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Alan Becker
American Record Guide, January 2011

If not exactly the most prolific writer of his era (1912–2002), Xavier Montsalvatge, Spanish Catalan composer and music critic, was certainly one of the most influential. His music developed from Spanish romanticism, through Wagner, to the use of 12-tone techniques and free polytonality. His base of operation was Barcelona, where he wrote for La Vanguardia and taught at the Conservatory, his alma mater.

The Concierto de Albayzin is a different work from the Concierto Breve recorded by Alicia De Larrocha, though it’s of similar duration. Volume 1 was favorably reviewed recently (Sept/Oct 2010) though the orchestra was said to be “scrappy and thin sounding”. I can find none of that in the Albayzin Concierto. Its acerbic textures and chamber music-like sounds come across with excellent clarity and remind me of a cross between Milhaud and Dutilleux in their more dissonant modes. Both Masó and the Granollers emerge triumphant in this light-grained, somewhat nasty, but generally appealing music.

Three Pieces for the Left Hand, from about ten years later, will break no fingers. Tempos are slow and the music is somber and dark. Alegoria a Turina, a commission to mark the centenary of the birth of the Andalusian composer, is a short, dissonant piece that sounds nothing like Turina.

As a work for children, or for children to play, Noah’s Ark is a suite of seven pieces said to be imitative of animal sounds. Although interesting to listen to, it remains in the Frenchified, dissonant style typical of this composer. One would be hard pressed to identify the animals or to think of any children who might enjoy this music beyond the final ‘Waltz’. They would also have to be fairly precocious players to manage the difficulties.

Schubertiana deconstructs the Impromptu D 935: 2 in a most un-Schubertian way, and the other pieces combine French Impressionism with spiky dissonance in a sauce that may be an acquired taste.

While all of these compositions are impeccably handled, the playing most effective, the pianist’s notes all they should be, and the sound engineering state-of-the-art, readers addicted to nationalistic sounds from the Iberian peninsula should be forewarned. There is little of that here, but what remains is good enough to reside in this writer’s collection.

Phillip Scott
Fanfare, January 2011

This is the second of two volumes of piano music by the Catalan composer Xavier Montsalvatge (1912–2002). The discs are of considerable interest: To begin with, they chart the composer’s piano music in chronological order of composition. The previous issue contained works up to and including 1966, and this one plunges straight on with the Alegoria a Turina of 1982. The latter turns out to be pivotal in Montsalvatge’s piano oeuvre: It bursts into life with Spanish-inflected pyrotechnics but very soon we find the texture pared back to dry neoclassical clarity. Whereas in his earlier piano works, the composer showed a clear French influence—Debussy very early on, then Les Six—his later work turns aphoristic in the manner of his Catalan contemporary Federico Mompou. Harmonically it becomes comparatively dissonant, and less tuneful; the effect is sharp and bracing, even in music written with children in mind. Compare the well-known Sonatine for Yvette (1961) on the first disc with El arca de Noë (Noah’s Ark) of 1990. The latter, a seven-movement suite of animal pictures, maintains a tough exterior (with notable use of minor seconds in the harmony) and an admirable lack of sentimentality. Montsalvatge’s very late works are either short tributes or occasional pieces, but there is no hint that they have been dashed off. His final solo work, written during his final illness at the age of 89, is aptly titled Improvised Epilog.

The other point of interest in these discs is that each one also contains a piano concerto, neither of which is the Concierto Breve recorded elsewhere by Alicia de Larrocha and Daniel Blanch. The sprightly Concierto de Albayzin (1977) pits the piano against a chamber orchestra in motoric rhythmic patterns that combine Stravinsky with a hint of Minimalism. Lasting around 20 minutes, the concerto was originally composed for harpsichord (hence the clear rhythms and sparse textures); the composer reworked it for piano some time later. Reputedly one of Montsalvatge’s favorites among his own works, this substantial piece is a delightful discovery.

Jordi Masó, who has recorded all of Turnia’s piano music for Naxos, proves equally at home in Montsalvatge’s sharper-edged textures. He is well supported by the small orchestra and cleanly recorded. This disc, like Volume 1, receives an enthusiastic recommendation.

Ronni Reich, September 2010

Masó easily handles the technical demands of “Alborada en Aurinx” and savors its post-impressionist harmonies. He shows personality in the playful Noah’s Ark suite written for children (the springy kangaroo movement is especially charming). But the real standout here is the kinetic, quirky “Concierto de Albayzín,” one minute angular and rhythmic, the next decadently swaying. Guillen and the orchestra offer charged performances throughout, with Masó most impressive in the second movement, where his rhapsodic, militant and chaotic outpourings puncture the hazy, dreamy backdrop.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, August 2010

For this second disc of piano music of Xavier Montsalvatge we move to the last twenty-five years of his long life. By then the early French influences of the composer born in Catalonia in 1912 had largely passed by. He had studied at the Barcelona Conservatoire and from the outset was wedded to tonality, a fact evidenced by the short Improviso epilogal, his last piano work written not far short of his ninetieth birthday. Much of his writing was in cameos, the more extensive score generally constructed from a number of short musical pictures. Fun in never far away as we find in El arca de Noe (Noah’s Ark) composed for gifted young children to play, and contrasts with the seriousness of the Tres piezas para la mano izquierda. Jordi Maso, who has done so much to bring recognition to Spanish composers, is just at home in the simplicity of the children’s pieces, as he is the demanding passages of Schubertiana, or the piano competition test piece, Alborada en Aurinx, commissioned from the eighty-seven year old. Very different to Messiaen’s works derived from birdsong, Martinu’s Cinc ocells en libertat (Five Free Birds) uses them to create short piano works written with affection when he was already eighty-five. The disc ends with the composer’s favourite score, the Concierto de Albayzin, a work original scored for harpsichord and chamber orchestra but here changed to the piano.  It is still spiky, tuneful and utterly charming. I can only repeat my oft stated admiration for Maso whose playing is so persuasive and technically immaculate. The Granollers Chamber Orchestra are admirable partners and the sound quality is perfect.

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