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Federico MOMPOU (1893-1987)
Cançó i dansa No. 10 (Sobre dos Cantigas del Rey Alfonso X), originally for piano, transcribed for guitar by the composer (1953) [2:24]
Cançó i dansa No. 13 (Cançó: El cant dels ocells; Dansa (El bon caçador)) for guitar (1972) [1:41]
Suite Compostelana for guitar (1962) [19:34]
Emilio PUJOL (1886-1980)
El cant dels ocells (?) [3:15]; La plume de perdreau (?) [0:43]
Roberto GERHARD (1896-1970)
Fantasia (1957) [5:12]
For whom the bell tolls (1965) [15:42]
Marco Ramelli (guitar)
rec. 2018, Collegio Rotondi, Gorla Minore, Italy

Federico Mompou is best known for his piano music and to a lesser extent his songs. I was first introduced to his work by way of the incomparable performances by Alicia de Larrocha. Despite their age, I still turn to these recordings if I wish to enjoy Mompou’s lyrical, sensitive and often impressionistic music.

I was surprised that Mompou wrote only three works for solo guitar. They are all presented here. He published a series of 15 Cançons i danses (Songs and Dances) written between 1918 and 1972! There were typically for piano. However, no. 13 (1972) was written for guitar solo and no.15 was for organ. And no.10 (1953), although conceived for the piano, was transcribed for guitar by the composer. The formal structure of each piece is the same: a slow ‘Cançó’ followed by a vibrant ‘Dansa’. Some were based on Catalan folk-tunes, but others were original compositions inspired by his musical environment. These two delightful numbers make use of folk-tunes which feature hunting, birdsong and music written by King Alfonso of Castile in honour of the Virgin Mary.

The only other guitar work by Mompou is the Suite Compostelana which was written in 1962 and dedicated to the legendary Andrés Segovia. I love everything about this suite. It seems to be a snapshot of the composer’s entire oeuvre, presenting a subtle balance between traditional Spanish guitar music and the elusive influences of twentieth century musical harmonies and gestures. The six movements include a vibrant ‘Preludio’, a sad ‘Coral’ (Chorale), a gentle ‘Cuna’ (Lullaby), an enigmatic ‘Recitativo’ which utilises the rarely used Locrian mode (based on scale B-B’ and transpositions), the waltz-like ‘Cancíon’ (Song) and finally the vibrant and sometimes dissonant ‘Muñeira’ (Doll’s Dance.)

Marco Ramelli includes in this recital two gentle, sophisticated and quite lovely arrangements of Catalan folk-songs by Emilio Pujol who was a composer and guitarist from Barcelona. These are El cant dels ocells (The Song of the Birds) and La plume de perdreau (The Partridge Feathers).

Spanish émigré composer Roberto Gerhard’s Fantasia for solo guitar was originally written in 1957. It was an interlude for the song-cycle Cantares. There is little here of the advanced ‘modernist’ techniques that were being explored by the composer at this time. In fact, the reverse is largely true. This is a work that is truly inspired by the sunshine, landscape and the traditions of Catalonia. There is a perfect balance between lyricism and driving rhythms. Apart from a few sharp dissonances, the use of the octatonic scale (symmetric alternating tones and semitones), some ‘gentle’ serial procedures and polytonality, this work is still largely conceived in the ‘Spanish’ idiom. The Fantasia was composed specifically for Julian Bream. The liner notes suggest that “it did not meet [Bream’s] taste” and was subsequently revised. It is given a satisfyingly reserved recital here by Ramelli.

It is unbelievable, but there is only one other work by Roberto Gerhard composed for solo guitar. This was the incidental music to a BBC radio production of Ernest Hemingway’s novel For Whom the Bell Tolls. The title of this book is taken from the well-known prose passage (Meditation XVII) by John Donne. The plot revolves around the American Robert Jordan who joins the Republican cause during the Spanish Civil War. He is ordered to blow up a bridge, which is central to resistance to Franco’s army. Marco Ramelli has rearranged the music into a ‘suite’ suitable for concert performance and has provided titles for each of the sections, to tie it in with the novel. The general mood of this work is a balance between love and compassion and the brutality of war. This is musically achieved by “soft and sensual” music competing with passages that are dissonant and aggressive. The work is cyclic with internal references pointing up the importance of the “bridge” and a “theme of death”. As the liner notes suggest, the piece works ideally without a text or even ‘programme’. I prefer to listen to it in an abstract manner and find it an extremely inspiring and often moving creation. It demands to be in all classical guitarists’ repertoire.

One down side: I felt that the duration of 53’40” was a wee bit mean. The playing and the sound quality on this wonderful CD are brilliant. I cannot fault it. Ramelli plays a guitar built in Barcelona in 1931. It has a beautiful, mellow sound. The liner notes are by the performer and give all the required information about these fascinating and beautiful works.

Finally, as an aside, I do wish that Roberto Gerhard’s music had greater prominence in the United Kingdom. Despite many of his works being issued on record or CD he is a composer who seems to have be largely forgotten.

John France



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