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A dramatic musical imagination

PATRIC STANDFORD listens to orchestral music
by Xavier Montsalvatge


There is not a great deal we know about 20th century Spanish music; we hear so little of it. The operatic efforts of Felipe Pedrell, who died in 1922 having worked like a Spanish Glinka to create a national identity out of all the Oriental, Moorish, Basque, Arab and Turkish cultural invasions and the spicy Catalan Provençal minstrelsy, were rewarded only by relative obscurity. He left a legacy that was quickly taken up by the next generation, Albeniz, Granados, Conrado del Campo who proved more able operatically, and de Falla. None were much concerned with their benefactor; but Pedrell, who wanted to be a sort of Spanish Wagner, was not (as far as can be judged by the texts) a very strong composer. That next generation was far better. And after them came Rodrigo, Mompou, the exiles Oscar Esplá and Roberto Gerhard, and the latter's pupil Joaquim Homs. Among these is also Xavier Montsalvatge, a composer whose creative journey from the 1940's to the present day has travelled from an unashamed romanticism to an intriguingly Spanish Indian flavoured serialism.

Attentive viewers of that stunning Cecelia Bartoli recital recorded in March 1998 and shown on BBC 2 last winter will have caught a glimpse of this elder statesman of Spanish music, long living as so many are, celebrating at the time his 87th birthday. Not only is it rare to see the great man (reference books are economical with both photographs and information), but it is as rare to hear anything more than those 'Five Negro Songs' which Bartoli performed with remarkable skill, ease and vivacity.  Like Rodrigo and his guitar concerto, the popularity of those songs, published in 1945, overshadows subsequent and perhaps more musically significant works. They have led to the assumption, even now, that he is the composer of instrumental and vocal miniatures, children's pieces and arrangements of national dance tunes. Such conveniently easy dismissal is the delight of idle historians and critics whose opinions are presumption rather than real research.

Xavier Montsalvatge. Copyright (c) 1999 ASVThis very welcome CD of substantial orchestral music demonstrates well that Montsalvatge is far more than an incidental miniaturist. His output since those early songs, made popular by the dedicated commitment of Victoria de los Angeles, has included 20 ballet scores and three notable operas, from which long experience comes a dramatic musical imagination clothed in colourful orchestration, particularly evident in the two major works recorded by the Orquesta Filarmonica de Gran Canaria and their enterprising British conductor Adrian Leaper.

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Copyright © Patric Standford, October 30th 1999


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