Apr 16th 2020

Bringing Federico Mompou’s work bang up to date

by Michael Johnson

Michael Johnson is a music critic with particular interest in piano. 

Johnson worked as a reporter and editor in New York, Moscow, Paris and London over his journalism career. He covered European technology for Business Week for five years, and served nine years as chief editor of International Management magazine and was chief editor of the French technology weekly 01 Informatique. He also spent four years as Moscow correspondent of The Associated Press. He is the author of five books.

Michael Johnson is based in Bordeaux. Besides English and French he is also fluent in Russian.

You can order Michael Johnson's most recent book, a bilingual book, French and English, with drawings by Johnson:

“Portraitures and caricatures:  Conductors, Pianist, Composers”

 here.

 

Federico Mompou, the reclusive Catalonian composer whose calm, spare piano writing is currently enjoying a rebirth, might well look askance at any effort to pull him forward into modern mode. Such was never his genre but that’s precisely what one of his ardent admirers, pianist Maria Canyigueral, proposed to do. The result is her intriguing new CD, Avant-guarding Mompou (German label Audite Forum).

MC1
Maria Canyigueral

Ms. Canyigueral, an accomplished pianist well-known on the international recital circuit, decided three years ago to invite about 15 composers around Europe to participate in her project. Nine of them came back to her by telephone and email to accept her offer and decide details. She tells me their reaction was instantly enthusiastic. “The fact that all of them admired Mompou’s music was a very good starting point,” she recalls.

As the new works arrived, she felt the project coming to life. “It’s always very exciting to discover what a score contains,” she says. With her delicate keyboard touch and her Spanish (Catalonian) origins, she performs all the Mompou selections and six of the commissioned pieces with confidence and verve on her new CD. But she wanted the focus to be on Mompou. “I performed each new work as best I could but I think he is the star.”

The plan had credibility from the outset due to Ms. Canyigueral’s reputation and contacts in the music world. Now 36, she comes with an impressive pedigree. She studied at the Barcelona Conservatory and earned a master’s degree in piano performance at the London Academy of Music in London, furthering her studies there with Sulamita Aronovsky. She has won international competition awards in solo and ensemble categories.

Some of the composers she selected have previous experience with her. Anton Garcia Abril, the most senior and most decorated of the selected applicants, has won critical acclaim for his partnership with Ms. Canyigueral. His contribution, Reverberaciones, evokes the Mompou oeuvre with convincing modern overtones.

Another well-known figure is Nicolas Bacri, a French composer with a large legacy of symphonies, operas, string quartets, piano trios, cantatas, violin concertos and other works behind him. His contribution, Chanson et Valse op. 145, makes a lasting impact as it swirls around the Mompou style before departing from the original without actually leaving Mompou behind.

Other participants originate from Greece, Germany, Britain and Spain.

Ms. Canyigueral managed to complete her project through a combination of dogged determination and personal interest in the composers she targeted. Although she had no previous organizational experience, she left nothing to chance here. She mandated a four-minute maximum per piece written in “similar form and size as Mompou’s Cançons i Danses.”

Her appeal was in perfect pitch.  She told each potential participant, “I have been listening to some of your compositions and I have to say that I am truthfully amazed by your music. I am really impressed by its emotional power and it would be a huge honour for me if you accept to collaborate on this project.”

What composer could ignore such an invitation?

She performed the complete cycle at the London’s Conway Hall premiere in 2018 and bits of it live in Belgium and in Catalonia as well as at the famous Palau de la Música Catalana in Barcelona last year and in Fundación Juan March in Madrid last October.

 

END

 

 


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