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American Record Guide, September 2008

Previous releases in Naxos's series of piano pieces by Spaniard Manuel Blancafort (1897–1987) have evoked such adjectives as refined, gentle, intimate, wistful, and dreamy. Comparisons have been to Fauré, Ravel, Falla, Albéniz, Granados, and Mompou.

This new release, the fourth in the series, includes works written from 1926 to 1942. Again the predominant influence is French impressionism reflected through a Spanish prism. There are moments—as in the tender 1928 Pastorale—when the bittersweet harmonic nuances are so exquisite they're almost painfully beautiful. One element new to Blancafort appears, however, in his delightful Sonatina Antiga from 1929, a substantial three-movement structure lasting 18 minutes. Here the composer for once modifies his usual idiom, adopting a fastidious neo-baroque manner inspired by the neo-classical piano compositions of Ravel and, especially, Stravinsky, who had produced his Piano Sonata and Serenade in A a few years earlier. (As the interesting annotations by pianist Miquel Villalba explain, Blancafort was a well-traveled, sophisticated businessman well aware of contemporary musical trends.)

Villalba plays wonderfully, with sensuous, subtle shadings of color and perfectly-judged, expressive phrasing. The recorded sound is ideal for this music: clear, natural, and pure, but without calling undue attention to itself. This is a lovely rendering of lovely (if not especially original or imposing) music.

Phillip Scott
Fanfare, September 2008

This is the fourth in a series devoted to the piano music of Catalan composer Manuel Blancafort (1897–1987). …I have found this disc beguiling, returning to it out of sheer pleasure as much as reviewing necessity. …The music covered in this program comes from a six-year period centering on the late 1920s, with the exception of the three-part Romance, Intermezzo, and March, written in 1942. …Pianist Miquel Villalba presents this unfamiliar music with skill and sensitivity; one senses that his heart is in it. The sound is enjoyably warm and clear. In its gentle way, this disc is a winner.

Robert R. Reilly, July 2008

As I listened to Manuel Blancafort's delightful Piano Music without reading the notes from the CD jacket liner, I thought: What a very pleasant example it is of French impressionism. Oops—I read the notes to discover that Blancafort (1897-1987) was an avid Catalan, whose music supposedly evokes various sites in Spain. My confused musical geography is no reason not to enjoy these refined reflections, as finely performed by Miquel Villalba on Naxos (8.557335).

Bob Briggs
MusicWeb International, July 2008

Catalan composer Manuel Blancafort will probably be a new name to many. This is volume four of what, I suppose, will ultimately be a recording of his complete piano works. What I hear here is lovely stuff, not what I expected, to be sure, and it’s colourful and, sometimes, fun.

Blancafort travelled to the USA in 1923 and his American Souvenir is a reminiscence of that trip. The two pieces are easy-going and very approachable. The first movement, Transatlàntic en ruta (Liner at Sea) depicts the sea crossing, with both calm and turbulent seas, combined, I am sure, with his feelings on the crossing. The second, Homenage a Chaplin, is a mock-heroic portrait of the great clown – Blancafort was a big Chaplin fan. It’s a fun piece much in the manner of Debussy’s General Levine - eccentric and Minstrels from the Préludes.

Sonatina antiga is a backward-looking piece: “I wanted to use an ancient mould and create something new” but quite unlike Ravel’s Le Tombeau de Couperin. The first movement is a kind of Bach toccata but the language is angular, different from the music which has gone before. The middle siciliano movement is more straightforward but with some “wrong note” harmonies. The finale returns to the spirit of Bach’s fast movements with odd turns of harmonic voicing. The notes tell us that this is a unique work in Blancafort’s output, which is rather a shame as it has more bite than the other pieces on the disc, even if it does outstay its welcome a little.

Ermita I panorama is in two parts – a lovely nocturne and an energetic movement. Cavatina i diàleg is a stately dance, and the final Romança, intermedi I marxa is in three movements comprising two slow pieces and a fast conclusion.

It’s all very lovely, and easily approachable, music which simply doesn’t get in the way of whatever you’re doing whilst listening. And, for me, there lies the problem. Lovely music it might be, and Miquel Villalba is a very persuasive advocate for the music, not only playing very well but also supplying an interesting and informative note in the booklet, but there isn’t any real personality to it. As I listened I was always conscious of someone in the background – Debussy, Ravel, Poulenc (for a moment) – and the facile content didn’t totally hold my attention. This music will, I am sure, give a lot of pleasure to many but don’t expect to be engaged by it.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, April 2008

Born in 1897 to a Spanish musical family, Manuel Blancafort found national recognition with a series of keyboard works composed in the 1920's

Born in 1897 to a Spanish musical family, Manuel Blancafort found national recognition with a series of keyboard works composed in the 1920’s. It was a pastime, his early life spent selling for the Victoria Piano-Roll Company founded by his father. That brought him into contact with music throughout Western Europe, and in particular with the young generation of composers working in Paris in the early part of the century. They were to be the influence in his early output which embraced orchestral, chamber and instrumental music. This is the fourth disc of his complete music for the keyboard, the general drift of his scores reflecting the influences of both Ravel and Debussy, the one exception being the Sonatina antiga, the work that brought international apperception when chosen for the 14th Festival of the International Society of Contemporary Music in 1936. Here he briefly falls under the spell of the Second Viennese School, the three movements coming someway towards atonality. After a brief and tuneful Pastorel·la we move to the musical pictures created by his 1923 crossing to the United States in American Souvenir. The two surviving movements depict the boat journey and his love of Charles Chaplin’s movies. Just to show that the Sonatina antiga had been a brief mental aberration, he soon after added two colourful travelogue scenes of Spanish life in Ermita i panorama. Caught up in the Spanish Civil War, the family had to leave their beloved Catalan home and move to Barcelona and start life again. The last work on the disc, Romanca, intermedi i marxa (Romance, Interlude and March), comes from that difficult periodand was completed in 1942. He turns the clock back to his Paris days, and we find Debussy and Chopin mixing with some of Rachmaninov’s long sweeping melodies. Tuneful, engaging and very commercial. None of the works set high technical hurdles, Miquel Villalba proving a persuasive advocate. One of Spain’s leading pianists, particularly attracted to music from the 20th century, he enjoys a busy concert career on both sides of the Atlantic. His sound engineer has created a most realistic quality with particular beauty in quiet passages.

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