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Federico MOMPOU (1893-1987) Música Callada; Volumes 1-4 (1959, 1962, 1965, 1967) [63:32] Cantar del Alma (Song of the Soul) (1951) [6:18]
Josep Colom (piano)
Cecilia Lavilla Berganza (soprano)
rec. April 2019, Auditorio de Zaragoza, Sala Mozart, Zaragoza, Spain
Song text not included
Reviewed in stereo and 5.0 surround. Hybrid SACD also includes MQA-CD format. EUDORA EUD-SACD-2101 [69:50]
The original plan was to carry out a number of detailed comparisons with some of my favourite recordings of Música Callada. For those readers (and I suspect there are still a few) who don’t know Federico Mompou’s magnum opus, this sequence of 28 untitled pieces across four books composed (or at least notated and published) over a period of a decade or so is possibly the best example of music which is by now at least familiar; when I heard it for the first time in my thirties, I certainly recognised there was something profound there and given the dearth of notes had no idea what, or why, and so played the disc again a little later and presumably absorbed a little bit more. I subsequently sampled different interpretations as soon as I could access them, a practice I have continued over the intervening years during which time I have immersed myself in the rest of Mompou’s oeuvre. By now I began to buy up the different complete piano cycles as they emerged, whilst always coming back to Música Callada, each time managing to peel away another layer or two, but never, ever, truly knowing this elusive, unknowable work.
So I should have realised the original plan would be both futile and quite probably destructive. Firstly, comparing the cycle’s individual pieces in performances by different performers seems to go completely against the grain. My colleague Jonathan Woolf hit the nail on the head when he asked in his review of Jean-François Heisser’s 2013 recording of Música Callada (one of the few I haven’t heard) “Do you concentrate on a particular slice of Mompou’s writing, or do you try to construct an attractive, contrasting single disc?”. Whilst his question addressed the choices facing pianists (the two Mompou mixed recitals I own – and love – are those by Stephen Hough on Hyperion (CDA66963) and Arcadi Volodos on Sony - review) I feel it can be applied with equal validity to serious listeners; in my case I admit to finding it no less frustrating hearing a couple of items from a particular account of Mompou’s Impresiones intimas or Paisajes or Música Callada than I when I restrict myself to just a couple of crisps from a big green bag of Tyrells sea-salt and cider vinegar crisps (there are other manufacturers and flavours out there of course….). In most circumstances I simply have to hear the performance of each sequence as a whole. I am certainly NOT suggesting that this approach will work for everyone, but it certainly describes how Mompou ended up rocking my boat. So not only are there not enough hours in the day or week to play a dozen interpretations of the complete Música Callada but I fear any degree of over exposure to such fragile, enigmatic music might kill its mystery. And its mystery seems eternal, each navigation of its arc arguably constituting the point of the music itself. After all Música Callada literally means ‘silent music’, and what the composer seemed to be implying in this title is explored most sensitively in the outstanding note accompanying the present disc, compiled by Mompou’s biographer Adolf Pla (a subtle pianist whose own four disc Mompou survey on La Mà da Guido – LMG2118 - is revelatory). He writes: “These twenty-eight gems … represent an important contribution to musical creation precisely because they reinstate the presence of silence, which is not the same as either vacuity or nothing. Just as music is silence, silence is sound, not through individual sounds themselves but through the transformative awareness of the music to which they lead”.
This is Josep Colom’s second recording of Música Callada. He first recorded the sequence back in the mid-1990s for the Spanish label Mandala, on a disc which became part of his own intégrale of Mompou’s piano works (apparently this is still available on Mandala - MAN 5021/24). I have this set, but Colom’s insightful playing is compromised by a dull, musty piano sound. On this earlier account he tends towards swiftness, but the music never seems rushed; he certainly seems to emphasise the modernity and angularity of the pieces in Books 3 and 4 but a quarter of a century ago it has to be said that most pianists attracted to this composer were still seeking their own paths in navigating such strange, singular music – and at no point does Colom’s approach jar, notwithstanding the recording.
A quarter of a century later, Colom has retained those fleet tempi, but otherwise the difference is startling. The engineers at the audiophile Spanish label Eudora have realised sonics of extraordinary refinement. Colom’s 1957 Steinway D instrument has been captured to perfection in what sounds like a glorious acoustic over in Zaragoza. This crystalline sound picture enables the listener to marvel at Colom’s nuanced, fastidiously manicured yet paradoxically instinctive response to Mompou. I would suggest that listening to any of this composer’s piano music becomes doubly rewarding with a score to hand and in the case of Colom’s reinterpretation of Música Callada his profound respect for Mompou’s notes and markings comes across in spades, whilst furnishing the responsive listener with at least a degree of insight into what’s going on beyond the dots and the lines. Colom’s layering of dynamics in each tiny piece seems simultaneously spontaneous and infinitesimally detailed.
I’d like to suggest a couple of examples for readers to sample so they can hear this at first hand. I recommend a couple of less obvious examples from Book 2, the exquisite Lento (track 12) and the rapt piece marked Tranquilo – très calme (track 13). To achieve such variegation in dynamics and timbre in music as still-centred as this requires ears and touch of extraordinary sensitivity, on the parts of both player and engineer. It is a consistent feature of the music-making on this disc. Although Colom still emphasises the modernity in harmony and gesture of some of the pieces in Books 3 and 4 any astringency seems completely at one with the arc of the whole cycle. I would assert that one needs to take as much time and as many plays as is necessary to truly access Mompou – to my mind this is where all those Satie comparisons fall down; the rewards a determined listener may reap from grappling with Música Callada over an extended period completely justify the effort. That is certainly the case with this new version; there’s an apt bonus too in the shape of the extended song Cantar del Alma. This taps into the same spiritual well-spring that informs Música Callada; this haunting cançon is riveting, almost sculpted by the soprano Cecilia Lavilla Berganza.
This disc has rarely been off my player this week. It inevitably sounds splendid in surround (in my case via the SACD option on my modest Blu-ray player) for those who do like to hear piano music that way, although I’m more than happy with the stereo incarnation. Taking into account both sonics and interpretation this disc takes its place at the top of the heap with two other revelatory readings; Herbert Henck’s superb ECM disc from 1995 (ECM 1523 - my entrée to this work) and Jenny Lin’s equally mesmerising account on Steinway (STNS30004) – the detail of the sound on that disc is certainly a match for Eudora’s. I certainly couldn’t select a top choice among these recommendations, for me they are all essential. As is the aforementioned account by Adolf Pla, a sophisticated, unpredictable reading in perfectly fine sound – although La Ma de Guido’s production is a tad restricted compared to the other options I’ve identified. It also goes without saying that Mompou’s own recordings, originally recorded for Ensayo but reissued in a bargain four disc set on Brilliant Classics (review) are also essential, although by now those recordings (made in the 1970s) somewhat betray their age.
One further point; I live in hope that the great Artur Pizarro may record Música Callada at some point in the future. Mompou’s genius was certainly not restricted to this cycle and possibly my favourite disc of any of his music was laid down by Pizarro for Collins Classics in 1999 – the first volume in a projected series which never materialised as the label went bust. Pizarro’s disc includes the complete Cançons i danses and the Impresiones intimas. His readings of both are extraordinary, the recording exemplary. It is incomprehensible to me that this almost forgotten disc has never resurfaced. I wonder if Mr Heymann at Naxos is aware? In the meantime, do yourselves a favour and get to know Josep Colom’s outstanding new account of Mompou’s inscrutable masterpiece.
Richard Hanlon Tracklist Book One (1959)
1. Angelico [2:01]
2. Lent [1:25]
3. Placide [1:39]
4. Afflitto e penoso [2:10]
5. Legato metallico [2:01]
6. Lento molto cantabile [1:44]
7. Lento profound [2:25]
8. Semplice [0:46]
9. Lento [2:31] Book Two (1962)
10. Lento – cantabile [1:21]
11. Allegretto [1:19]
12. Lento [2:29]
13. Tranquilo – très calme [1:46]
14. Severo – sérieux [2:02]
15. Lento – plaintif [2:23]
16. Calme [2:09] Book Three (1966)
17. Lento [2:50]
18. Luminoso [2:07]
19. Tranquilo [2:07]
20. Calme [2:38]
21. Lento [2:30] Book Four (1974)
22. Molto lento e tranquilo [2:29]
23. Calme, avec clarté [2:24]
24. Moderato [2:32]
25. Lento molto [3:05]
26. Lento [3:45]
27. Lento molto [3:26]
28. Lento [4:12]