Classical Music Review: New Releases

Frederic Mompou - Piano Music, Vol. 3. Variations sur un théme de Chopin; Trois Variations; Souvenirs de l'exposition; Paisajes; Pessebres; Impressions Intimes. Planys. Jordi Masó, piano. Naxos 8.554570. 73'47"

The Catalan composer Frederic Mompou (1893-1987) is hardly a household word (though Segovia performed his guitar pieces), probably because, unlike other Spanish composers of folkloric bent like de Falla, Albeniz and Granados he never wrote for the stage, which can be the ticket to immortality. But working in small forms doesn't make him a lightweight; miniatures don't lack drama or emotional interest -- just look at what Chopin, Faurè and Schubert did. This new CD of Mompou's solo piano music joins a relatively select few by Europeans like Laurent Martin, Gustavo Romero, Stephen Hough, Alicia de Laroccha, and there's even one by the composer himself. This outing, by young Spanish pianist Jordi Masó, certainly seems to have captured Mompou's very special poetry.

The composer once remarked that his "only desire (was) to write music in which nothing is missing and nothing is superfluous", and with an aesthetic as stringent as that it's surprising how spacious his music can be, like the Satie of Trois Gnossiennes (1890).  That's certainly evident in alot of the pieces here though the irony is that Mompou was a virtuoso pianist yet eschewed showy display in his own work. His Variations sur un Théme de Chopin (1938-57) takes the Polish master's famous Prelude Op. 28, No. 7 in A as a starting point for subtle, yet very imaginative excursions, which grow (mostly) progressively more inward. Variations VI (recitativo) and VIII (andante dolce espressivo) are especially poignant and exquisite, while X (evocation) is probably the most thoroghly personal of the set. Time gets further suspended in Souvenirs de l'Expositon (1937) and the even "simpler" 3-part Paisajes (Landscapes 1942,1947,1960), the dissonant repeated chords in the last are even a bit like those Ravel used in "le Gibet" in Gaspard De la Nuit (1908). Though the title of Pessebres (Cribs 1914-17) refers to the decorative figures common in Spanish celebrations of Christmas, the central part, "L'Ermita" (Hermitage) evokes the composer's eponymous group of friends with strong yet secretive harmonies.  The succeeding Impressions intimes. Planys (Intimate Impressions.  Lamentations 1910-14) is a set of skillfully calibrated moods which Masó projects superbly. His range of touch and tone here and throughout makes Mompou's music sound as rounded as a landscape, with foreground, background and above all depth. The fact that Masó's piano was recorded in a hall and not a studio probably accounts for its sense of natural, intimate warmth (microphone placement and mixing are also factors). This is as good an introduction as any to the charms of Mompou's work, and that virtue is certainly in short supply these days.

Michael McDonagh
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