This rather interesting disc, Iberian Colours, is an attempt to get a different flavour to the various different styles of Spanish music and move away from the more stereotypical. The Maria Camahort Quintet is a group of five singers and instrumentalists from different musical traditions who have come together on this disc, on Convivium Records, to give rather distinctive interpretations of music by Frederic Mompou, Eduard Toldra, Feliu Gasull, Chano Dominguez, Manuel de Falla, Enrique Granados and Maria Camahort herself, plus traditional Catalan and Spanish songs.
The quintet consists of Maria Camahort (guitar), Violeta Garcia (violin and voice), Laura Muhi-Vidal (soprano), Sergio Serra (cello) and Pablo Dominguez (percussion), with arrangements being done by Maria Camahort. Their sound world varies between hints of jazz influence, pure classical and traditional Spanish with inevitably the three intermingling. As many of the works on this disc have a basis in Spanish music, the group bring these influences out. But a work like Manuel de Falla’s Homenaje: Le tombeau de Claude Debussy is performed without addition or intervention.
They open with a group of works by the Catalan composer Frederic Mompou (1893-1987). His Cancons i danses (Songs and Dances) composed between 1912 and 1962, is a collection of piano arrangements of Catalan popular pieces. Each uses a combination of a song and a dance, creating a contrast between slow and fast, melodic and rhythmic. They perform two, numbers 7 and 8, in versions which add the original vocal parts back in whilst keeping Mompou’s harmonies. Cantar del Alma (Song of the Soul), written in 1951, is a curious piece which alternates vocal recitative and piano, the two never mixing. Here the piano is replaced by instrumental arrangements, but keeping Mompou’s alternations. And the result remains a bit curious, as if the two had come together by accident.
Next the perform their own arrangement of another Catalan song, a rather melancholy piece called La reso de Lleida, which was originally created in 2014 for the Catalan celebration of St George’s Day in London! Eduard Toldra (1895-1962) was a Catalan violinist, conductor and composer, who in 1941 founded the Barcelona Symphony Orchestra. One of the composer’s best known songs, Canticel sets a text by Josep Carner. Here the ensemble play it in a version for voice, violin and guitar.
Feliu Gasull (born 1959) is a contemporary Spanish composer based in Barcelona. The group present two movements from Gasull’s Suite for cello and guitar. The first movement, Bosc is played as intended on cello and guitar, whilst the second, Fe, has lyrics added to the cello part and sung by Violeta Garcia. This arrangement in Fe recaptures something of the original song which inspired Gasull. His voice is edgier than the earlier composers, creating a fascinating dialogue between the clear Spanish traditional voice and the contemporary voice. Lullaby was originally written for guitar quartet and mezzo-soprano and is here performed in an imaginative version for two voices, violin, cello and two guitars.
Chano Dominguez is a contemporary musician who moves between the worlds of jazz and flamenco and her lovely little song Pa mi nino is dedicated to her son Pablo (who is the Maria Camahort Quartet’s percussionist!). This is followed by two pieces by Maria Camahort setting poetry by Federico Garcia Lorca. Like the Gasull pieces, these have an edgier feel to them, but this is partly because Camahort is also mining flamenco in them too, with the vocal line being sung by Violeta Garcia.
Manuel de Falla’s Homenaje: Le Tombeau de Claude Debussy is one of the greatest pieces for guitar and it forms a strong centrepiece to the disc. It is followed by the rather more exotic Danse Oriental by Enrique Granados, which was originally written for piano has some very effective violin playing from Violeta Garcia. Finally on the disc Lorca returns again as the group perform arrangements of a group of songs originally collected by him.
I did not know many of the works on this disc, and the Maria Camahort Quartet’s arrangements lent a distinctive tang to the whole disc. They perform very finely as a quartet, interacting well and I have no difficulty recommending this disc for anyone who is interested in finding alternative routes to the music of Spain.