Xavier Montsalvatge Canciones & Conciertos
These wonderful pieces by Montsalvatge are given sparkling performances on this disc by a variety of outstanding interpreters.
The distinctive and intriguing Catalan culture of northeast Spain has brought the world a bouquet of unique artists, including the painters Salvator Dali and Joan Miro, architect Antoni Gaudi, composer Isaac Albeniz and cellist Pablo Casals. Composer Xavier Montsalvatge (see pronunciation notes, below) also called this region his home. Born exactly 100 years ago this spring, Montsalvatge’s composition career spanned a tumultuous era: his career was blossoming just as the Spanish Civil war broke out. Under Franco’s regime, Catalan culture was forbidden, and yet Montsalvatge managed to create a body of work characteristic of his region.
In commemoration of the hundredth anniversary of the composers’ birth, Hänssler, in association with the music publisher Peermusic Classical, releases a new recording of Montsalvatge’s work. Canciones & Conciertos (Hänssler 98.642) features acclaimed soloists Rachel Barton Pine (violin), Jenny Lin (piano) and Lucia Duchonova (mezzo-soprano), with the North German Radio Philharmonic led by Celso Antunes. The selections include Concerto breve for piano and orchestra, Poema concertante for violin and orchestra, Cinco canciones negras (Five black songs) for voice and orchestra, and A la española (from Tres danzas concertantes) for string orchestra.
“I’m often asked why more people haven’t heard of Montsalvatge and his music,” says author Roger Evans, whose biography of Montsalvatge will be available this spring. “The fact is that, from the Civil War in the 1930s to the end of Franco’s dictatorship in the 1970’s, Spain was very isolated culturally, and not much of even the best got out — especially if it came from one of the minority cultures like that of Catalonia.”
The most widely performed of all of Montsalvatge’s work is Cinco canciones negras. Each song is a distinctive work of art with individual character. The fourth song, a lullaby, figures in Stephen Sondheim’s list of “Songs I wish I’d written.” By incorporating musical idioms from Cuba that had developed there a century earlier among the Catalan colonists, the composer slyly injected his music with a distinctly Catalan musical style, getting around the censors of the Franco regime that forbade such displays of ethnic pride.
Montsalvatge’s Concerto breve had a prominent advocate: the pianist Alicia de Larrocha, to whom the work was dedicated. After the work was denied a significant prize, Montsalvatge made copies of the score and sent them to a dozen pianists. De Larrocha bit. She programmed the work immediately and performed it around the world throughout her career. “In this work you can hear Ravel’s influence with a touch of Stravinsky, without losing its strong Spanish flavor,” says pianist Jenny Lin. “It is a stirring work of keyboard virtuosity in which the pianist constantly engages the orchestra in spirited dialogues.”
Montsalvatge’s Poema concertante for violin and orchestra was commissioned by Henryk Szeryng, the internationally renowned violinist. Szeryng asked Xavier Montsalvatge to write a shorter work that he could perform as an alternative to Ernest Chausson’s Poème for violin and orchestra. “One of its most unusual features is the extended unaccompanied cadenza with which the soloist begins after a brief orchestral introduction,” says the violinist Rachel Barton Pine. “The only other known piece in the repertoire with such a scheme is Ravel’s Tzigane. Poema concertante is as satisfying to play as it is to listen to, being beautifully lyrical with moments of great virtuosity.”