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Album review

Volodos Plays Mompou

Volodos plays Mompou

Arcadi Volodos, piano (Sony)

Arcadi Volodos has turned out to be the most understated of virtuoso pianists. When he exploded onto the scene in 1997 with a disc of incendiary transcriptions, awestruck bystanders suspected that here was another Horowitz in the ascendant. But Volodos has since plotted a more unassuming course, exploring obscure repertoire and dazzling audiences as much with elegance and tonal beauty as with outright pyrotechnics.

The more subtle qualities of his pianism are very much to the fore in Volodos’s latest album, a tribute to the reclusive Spanish composer Federico Mompou (1893-1987). At once evocative and abstract, Mompou’s compositional idiom incorporates Spanish rhythms and harmonies but refracts them into something like the impressionistic sound-world of Debussy. Yet Mompou goes even further than Debussy into the half-lights and shadows; his is music shrouded in mystery, like sounds remembered from a dream.

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Volodos carefully curates a program of 22 Mompou miniatures designed to lead the listener from the sunlight into the shadows. The album opens with rare extroverted Mompou, the “Prélude VII” (“Palmier d’étoiles”), and continues with the blurred, stylish snapshots of Scènes d’enfants, Mompou’s answer to Schumann’s Kinderszenen. From there, Volodos ushers us increasingly into darkness: “El lago (le lac)” shimmers in a pianissimo haze, “. . . pour appeler la joie” catches at dwindling sparks of sound, and soon we arrive at the hushed climax of the disc: Musica Callada — “Silent Music,” a suite of 28 pieces that rarely rise above a whisper. In a personal selection of 11 numbers from the suite, Volodos explores a fading landscape. Under his matchless fingers, chords melt into what Wallace Stevens called “the half colors of quarter-things”; hesitant but insistent rhythms both stretch time and mark its passing. Eventually sound evanesces into silence.

Two of Volodos’s own transcriptions of Mompou songs round out the program; in their restrained opulence, they’re more robust than Mompou’s whispers, but a far cry from the virtuosic showpieces for which Volodos became famous.

With Sony’s warm, pristine sound and handsome book-style case, this release is a feast for the senses. Don’t miss it.

Seth Herbst can be reached at sherbst@fas.harvard.edu
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