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Cançons i danses catalanes
Federico MOMPOU (1893-1987)
Suite Compostelana
(1962) [14:46]
Miquel LLOBET (1878-1938)
Cançons populars
(1899-1926) [22:15]
Federico MOMPOU
Cançó i dansa
No. 10 (1953; trans. for guitar by the composer) [3:08]
Cançó i dansa
No. 13 (1972) [4:21]
Joan MANÉN (1883-1971)
Fantasia-Sonata per a guitarra
, Op. A-22 (1930) [15:13]
Franz Halász (guitar)
rec. December 2014 and March 2015, Großer Saal, Hochschule für Musik und Theater, Munich, Germany
Reviewed as a 24/96 download from eClassical
Pdf booklet enclosed
BIS BIS-2092 SACD [60:52]

It’s been a while since I’ve reviewed any guitar albums; coincidentally, though, one of the last such discs to come my way was a Henze collection with – you guessed it – Franz Halász (review). He’s come a long way since he won first prize in the Andrés Segovia Competition in 1993, as a quick look at his discography will confirm. Halász is an active performer and music professor at the Munich college where this new recording was made. Michele Gaggia of Digital Natural Sound, unfamiliar to me, is credited with the engineering.

Catalonia has always been fiercely proud of its distinctive literary and musical traditions, and this album pays homage to the region’s songs and dances. Federico Mompou’s six-movement Suite Compostelana, written for Segovia, is a special tribute to Galicia and its famous shrine at Santiago de Compostela. The technically demanding Preludio combines warmth and breathtaking virtuosity, both of which are superbly caught by Gaggia’s recording. The soloist is close, but not unnaturally so, and the acoustic seems ideal for such an intimate programme.

In Halász’s hands Coral has a simplicity and soul that is really quite affecting, and although it’s a lullaby Cuna has a clarity – a robustness, even – that’s far from trite or sentimental. Still, the gentle flourish at the end suggests that sleep has come at last. Recitativo and Canción have a languorous charm and Muńeira – which imitates the almost comical sound of a gaita, a traditional bagpipe – is inspired. As always, Halász’s playing is pin-sharp when it needs to be – the high-pitched gasps in the latter piece, for instance – but to that he adds flashes of good humour.

Halász plays this music ‘straight’, with no striving for effect, and his performances are more revealing as a result. Indeed, this entire programme has a boldness, a strength of character, that is very different from the more 'conventional' – for that read 'stereotypical' – approach to such repertoire. Some might argue that Halász is more about head than heart, but is that such a bad thing? At least one’s able to hear how elegantly this music is constructed, and that’s a real bonus. The detailed, very natural recording – timbres are just so true – certainly helps in this regard.

Next up are Miquel Llobet’s arrangements of thirteen Catalan songs. Taught by the great Francisco Tárrega he was a performer who would have known the value of crowd-pleasers. As Walter Aaron Clark notes in his booklet essay, foreigners wouldn’t know these Cançons populars but Llobet's native listeners most certainly would. This collection spans a whole range of moods and colours, the well-worn cadences immensely reassuring. There’s animation in this music, too: La pastoreta (The Little Shepherd Girl) is certainly fleet of foot and finger. Halász is a graceful and intuitive player who really knows how to individualise each of these vignettes. After that that impish interlude La filla del marxant (The Merchant’s Daughter) seems both demure and delightful.

The miniaturist’s task is to evoke with economy, and that’s exactly what Llobet does here. Halász - who plays a Matthias Dammann - certainly has all the colouristic skills and nuances these pieces require; indeed, there are moments in this recital where the spell is so profound, the glow of his playing so cosseting, that any attempt to scribble notes is quickly thwarted. Such immersion is rare in a recording, and that’s testimony to the quality of both the performances and the sound. In short, it doesn’t get much better than this.

Based on two songs, Mompou’s Cançó i dansa No. 10 - originally written for piano - seems keener and less effusive. That’s in spite of the work’s supposed debt to Debussy and Impressionism. Then again, Halász’s playing has a formidable focus that’s likely to harden the music’s soft edges. In any event this and the Cançó i dansa No. 13 make a strong contrast with all that’s gone before; ditto the violinist-composer Joan Manén’s Fantasia-Sonata per a guitarra. It’s not a work I know, but it has the virtuosity one would expect of, say, a Paganini or a Sarasate; that said, it’s surprisingly reflecting as well. A substantial and deeply satisfying conclusion to a well chosen programme.

Immaculate, penetrating musicianship, with a sound to match; magic.

Dan Morgan



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