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Joan MANÉN (1883-1971)
Works for violin and piano - volume 1
Danza ibérica No.2 Op A-25 [4:08]
Balada Op. A-20 [11:53]
Petite suite espagnole Op.A-3 (1899) [15:51]
Chanson Op.A-8 No.1 (1910) [3:42]
Etude Op.A-8 No.2 (1910) [3:58]
Danza ibérica No.3 Op.Aa-36 Calatayud [7:51]
Romanza amorosa Op.A-48 (1940s) [9:39]
Five Spanish Melodies [11:01]
Kalina Macuta (violin)
Daniel Blanch (piano)
rec. 2012, Auditorium Can Roig i Torres de Santa Coloma de Gramenet
LA MÀ DE GUIDO LMG2120 [67:58]

Only a real enthusiast for the violin will now remember the name Joan (sometimes Juan) Manén. The Spanish fiddle player enjoyed an eminence that time and the inevitable erosion of reputations has done much to efface. Yet this was the man that Henry Wood likened to a Goya - admittedly it was probably the beard - and whose compositions encouraged some to call him the ‘Spanish Richard Strauss’. Hard-core collectors will remember that Manén made the first-ever uncut recording of the Beethoven Violin Concerto.
 
It’s not his playing that is under scrutiny here, but his flair as a composer. This is the first volume in a series of his works for violin and piano. He did study composition but strangely his father forbade him from learning harmony. He wrote over eighty works in all genres including five operas, symphonic works, concertos, piano pieces, sardanas and works for chorus.
 
Given his country of origin and his time and place, one might imagine his virtuosic writing for the violin to be predicated on, or at least strongly influenced by the figure of Sarasate who was still very active as a performer when Manén was in his twenties. To an extent this is true. The executant-performer was still very much part of the fabric of concert life - Kreisler is the most obvious example, and he was Manén’s senor by only eight years. Yet it’s clear that Manén had a sense of his own self. The Danza ibérica No.2 is very self-confident and full of caprice. It owes something to Sarasate in its sense of virtuoso flourish but I don’t think Sarasate was ever quite this sensual - Manén’s B section is really ripe in this respect.
 
Manén lived for a number of years in Berlin, where he made a series of acoustic recordings. The German element is certainly present in the harmonic slant of the Balada where the harmonies are quite dense and one is indeed slightly reminded of Strauss in the slow introductory passage. The Petite suite espagnole is a very early work, and full of easy grace and no particular ambition. It would make for a genial piece of programming as was doubtless the intention of the sixteen-year-old Manén. Danza ibérica No.3 was dedicated posthumously to Sarasate and it craftily embeds a bit of the great Master’s Aragonesa, Op.27 along with salon-style warmth in the B section which leads on to the fast final paragraphs in established fashion. Conventional, perhaps, but well laid out.
 
Manén recorded several of his own pieces and one of these was the Chanson. Naturally Kalina Macuta doesn’t replicate his battery of slides, finger position changes and slowish vibrato, all of which add significant personalisation to his recordings, albeit, specifically with regard to tonal production, even then of a rather anachronistic kind. But she gets the birdsong pirouettes at the end just right. The Five Spanish melodies are essentially free harmonisations, and include flamenco, a traditional Basque dance, and a Zortzico which sounds a bit tame, and maybe owes a bit to Kreisler.
 
These persuasive performances make a good case for Manén’s music. I’ve not mentioned pianist Daniel Blanch thus far but he plays a full part in the disc’s success and forms a deft duo with Macuta. It is worth sifting in a disc of this kind, as some of the pieces are more viable than others in terms of programming, and listening. Much here is largely unknown and it’s always very agreeable to encounter things for the first time. There’s a useful booklet too. Perhaps the foundation devoted to the violinist would consider releasing Manén’s 78s as an important appendix to this unfolding series?
 
Jonathan Woolf