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Colin Clarke
Fanfare, November 2010

It is good to see the Catalan composer Xavier Montsalvatge (1912–2002) receiving more recognition. Naxos is embarking on a Montsalvatge series (this is Volume 1 of the piano music); recordings date from 2008.

The early (1933, but not published until 2008) impromptus that open the disc are markedly French sounding. Jordi Masó’s own booklet notes rightly point out the influence of Debussy in the first and Satie in the second. The third is the epitome of charm, with Ravel possibly in the shadows. Masó’s readings are beautifully shaded. The recording (Jafre, Spain) is a little brittle and dry. A little more ambience would have benefited the intimacy of this music.

The Siciliana is actually part of a ballet (1940) that never made it to the stage. Fifty years later, the composer made this piano version. It is a charming piece, with an oriental-tinged melody. The full title of the Three Divertimentos of 1941 is Tres Divertimentos sobre temas de autores olvídados (Three Divertimentos on Themes by Forgotten Composers). The three pieces are a schottische, a habañera, and a waltz-jota, and the forgotten composers are the fact that the themes come from melodies so well known that nobody knows the original composers. The central habañera, marked Muy dulce, is a joy, especially in Masó’s beautiful performance.

Masó programs three short pieces in succession, Ritmes (1942), Elegia a Ravel (1945), and Divagación (1950). It is easy to hear why the composer held Ritmes in such high regard. It is delightful, and its sense of joy is infectious. The Elegia a Ravel is in fact a revision of the second of the impromptus, but revised so much it emerges as a new entity. It is beautifully shaped here by Masó, played with just the right amount of restraint. Divagación is a transcription for Alicia de Larrocha of an interlude from Montsalvatge’s first opera, El gato. It is charm personified, and scored for orchestra it must surely have fulfilled its function beautifully. Masó’s pure legato ensures its success in the piano reduction here.

The title of the popular Sonatine pour Yvette (1961) refers to the composer’s daughter, and there is a quotation of a popular children’s song, “Ah, vous dirai-je, Maman,” in the final movement. The short Sketch seems rather inconsequential, despite its history of originating as part of a ballet in the manner of Les Six, then its appearance in the orchestral suite Calidoscopi simfonic.

Decidedly not inconsequential is the work for piano and string orchestra, Recóndita armonia of 1955. As the pianist Jordi Masó points out in his notes, this four-movement work is of decidedly concertante nature. The piano is an integral, vital part of the procedings. If there is dynamism evident in the opening bars, it is somewhat misleading, for the underlying feel here is lyrical, and much of this first movement is restrained, introspective even. True peace is found in the Andante sostenuto; a brief, light scherzo leads to a finale that seems to dwell more on sinewy counterpoint than the perhaps expected jubilation. It is an intriguing movement, and is a remarkably beautiful and thought-provoking way to close the work (this is its world premiere recording).

Fascinating repertoire. Do explore.

Mark L Lehman
American Record Guide, September 2010

Xavier Montsalvatge (1912-2002) was a Catalan composer as indebted to French composers, particularly Ravel and Milhaud, as to Albeniz and Falla. His harmonic language stretches from impressionist pastels to mildly astringent polytonal shadings spiced with chromatic clashes; but his music is consistently decorative, playful, and fastidious, with sparkling, vivacious allegros (often based on dance rhythms) and dreamy, sensuous andantes. He is more comfortable with elegance and finelywrought surfaces than warmth or sentiment; personal emotion is usually shrouded in mystery or held at a distance—an indulgence the aristocratic composer seems wary of. Another indulgence he wisely avoids is laboring his material: his movements are nearly always compact, never padded.

This is the first volume in an edition of the composer’s complete piano oeuvre. These pieces range from 1933 to 1961. We hear three Impromptus, a Siciliana, three Divertimentos, ‘Ritmes’, ‘Elegy for Ravel’, ‘Digression’, Sonatine for Yvette, ‘Sketch’, and ‘Recondita Armonia’—this last in a version for piano and string orchestra...I can confidently recommend Jordi Maso on the release under review. He perfectly understands Montsalvatge’s temperament and idiom, plays this music very nicely, and is captured in natural, pleasing sound.

Dean Frey
The Villa-Lobos Magazine, June 2010

I really enjoyed Xavier Montsalvatge’s Piano Music, v. 1, with Jordi Maso…

I recommend this very highly!

WRUV Reviews, June 2010

Montsalvatge’s works reflect jazz and impressionism, both elements which he greatly enjoyed. These are lively, delicate and fluid. Play all! Tracks 15–18 with string orchestra are stronger, with some somber features. Recondita Armonia and 3 Impromptus are world premiere recordings.

James Manheim, June 2010

The music of Catalonian composer Xavier Montsalvatge, essentially neo-classic in spirit, features traces of the French 1920s scene in which he came of age, of jazz, of Latin American and Caribbean music, of Iberian nationalism, and, on occasion, of broad Romantic melody. All these elements cohere into a brilliant whole…Horowitz at the keyboard, and there’s a certain hard-to-pin down joy pervading the whole. Highly recommended for fans of Iberian music…

David Denton
David's Review Corner, May 2010

Jordi Masó continues a pilgrimage to bring international recognition to the piano music of his native Spain, now moving to the works of Xavier Montsalvatge. Born in Catalonia in 1912, Montsalvatge studied composition at the Barcelona Conservatoire, his early influences coming from his deep love of French music, and Debussy in particular, a fact ever present in the Three Impromptus. It was his first published work written at the age of 21, and was to signpost a composer wedded to tonality in works that would gain a ready public acceptance. Those naughty pieces beloved of the French shaped the Divertimentos, and we were still in France for the Sonatina inspired by his five year old daughter, Yvette. It uses as the theme for the final movement, Ah, vous dirai-je, Mamon, a song she sang at the time. The last of the substantial works, the ‘piano concerto’, Recondita Armonia, was derived from an unperformed string quintet. There is here a conflict of dates, the notes claiming it to be from 1995, though the back insert has 1955 for its composition and this has to be correct. It is a score full of modern crunchy harmonies, but is tuneful and full of joy. The orchestral role is for strings and has an attractive cello solo to introduce the second movement, though it is not a highly demanding accompaniment. The remainder of the disc is given to five short pieces, the Elegia a Ravel—a reworking of the second of the Three Impromptus—while Divagacion is an amusing piece of ‘wrong’ notes, and originally for an opera, El gato con botas (Puss in Boots). It is a mood that continues in the short Sketch from 1966. So much of excellence has come from Jordi Maso, we almost take for granted his immaculate playing, and he is much at home in the happiness the disc exudes. Good support from his native Granollers orchestra, and the engineering is first class.

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