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Joan MANÉN (1883-1971)
Violin Concerto No. 3 'Ibérico', Op. A-37 (1940) [43:13]
Symphony No. 2 'Ibérica', Op. A-47 (1954-58) [55:35]
Ana María Valderrama (violin)
Barcelona Symphony Orchestra/Darrell Ang
rec. 2018, Pau Casals Hall, L’Auditori, Barcelona
NAXOS 8.574274-75 [2 CDs: 98:48]

Naxos continues to explore the large-scale violin works of Joan Manén, the man Henry Wood thought would have made a wonderful sitter for Velasquez; dark, bearded, with an aesthetic expression. Wood accompanied the violinist often in London and reckoned he had ‘a marvellous technique and… was a composer of considerable distinction.’ That earlier volume (see review) saw the Catalan’s Concierto española coupled with Lalo’s Symphonie espagnole. They were played by Tianwa Yang but Ana María Valderrama now takes solo honours accompanied by the Barcelona Symphony Orchestra and National Orchestra of Catalonia conducted by Darrell Ang.

Manén’s Violin Concerto No. 3 'Ibérico' is invariably a far more advanced work than the much earlier Concierto española which dates from 1897, though revised much later in 1935. It is also a fascinatingly problematic work, as a quick look at its structure and timings reveal. The first movement lasts 30 minutes and the second movement is a brief linking one, lasting three minutes. The finale (con spirito) lasts ten. The work opens with a dramatic timpani roll – I was reminded of the Grieg Piano Concerto – that announces the soloist. There is much musing romantic phraseology, some sweetly plangent, some songful, all perfectly suited to be borne aloft by a rich-toned soloist. But there is also vehemence and drama too and plenty of heavy-duty passagework for the violinist. At around a third of the way into the vast opening movement there’s an especially slow rapt section before the re-emergence of percussion halts the idyll. Harmonically there are Debussian-Delian suggestions from time to time and though the opening movement is flexible – its lengthiness is already a given – I think it would work better as a rhapsody. Given the ebb and flow of fast and slow sections the brief Andante linking passage hardly needs to plumb depths though it does seem to half quote Scheherazade at one point. The curvaceous and liltingly Iberian finale has some ingeniously gawky and almost sardonic writing that seems to evoke dance music; fancy, colour and ripe orchestral writing support the pirouetting solo violin line.

The Symphony No. 2 'Ibérica' occupied Manén from 1954-58, by which point his soloistic career was almost at an end. It occupies the second disc. Like the concerto it too opens with a long opening movement (of four movements) and though it lasts here only 21 minutes it’s still comfortably the longest movement of the 55-minute work. This slow opening Andante is replete with martial calls, trenchant brass and rhythmically terse. Consoling winds offer the hope of a reprieve but the mood swings back and forth. Thoroughly tonal, the themes are attractive, and the orchestration is once again most adeptly done - and it needs to be as it’s a big orchestra. There’s a crisp coda to end a movement which proves to have some foursquare elements amidst the Late Romantic turbulence.

The second movement has bold march themes and a festive Córdoban air. And there’s a sultry cor anglais solo leading a swaying al fresco dance and a resumption of exultant esprit. By contrast the slow movement is irradiated by a beautifully, almost filmically gorgeous theme for the strings, which is taken up by the winds, flutes prominently. The distillation of mood is impressive here. The finale opens with an unambiguous call to attention; Spanishry is at its apex. Lower brass are as prominent here as high winds had been in the slow movement. Manén alternates sassy with reflective until he ends in increasingly stirring Romantic glory.

Tully Potter’s extensive notes tell us pretty much all we need to know and, fortunately, technology ensures that a visit to YouTube will allow the inquisitive listener to hear examples of Manén’s own violin playing. Much praise should go to violinist Ana María Valderrama and to the orchestra and Ang for marshalling what is, in places, some almost bewilderingly prolix material – most especially in the opening rhapsodic first movement of the concerto which is itself about as long as many another concerto one could mention. If you supplement your listening with his smaller works on the La Mà de Guido label (see review and review) you will have a fine and ever-widening conspectus of the violin-composer’s works.

Jonathan Woolf

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