Thursday 13 August 2015

A new release from Naxos of works by Benet Casablancas performed by the B3: Brouwer Trio show him to be an endlessly fascinating composer

Benet Casablancas (b.1956) was born in Sabadell, Spain and studied in Barcelona and at the Vienna Academy of Music with Friedrich Cerha and Karl Heinz Füssl.

Though rooted in the formal techniques of serialism, his music has, in recent decades become more concerned with harmony and texture. His wide-ranging oeuvre covers the most diverse genres and formats, increasingly drawn towards the orchestral field.

He has received many awards including the Premio Nacional Disco Ministerio de Cultura de España, Premio Nacional de Música de la Generalitat de Catalunya, Premio Ciudad de Barcelona, Composer´s Arena Amsterdam (Gaudeamus), Musiciens´s Accord New York, Premios Ferran Sors, Oscar Esplá and Jeunesses Musicales. In 2002 he was appointed Academic Director of the Conservatorio Superior de Música del Liceo in Barcelona.

Casablancas’ music has been performed at important international festivals such as Holland Festival Amsterdam, Musica Strasbourg, ISCM World Music Days Vilnius, Biennale Düsseldorf, Spanien Modern Wien, Theatre Miller New York, Atempo Caracas, Weimar, Bruxelles, Antwerpen, London Barbican Hall, Paris, Lausanne, St. Petersburg, Warzawa, Montréal, München, Vancouver, Bolonia, Buenos Aires, Stockholm, Malmö, Lima, Rotterdam, Tokio, Frankfurt and Napoles.

A new release from Naxos  entitled Piano Trios features works by Benet Casablancas performed by B3: Brouwer Trio

The title of this disc is rather misleading in that only three of the works performed here are for piano trio, the rest for solo piano and other combinations. However, that doesn’t detract from the wealth of fine music from this composer on these new recordings.

Casablancas, Moviment per a trio (1984), as the title implies, is for piano trio with B3: Brouwer Trio launching into a kaleidoscope of instrumental sounds before settling to a passionate theme, soon led by the cello before violin, then piano join to weave around the theme. As the theme is slowly taken forward there is much of the feel of the Second Viennese School but, as the music develops through some more vibrant passages, Casablancas adds a distinctive voice. The music speeds before slowing as these three players weave some particularly fine sounds, finding every little nuance to point up this composer’s ideas before slowly the music finds its way to a hushed coda.

In this work Casablancas very much takes forward the language of the Second Viennese School whilst moulding it to his personal style.

Brouwer Trio member, pianist Carlos Apellániz introduces the first of several solo piano works on this disc, Impromptu (2009). A light skittish piano theme opens played with terrific brio by this pianist where the music leaps around the keyboard using the whole of the twelve tone scale. Though it slows, there are continuing moments of sudden dynamic runs and flourishes on the piano with some terrific moments.

Another work for solo piano follows, Sí, a Montsalvatge! (2012) opening with delicate rippling phrases before the theme is gently taken forward with many lovely little details so sensitively wrought by this pianist. It grows in dynamics and tempo as it progresses with Casablancas creating some fine piano writing with lovely colours, textures and timbres.

The Brouwer Trio’s cellist, Elena Solanes joins Carlos Apellániz for Cant per a Frederic Mompou, Remembranca (1993) with the cello opening with a deep rich theme soon joined by the piano as a slow, rather melancholy, melody develops. The piano provides economical little phrases as the cello rises and becomes quite anguished, this cellist drawing some lovely heartfelt moments.

Pianist Carlos Apellániz returns for Tres Haikus (2008) where in the first piece there is a skittish little motif under which a theme is run before the second piece brings a more flowing theme that slows as it is picked over more gently with some exquisite moments of great refinement and delicacy. The piano introduces a faster theme, the final Haikus of this set, before it spreads all over the keyboard, easing back for the sudden coda.

This time the Brouwer Trio’s violinist, Jenny Guerra joins Carlos Apellániz for Encore (1992), a work that brings edgy vibrant violin chords in the opening with the piano adding lively phrases. The violin develops some fine textures and harmonies as the music leads through slower, more considered passages. There are more spectacularly virtuosic faster moments for these two players before the violin rises to a quite coda.

Carlos Apellániz brings some lovely rippling piano phrases to Haiku para Zurbarán (2010) offset by more dramatic chords before slowly quietening to the coda. He opens the following piano piece, Lamento, Haiku para Ramón Barce (2009) with a terrific piano flourish before settling and moving forward with a longer breathed theme, still set off by more dynamic flourishes. Casablancas provides many fine colours and textures in this fine work before the quieter coda.

The piano work, Jubilus, Homenatge a Jordi Savall (2011) opens with a vibrant rippling theme, still with Casablancas’ trademark trills and flourishes that encompass much of the keyboard. The music slows to a plodding pace before little flourishes are added with deep lower chords, livening again as the music moves to the coda.

B3: Brouwer Trio come together for Casablancas’ Impromptu, Trio No. 2 (1991) with these players hurtling off in the opening, bringing a fine texture of sounds, full of energy. The music soon drops as the piano introduces a slower section to which the others join and develop. Again there are Casablancas’ sudden outbursts and flourishes as well as many fine harmonies and textures with this composer showing a fine ear for such little details. Later the violin brings a longer melody over the top of the piano’s skittish accompaniment. There is a myriad of textures and colours as the music develops with melodies emerging through the texture.

Carlos Apellániz brings some further piano pieces, first Come un recitativo (1995) where the piano opens with broad chords before developing through a wide spectrum of phrases, soon slowing to bring a delicate, slow flowing theme before speeding again and a sudden little coda. Then comes the Dos Apunts (1976), the first of which opens gently as the music moves and flows as though the composer is trying out ideas. The second of these two pieces has a staccato theme that shifts around, varying in dynamics.

Tríptico (1996) is a work for solo cello that brings back cellist Elena Solanes. The cello brings a slow, rich opening to Amorós, lliurement that is developed through some very fine passages of reflective deep, rich textures. Pizzicato cello phrases slowly appear for the Passacaglia, soon interspersed by light vibrant harmonies this cellist holding the structure quite magnificently. Liebeslied brings a deep sonorous theme that emerges from the bass with lovely harmonies and textures, with angst filled dissonances appearing as the passion increases and the cello rises ever higher before slowly moving to a quiet richly harmonised end.

Casablancas wrote a second collection (Segunda Colección) of Tre Haikus for piano, in 2013.  In Full de Dietari, per Antonio Muñoz Molina pianist Carlos Apellániz opens with a slow piano motif that gently develops with some beautifully limpid phrases. Ràfegues de llum brings faster, more florid textures with dynamic louder passages to conclude. Memento para Maria del Carme Casablancas has a delicate opening, soon leading to deep chords repeated, before higher bell like phrases lead to the coda on a low chord.

The concluding work on this disc, Haiku para trío (2007) brings back all members of B3: Brouwer Trio as these players launch themselves with a vengeance into this piece with more of this composer’s tremendous combination of textures, colours and timbres tumbling over each other. The music slows momentarily before hurtling to the dynamic coda.

Benet Casablancas is an endlessly fascinating composer who brings his own distinctive language to music that builds on the Second Viennese School and, in certain of his piano works, Olivier Messiaen. The very fine B3: Brouwer Trio receive an excellent recording and there are informative booklet notes.

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