thu 29/02/2024

Classical CDs Weekly: Mompou, Shostakovich, Stravinsky | reviews, news & interviews

Classical CDs Weekly: Mompou, Shostakovich, Stravinsky

Classical CDs Weekly: Mompou, Shostakovich, Stravinsky

Catalan piano music and two discs of 20th-century concertos

Arcadi Volodos transmits the music of Mompou


Volodos plays Mompou Arcadi Volodos (piano) (Sony)

This is excellent, and a brilliant introduction to an under-appreciated composer. Frederic Mompou spent most of his long life in Barcelona, dying there aged 94 in 1987. The piano pieces collected on Arcadi Volodo’s handsomely recorded disc are consistently electrifying – in a very low-key way. Mompou rarely shouts; the melodic lines tend to be spare and unadorned, occasionally suggesting Satie. He was a master of compression and concision, a composer able to express himself with the slightest of gestures. Several of the later pieces sound intriguingly modern, but Mompou never abandoned tonality, however complex his harmonic language.

Two song transcriptions made by Volodos are bewitching, and the early Scènes d’enfants include beguiling portraits of Mompou’s home city. More arresting is an extended selection of pieces from Música Callada, the last of which were composed in the late 1960s. In the composer’s words, this is “music which contains neither air nor light… it has the mission to penetrate to the depths of our soul and the most secret corners of our spirit.” Take the time to explore Volodos’s sequence in a darkened room and you’ll be blown away; this is a sublime listening experience. Sony’s presentation is great – an elegant, hardback book, handsomely annotated, and a perfect tribute to a composer who once said “I don’t think up music, I merely transmit it.” Volodos's playing is refined and sensitive.

Shostakovich: Cello Concertos 1 and 2 Dmitry Kouzov (cello), St Petersburg State Symphony Orchestra/Vladimir Lande (Delos)

Dmitry Kouzov’s husky, sonorous cello tone adds extra Slavic gravitas to this pair of highly contrasted works. Kouzov wisely accentuates each concerto’s emotional mood. Meaning that Shostakovich's brasher Concerto no 1 is especially raucous, pungent and witty. Miss the humour and you end up with an unpleasantly dark and oppressive work. So much works well – piercing high woodwinds in the faster movements and a bold, whooping horn soloist, brilliant in the first movement’s cadenza. I like the way in which conductor Vladimir Lande phrases the slow movement’s opening string chorale, preparing us for the cello’s disarmingly simple melody. This is a compelling piece – Kouzov’s long third movent cadenza cranks up the tension and the finale successfully balances rowdy cheek with a touch of menace.

Kouzov and Lande also tap into the ambivalence of the more elusive Concerto no 2. This is another very good reading – Kouzov an eloquent guide to the first movement’s shadowy landscape, with Lande’s St Petersburg players revelling in the score’s eccentricities. The all-important percussion writing is exquisitely played, with deafening whipcracks in the last movement. And Kouzov’s playing in the closing minutes is masterly. He vanishes into the mist, accompanied by ticking woodblocks and xylophone - an extraordinary, spectral passage.


Stravinsky: Complete music for Piano and Orchestra Steven Osborne (piano), BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra/Ilan Volkov (Hyperion)

The piano was Stravinsky’s own instrument. Piano sound dominates so many of his orchestral works and ballets – think of the fiendish obbligato writing in Petrushka or the percussive keyboards accompanying Les Noces. Odd therefore that Stravinsky’s two large-scale works for piano and orchestra remain so underperformed. The Concerto for piano and wind instruments dates from 1924. It’s an entertaining piece – snatches of Bach jostle for attention with hints of jazz, though the relentless wind writing in the faster movements can tire the ear. Steven Osborne’s poised performance of the central Largo is cool in the best sense. More appealing is the work’s sequel, Stravinsky’s 1928 Capriccio for piano and orchestra. We’re not a million miles from Poulenc’s keyboard concertos, and the work charms and dazzles.

1959’s compact Movements for piano and orchestra is very different – a late. Webern-inspired piece. This is incredible music for a 77-year old composer to have produced. Understanding the serial techniques which Stravinsky uses will be beyond most of us; best, then, to revel in the boldness, the strangeness of the music – full of oblique silences and unorthodox sonorities. Osborne and conductor Ilan Volkov excel in making such a thorny work seem so lucid. Volkov also gives us an astringent, lithe reading of the Concerto in D for strings, and two entertaining miniatures. An extravagant setting of the Song of the Volga Boatman will raise a smile, and we’ve a rare chance to hear the 1966 Canon (on a Russian Popular Tune), dedicated to the memory of conductor Pierre Monteux and recycling a melody used in The Firebird. Decent notes, accomplished orchestral playing and sleeve art by Paul Klee. An essential purchase.

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