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hitherto unrecorded Latvian music


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Federico MOMPOU (1893-1987)
Fêtes lointaines (1914-21)
Charmes [12.10]
Trois Variations [5.17]
Cants Magic [11.55]
Suburbis [14.03]
Fêtes lointaines [9.50]
Pessebres [7.57]
El Pastor [2.07]
Steffen Schleiermacher (piano)
rec. Konzerthaus der Abtei, Marienmünster, Germany, 2015?

Mompou was born in Barcelona where the music-hall and the sounds of his grandfather’s bell foundry were formative influences. In 1911 he went to the Paris Conservatoire but the First World War abruptly ended his studies and he returned to Spain. From 1931 to 1941 he lived in Paris again until the Nazi occupation. He then went back to Spain where he lived and worked in total seclusion near Barcelona until his death in 1987.

Mompou’s music is ethereal and enigmatic. One can only take the descriptions in their titles as rough guides. The music and evocations are very personal and often dream-like. As Stephen Hough has commented, “There is no development of material, little counterpoint, no drama, no climaxes to speak of; and this simplicity of expression – elusive, evasive and shy – it is strangely disarming …. When asked once how to play his music the composer replied, ‘It’s all so free.’" Indeed it is but not just free of rhythmic constraints and structural rules; "it is free from affectation, posing, fashion and fads." Mompou’s music is unique - although occasionally one detects influences of, say, Debussy or Ravel, Satie, Scriabin and even Chopin but these are minimal. The music often has an appealing childlike innocence and purity.

The overriding impression and inspiration of the music on this album is the sound of bells.

The six Charmes are delightful. The first, Modéré, is slow, meditative and slightly melancholic. The following Lent suggests inertia at first, the dynamics varied and the heavy bell-like harmonies shifting through varied dynamics. Vif-lentement is more flowing and florid with vague melody and impressionistic influences, the bells jubilant. The second Modéré's tolling is funereal. The fifth piece marked simply, V, is joyful and playful. The final piece, Gai-Très vif is just that, sparkling with a touch, I imagine, of Chinoiserie.

Trois Variations have an air of humour and spontaneity and improvisation. The simple plain theme should be played with a single finger, according to Steffen Schleiermacher, the pianist on this disc and the writer of the CD notes. The programme behind the music suggests that varied scenes are implied including an absurd military march, midnight in a sultry bar and a nocturne blurred in foggy darkness. Cants Magic is again influenced by bells. The moods vary from pensive to assertive to sadness. An air of funereal calm can be heard in the ravishing and Spanish-sounding Misteriós. Suburbis has Mompou first portraying small street-scenes including a guitar player trying to perform waltzes until an old nag appears. Two portrayals of gypsies (Gitanes) follow: the first varying between lamentation and rage, the second lighter, playful, skittish and capricious. La cegueta is a touching lament for a blind girl “the harmonisation of the melody becomes seemingly more adventurous and painful as it evolves.” Finally L’homme de l’aristó brings out the sun. It “features a beggar with a hand organ, which somehow is out of order.” Bells figure prominently throughout these pieces.

The collection that gives this CD its title - Fêtes lointaines - is simply numbered I to VI. Again these pieces travel through varied moods but a sense of detachment predominates. All are conceived of “few motifs that sometimes resemble signals which in the process are harmonically transformed, modified or twisted until the window to Mompou’s ghost-like sound world is closed again …” Finally there is the Nativity Set - Pessebres referring, in an almost child-like innocent way, to the nativity of Christ. I wondered why Dansa and L’Ermita were separated from El Pastor in the CD booklet programme listing. When I enquired on Google all three were listed together under the collective title Pessebres. Maybe El Pastor is a favourite stand-alone piece? Anyway it is a perfectly charming little gem.

Schleiermacher is clearly a learned and committed Mompou enthusiast. He brings energy and a lively and sensitive imagination to his playing of these appealing pieces. This is his second Mompou disc for MDG. The first, Musica Callada, dates from 2013: MDG 613 1792-2.

Looking at other Mompou recordings, one realises that Mompou’s stylistic freedom allows for a wide variety of interpretations. Therefore one can only go on personal preference. The wonderful Alicia de Larrocha recording should be considered alongside Hough’s Hyperion recital (CDA66963). There is also a recording by Mompou himself, made in 1950, of his Jeunes filles au jardin; El carrer, el guitarrista i e vell cavall; La fuente y la campana and Cancions y danzas Nos. 5, 6 and 8 on a very interesting EMI "Composers in Person" CD (review) which also includes Granados, Falla and Nin piano compositions played by these composers. There is also an ambitious Mompou series on Naxos in six volumes. Brilliant Classics offer a 4 CD set of the composer playing his own music.

Looking at these rival recordings: Hough’s interpretations have more sophisticated grace and refinement, suggesting the boulevards of Paris. De Larrocha, not surprisingly, prefers to accent Spanish rhythms more strongly. Mompou adds his own inimitable style, slightly tougher and with a further dimension of almost primitive mystery. This new recording should not be discounted.

Ian Lace



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