José COMELLAS (1842–1888)
José Raul López (piano)
rec. Wertheim Performing Arts Center, Florida International University, Miami, July and Dec 2014, Dec 2015
TOCCATA CLASSICS TOCC0347 [63:30]
The music of Cuban nineteenth century composer José Comellas takes a step out of the darkness that closed after it well before the start of the last century. This happens courtesy of José Raul López and Martin Anderson's tirelessly exploratory Toccata Classics. Comellas emigrated to the USA and then divided his time teaching and concert-giving and between Germany and his new homeland. He died at the age of 45 in Havana.
The Souvenir is Comellas' Op. 1. All fluttering hearts and moonlight, it is a nice piece with a steady pulse. Vienne is indeed a 'Grand Valse' which foots it out within the conventions established by the Great City. The Nocturne entitled Far Away manages to be both grave and sweet of temper. The Mazurka - Five Roses is a different take on Vienne although it does not escape a tendency towards repetition. One can easily imagine it being orchestrated for the ballroom of some provincial capital. Washington et Lincoln - Elégie sur la tombe de ces deux Héros could form a very nice question for Paul Gambaccini's 'Counterpoint' music quiz (BBC Radio). It's probably an exploitative title designed to catch Society's attention but it's an exercise in dignified romance with a melancholic accent. Then comes another Mazurka: Natalie. This one takes a gentle tint from MacDowell and Mendelssohn, as does the Le Retour and the Nocturne (tr.11). We end with an innocent music-box style Little Polka. The Sonate Brillante, lives up to its title with Romantic era storminess and a weightier strength of utterance than is found in the other pieces here.
The piano sings out confidently courtesy of Lopez complemented by the recording team. The liner-essay is also at the hand of López. His writing is as expected: thorough and fully-detailed. He delves through Comellas' life but also touches on a host of other Cuban composers we may yet perhaps see advocated by Toccata and López. The essay, in English only, runs to 14 pages - well done.
The titles and sound of Comellas' musical world may remind you of the gentler side of Gottschalk's sentimental piano works. If you enjoy things like Le Bananier, The Dying Poet, Le mancenillier and La savane, Field's Nocturnes or MacDowell's Fireside Tales or Woodland Sketches then this music should appeal. It's affectionately done.
There we have it then - nicely fashioned and lovingly played music treated with integrity and never a smirk in sight.
Souvenir - Song without Words, Op. 1
Vienne - Grand Valse pour le Piano, Op. 4
Far Away - Nocturne, Op. 12
The Five Roses - Mazurka, Op. 26
Washington et Lincoln - Elégie sur la tombe de ces deux Héros, Op. 3
Natalie - Mazurka, Op. 10
Le Retour - Nocturne, Op. 25
Sonate Brillante, Op. 21
Nocturne, Op. 24
Christmas Toys - Little Polka