XAVIER MONTSALVATGE: Poema Concertante; Cinco canciones negras; A la espanola; Concerto breve – Rachel Barton Pine, violin/ Lucia Duchonova, mezzo/ Jenny Lin, piano/ NDR Radio Philharmonic/ Celso Antunes – Hänssler Classic 98.642, 54:37 [Distr. by Naxos] *****:

The biggest negative about this release is that it is too short! Montsalvatge (1912-2002) hailed from Girona and attended the Barcelona Conservatory. He also early on became a rather influential music critic as well, though his activities as a composer place him among the most important Spanish artists of the second half of the twentieth century. Yet today not much is known about him, and his music is only sporadically played. From his earliest years he was greatly affected by the music of Wagner and then the twelve-tone system. But his connection to the mid-century French School had a profound effect on him, and his last period, though hardly “modern”, was characterized by what is called “free polytonality”, and the music is very accessible.

Of the works here, only the Five Black Songs resonates with most attentive music lovers, and is perhaps his most famous work, deservedly so. It is an outstanding cycle that could be described as “Parisian Hispanic” in that the harmonic underpinnings are very much from the shores of France while the flavor and melodic content are quite vigorously Cuban/Hispanic. Lucia Duchonova sings them with passion and commitment.

Polish-Mexican violinist Henryk Szerying was the impetus behind the creation of Poema Concertante, desiring not a concerto but a piece that could be used as an alternative to something like Chausson’s Poeme. The work maintains a Cuban flavor to it and is really an attractive and engaging piece, yet it is still not very well know, something Montsalvatge himself realized early on. One can hope that this idiomatic and sultry performance by Rachael Barton Pine will help revive it.

Though the violin work is more abstract, the piano piece Concerto breve shows the composer at the height of his powers at only 41 years of age, and represents the pinnacle of his Cuban-styled works. Alicia de Larrocha was an early and ardent champion of the piece, and its Ravelian overtones make for a wonderful listening experience. Jenny Lin plays with confidence and a lot of flair.

The is a beautifully-recorded disc of no little value for those wanting to sample something a little different, and the music is good enough to establish itself as a favorite in any collection.

—Steven Ritter