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James Manheim, November 2008

The Naxos label's Spanish Classics series has unearthed a good deal of highy listenable contemporary music, and with this disc of the Spanish-Catalan composer Benet Casablancas' piano music it even has commisioned a new work, the "Three Divertimenti for  piano duet" with which the program opens. Casablancas' career goes back to the mid-'70s when the influence of the Second Viennese School reigned supreme. The abruptness, general avoidance of tonal centers, dense textures, and overall expressionist atmosphere of his piano music all point to the influence of the early music of Schoenberg and his compatriots, but Casablancas mixes various Iberian influences, although not specifically nationalist ones, into a distinctive synthesis. Primary among these is the proto-minimalist language of Casablancas' Catalonian contemporary Mompou; many of the sections of these works are very short, several of them under a minute in length. There are also attractive traces of Spanish Impressionism, and, increasingly often in the composer's later career, a virtuoso, often lyrical pianism. The "Triptic Infantil" (Childhood Triptych) of 2003 is more about children than for them, but this or many other pieces on the album would furnish ideal material for student recitals; the sharp contrasts between impressionistic reflection and rigorous, muscular fast sections appeal to audiences despite the general density of the material. Sample some of the shorter works such as the "Three Aphorisms" of 2003; the longer works like perversely named the "Three Bagatelles" are tougher going. That work's name has a mysterious dot in the middle of its Catalan title, unexplained by the otherwise helpful booklet notes. A pair of pianists is featured, and that works nicely; each tends to highlight different aspects of Casablancas' music. Worth the time and money, especially for pianists and their friends.

American Record Guide, September 2008

Benet Casablancas is a prolific and well-respected Spanish composer born in 1956. His piano pieces are angular and fully chromatic. Allegros are capricious and brittle, often splashing notes up and down the keyboard with exuberant bravado and wit; andantes are pensive, sometimes nostalgic or misty or fanciful. The music displays integrity and careful craftsmanship, as well as the strong influence of Schoenberg and some of his Iberian followers, Roberto Gerhard in particular. As in Gerhard the emotional climate is more often extroverted and antic-sunlit rather than gloomy-avoiding the surreal, angry, or morose neuroticism of Schoenberg's more expressionist music.

The piano pieces on this very-well-played-and-recorded program date from 1976 to 2006. The earliest is Prelude and Fugue in C, included mostly to show the composer's point of departure. The Prelude is a blurry, scriabnesque wash of harmonies, the Fugue a diligent but plodding imitation of Hindemithian counterpoint. There are ten later compositions, several of them multi-movement cycles. These mature woks are much more confident in both construction and stylistic consistency. At their glittering and virtuosic best—especially the 18-minute set of Three Bagatelles from 2003 and the ten-minute 2006 Three Divertimentos (for piano four-hands)—these are impressive non-tonal compositions that exploit ringing harmonic resonances and a wide variety of figuration, dynamics, and attack with notable vivacity. I admired and enjoyed their vitality, fluency, and zestful exploitation of the piano’s rich palette of colors. Even so they sound rather old-fashioned for music written in the last two decades of the 20th Century and the beginning years of the 21st. Not much here shows familiarity with or interest in, for instance, Boulez, Ligeti, Nancarrow, Lutoslawski, Donatoni, Berio, Rzewski, and other such post-World-War II figures. Of course whether that's a defect or a virtue will depend on you. It didn't bother this listener in the slightest.

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