sun 23/10/2016

Classical CDs Weekly: Haydn, Mozart, Xavier Montsalvatge, Daniel Propper | Classical music reviews, news & interviews

Classical CDs Weekly: Haydn, Mozart, Xavier Montsalvatge, Daniel Propper

Exotic music from Catalonia, sonorous Viennese classics and Napoleonic history played out on a piano keyboard

Hot potato: Xavier Montsalvatge


Xavier Montsalvatge: Orchestral works BBC Philharmonic/Juanjo Mena (Chandos)

Xavier Montsalvatge (1912-2002) was a Catalan composer who remained true to his regional roots, resisting any stereotypical notions of what Spanish music was supposed to sound like. He was attached to the habanera, but would have pointed out that the rhythm came from Cuba and was brought to Barcelona by Catalan emigrants returning home at the start of the 20th century. Just as certain chunks of Vaughan Williams will always evoke grey skies and boiled cabbage, Montsalvatge’s music at its best suggests a piquant plate of patatas bravas. His four-movement Partita 1958 is an engaging, spiky work, the bitonal passages betraying his fondness for the music of Darius Milhaud. The Cinco Canciones Negras are the most immediately appealing pieces on this Chandos disc. Each song is a sun-drenched gem, sung with gorgeous aplomb by Spanish mezzo Clara Mouriz, capable of reducing her voice to an imperceptible whisper when needed.

And there’s more – Montsalvatge’s Calidoscopi simfònic is a compact, glittering suite of four recycled ballet movements. You’re so engrossed in the music that you forget to notice the brilliance of the playing, with Juanjo Mena’s BBC Philharmonic revelling in every rhythmic twist. Weightier is the 1985 Simfonia de Rèquiem. It won’t eclipse memories of Britten’s similarly-monikered masterpiece, but contains many wonderful moments. Notably the Lux aeterna and the Libera me, in which Montsalvatge’s eerie, chromatic string glissandi precede a wonderfully brazen brass passage. The work ends with a sublime, magical soprano solo. All performed with panache. More please.

Mozart: Coronation Mass Handel and Haydn Society/Harry Christophers (Coro)

Boston’s Handel and Haydn Society are America’s oldest continuously performing arts organisation, having started life in 1815. The orchestra’s playing is astonishingly assured – so much so that it’s a shock to learn that they’re using original instruments. Happily, their reading of Haydn’s 85th symphony contains judicious amounts of grit and spice. Nicknamed La Reine in honour of Marie Antoinette, it’s a typically capricious example of mature Haydn – full of irregular phrase lengths, unexpected cadences and a smidgen of emotional unrest. There’s a startling quote from the Farewell Symphony, casting a shadow over an otherwise ebullient opening movement, and the second movement Romance is an ingenious set of variations on a French folk theme. There’s a comically brief Finale, lasting little over three minutes.

The main attraction is Harry Christophers’ Coronation Mass, heard in a refreshingly unpompous, crystalline performance. That it sounds so zingy is largely down to the singing – a smallish choir moving with singular grace and four well-matched soloists. Sample the Benedictus,  Mozart’s ticking accompaniment followed by a sublime spot of four part writing. The louder choral passages have plenty of oomph, but enough clarity to let the individual lines register; the Credo is heart-stopping. Soprano Teresa Wakim also gives us Mozart’s Exultate, jubilate. She’s lovely, avoiding the shrillness which can blight performances of this engaging work. Beautifully recorded live performances, with informative notes by Lindsay Kemp.

Just as less-inspired chunks of Vaughan Williams will always evoke grey skies and boiled cabbage, Montsalvatge's music at its best suggests a piquant plate of patatas bravas

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