood tense and aggressive – feel more organic, more like rapid and unplanned transitions than is normally the case with this composer. Yet, Casablancas is at all times in Impromptu attentive to the details of instrumental sound and interplay, so that sophistication co-exists with a sense of the spontaneous.

Glyn Pursglove





 

 




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