Album of the Week: Volodos Plays Mompou (2013)

The Catalan composer Frederic Mompou died in 1987 at the age of 94. That same year, the 15 year old Russian student Arcadi Volodos, who had previously taken vocal training and shown an intrust in conducting, began seriously studying piano. 25 years later, after international awards and performances, Volodos released these recordings of Mompou’s compositions.

Described as “music of an ultimate inwardness and confidentiality”, Mompou’s pieces are minimalist enough to make any fan of Satie or Chopin swoon. Though born in the 19th century, Mompou lived long enough to record and release his compositions. Indeed, you can listen to about 5 hours of Mompou playing his Complete Piano Works on Spotify.

Needless to say, Volodos Plays Mompou is a more easily digested set. At 24 short tracks, much of the album is divided into two different books: “Scènes d’enfants” which is happy, even playful at times, and “Musica callada” (“Silent music”). In-between, appropriately, lovely pieces like “Hoy la tierra y los cielos me sonríen” (“Today the earth and the heavens smile at me”) split the difference. The “Musica callada” suite, “considered by some to be Mompou’s masterpiece”, is the highlight. Turn up your volume and enjoy – there are particularly breathtaking moments (“Lento molto”, “Calme”).

Much has been made of Catalan architecture and indeed a visit to Barcelona isn’t complete without viewing the work of Antoni Gaudí. The Catalan vault (like the vaulted ceiling on the album cover), according to one case study, is made thusly: “Traditionally thin bricks – or thin tiles – are used because of their lightness, which is a necessary condition to build the first layer ‘in space’ (without a continuous formwork)… as the self-weight of thin-tile vaults is low in comparison to other masonry structures, the falsework does not have to support high stresses.” Concluding, Catalan vaulting provides “large, suggestive, habitable and safe free-form vaulted spaces with an inexpensive, efficient and sustainable technique”. It is fitting, then, that the Catalan Mompou’s music finds power in lightness. Like the vault, Volodos Plays Mompou creates a space that is supportive, suggestive, and airy all the same.

Listen to Volodos Plays Mompou on Spotify.