Homage To Catalonia

Review by: David Vernier


Artistic Quality: 9

Sound Quality: 8

I couldn’t resist borrowing the title of George Orwell’s 1938 book for this review–because it so perfectly describes what tenor Isaí Jess Muñoz and pianist Oksana Glouchko have accomplished with their excellent recital featuring “Catalan art songs of the 20th and 21st centuries”. Although many Catalan performers have achieved considerable success and worldwide notoriety–Pau (Pablo) Casals, Montserrat Caballé, Victoria de los Angeles, José Carreras, and Jordi Savall are among the more familiar names–Catalan music and composers have not enjoyed similar success. Certainly not because it is undeserving, but, as Muñoz explains in his excellent liner notes, for reasons ranging from the political–suppression of Catalan language and culture in the decades following the Spanish Civil War–to the practical–a lack of proper Catalan phonetic and interpretive guides for non-native singers who wish to perform the music.

Nevertheless, Muñoz, whose heritage is Mexican-Puerto Rican, and Glouchko, his Russian-born Israeli partner, prove excellent advocates for these songs, repertoire that they apparently have been performing together for more than 10 years. The enthusiastic responses from audiences “eager to hear more of this fascinating repertoire” led Muñoz and Glouchko to produce this recording.

The disc’s title, Visca L’Amor, taken from a song by Eduard Toldrà, translates “Long live love”, a theme that justly applies to most of the works on the program, and even if you don’t immediately know the meaning of the Catalan poetic texts, Muñoz never leaves you in doubt as to his subject. Passion, tenderness, desire, longing–all are embodied in his very expressive delivery, but are also inherent in the particular nature of his voice, whose placement, vibrato, and color, conveys a focused warmth, sincerity, and strength that reminds me at times of qualities that might be described as “Björling-esque”–apparent, for instance, in the opening “Si anéssis tan lluny” by Toldrà.

The music by these six composers naturally ranges in style, its rhythms and phrases influenced by the Catalan poetry, yet respect for French impressionism (and even Schubert and Brahms) is more or less evident, especially in the Toldrà and Mompou songs. Frederic Mompou is by far the best known of the composers here–and his three songs, especially the first (“Damunt de tu només les flors”) are gems; but when you hear Muñoz sing the set by Toldrà, or the song cycle Haidé, by Narcís Bonet, with its absolutely gorgeous ending, you’ll understand why these songs are just as deserving of serious recognition.

The program is only a little more than 45 minutes long, so I suppose Muñoz, Glouchko, and the recording’s producers figured it was necessary to include the disc’s concluding set of songs–Joan Comellas’ Les Paraules Sagrades (The Sacred Words). They are five short settings, three to the single word “Alleluia”, the other two containing partial texts to Ave Maria and Benedictus. In some aspects more like vocal exercises than actual songs, they just didn’t seem to fit the rest of the program, but that’s not to say that Muñoz and Glouchko don’t present them with as much style and sincerity as the rest of the music. And for anyone who loves, enjoys, and/or appreciates song and beautiful singing, this program offers an exceptional experience, both in pure listening pleasure and in discovery and understanding of composers, poets, and repertoire that should be heard–and heard again.

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Recording Details:

Album Title: Visca L'Amor--Catalan Art Songs of the 20th & 21st Centuries
  • Isaí Jess Muñoz (tenor); Oksana Glouchko (piano)

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