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Benet Casablancas: The Dark Backward of Time; Postludio; Poema de Amor; Tres Epigrames

Album Summary

>Casablancas, Benet : The Dark Backward of Time, for orchestra
>Casablancas, Benet : Epigrams (3), for orchestra
>Casablancas, Benet : Postlude, for orchestra
>Casablancas, Benet : Love Poem, for orchestra
>Casablancas, Benet : Intrada sobre el nom de DALI, for orchestra
Performer Conductor Ensemble
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Composer

Notes & Reviews:

Expressive power, meticulous virtuosity and a refined musical language combining the traditional and the avant garde have made Benet Casablancas one of today's most widely recognized Spanish composers. The Dark Backward of Time is a richly-scored symphonic meditation, by turns tumultuous and tranquil. Among Casablancas' best-known pieces, Three Epigrams concentrates exultant, nocturnal and jocular writing into a miniature triptych. Postlude and Love Poem are ambitious works in which compositional complexity turns towards greater formal and harmonic refinement. His tribute to compatriot Salvador Dali evokes the lyricism and vibrant contrasts characteristic of the Spanish Surrealist painter's works.

Paul Griffiths - Paul Griffiths
Record of the week (July 2010)
Big music, boldly driving, expertly composed, seeming to come straight out of 1930s modernism (Schoenberg in the Barcelona sun): such is the art of Benet Casablancas as represented on a disc of orchestral pieces from the last three decades, delivered with appropriate energy by the Orquestra Simfònica de Barcelona i Nacional de Catalunya under Salvador Mas-Conde (Naxos 8.579002). The main work is The Dark Backward of Time, from 2005, which owes its title to Prospero's description of memory as 'the dark backward and abysm of time', and much of which fits the source in being tempestuous, though the composer's unquellable imagination keeps the storm going - a few breathing spaces apart - for close on twenty minutes. An earlier piece of similar length, Postlude (1991), intimates a stage of reliance on imitative counterpoint before the vigorous style of constantly onward urging took over.

Curiously for a composer with such a command of abstract symphonic poetry at expansive length, Casablancas has written a lot of what he calls 'epigrams' - not as epigrammatic as many of Webern's pieces, but all done in two or three minutes, or perhaps a little longer in the case of slow movements. This collection includes a set of three from 2001: a soaring opener and a mostly bright and festive finale around a nocturne (another favourite genre) that has some echoes of Mahler and Bartók.

The catalogue on Casablancas's website indicates a composer excited principally by instruments, so this programme is true to his output in offering just one vocal item, a dreamy love song that is also considerably the earliest piece here, dating back to 1981. From the nearer end of his career, Intrada sobre el nom de DALÍ (2006) is another epigram, quicksilver in tone but characteristically sure all through.

A companion album (Naxos 8.579004) adds scores for smaller forces done by another fine Catalan ensemble, the Sinfonietta/Modern/Inter-Contemporain-scale BCN 216. Shakespeare again features, in the Siete escenas de Hamlet for a narrator (Paul Jutsum) setting the scene for colourful musical illustrations, and there are more epigrams and nocturnes.

Gapplegate Music Review
Spanish composer Benet Casablancas (b. 1956) is a new one for me. He is a modernist with an inventive flair and a sure hand at orchestra color and orchestration. A serious listen to his new CD The Dark Backward of Time shows a composer in a mature phase, a master of orchestral gesture. The title piece is a whirlwind of orchestral excitement, building layers of sound density that nevertheless have appealing transparency and dramatic impact.

Four other compositions are included on this set, covering a span from 1981 to 2006. All show a style that stands apart from his contemporaries and an increasing mastery of the palette that a full orchestra can provide the imaginative crafter of sounds. Salvador Mas-Conde conducts the Barcelona Symphony and the Catalonia National Orchestra with assurance and sympathy to the composer's aims.

This is a fine disk and a welcome addition to recordings of modern Spanish orchestral music. Recommended.

David's Review Corner - David Denton
In my last month's review of music by Benet Casablancas I commented that he 'is composing in the world of atonality and is seeking out new sounds, often created by unconventional methods'.
It is best to enter the present release with the Love Poem of 1981, the earliest work represented. Its is in a post-Schoenberg style and tells us where he has come from to reach the 2005 score for large orchestra, The Dark Backward of Time, a work so densely scored it is, apart from a central section, almost opaque. It takes as its inspiration words in Shakespeare's The Tempest, but from therein it is an abstract work. Born in 1956, and trained in Barcelona and Vienna, the word Epigrams has played a part in his musical development, having already appeared as the title in several works. The present score offers three differing movements, generally busy in tempo as he experiments with different sound colours, offering a brilliant display of orchestral virtuosity in the finale. The extended Postlude is a precursor of The Dark Backward of Time, full of intensity and proactive scoring, the disc ending with the 2006 commission to compose a piece on the name 'Dali' in memory of Salvadore Dali. The result comes as close to tonality as Casablancas will allow himself. With the exception of the Epigrams, these 2007 recordings are world premieres. It is music that would tax any orchestra, and one must complement the Barcelona musicians on their commitment in, what must have been, much detailed preparation from the conductor, Salvador Mas-Conde. The soloist, who gets around some difficult writing in Love Poem, is the admirable soprano, Ofelia Sala. Faced with such dense scoring the engineers are to be congratulated.

American Record Guide- Jack Sullivan
Contemporary Spanish composer Benet Casablancas writes densely expressive music in a mode he calls "contemporary classicism". It's a personal style based on classical modernist masters like Berg, Stravinsky, and Boulez with no selling out to what he sees as a compromised eclecticism. This recording is thus for modernists only. The third Epigram and Postlude, to cite the most uncompromising samples, are sharply dissonant. This is an international style, and other than an homage to Salvador Dali at the end, there is nothing particularly Spanish about these pieces.

Recently, Casablancas's music has become more refined, poetic, and inviting. The Dark Backward of Time, from 2005, is a darkly colorful depiction of an enigmatic line from The Tempest. All through its 17 minutes, clouds of sound swirl in a mysterious vortex that moves toward a powerful, sustained final chord. A study in contrasts, it combines explosiveness with periods of serenity, tiny cells of transparently scored ideas with large orchestral effects. The swooping brass glissandos and powerful string writing give the Barcelona Symphony and Catalonia National Orchestra a vigorous workout.

The Three Epigrams are more concise explorations of similar terrain but parceled out between different short pieces: an aggressive first and third epigram and a somber nocturne. An earlier period is recalled in a 1981 Love Poem, a haunting piece of non-tonal lyricism eloquently sung by soprano Ofelia Sala. The performances are vivid and obviously well prepared; the recording, made in Barcelona, is resonant and powerful.

Notes & Reviews:

Recording information: Sala Pau Casals, L'Auditori, Barcelona, Spain (06/25/2007-06/28/2007).



Reviews

Some ethereal but cerebral sounds from Spain
The new release from Naxos, "The Dark Backward of Time" (8.579002), features the music of Benet Casablancas, Spain's leading edge composer. Casablancas started to study music in Barcelona and then moved to Vienna, where he attended lessons in the Vienna Academy of Music with Friedrich Cerha and Karl Heinz F├╝ssl, both proponents of the post-war avant-garde in Europe. Spain has not produced very many internationally known high quality composers since de Falla. Casblancas may be the person to establish such a name for himself. His music shows that he was trained in a heady, complex system somewhat reminiscent of Dallapiccola, maybe even early Jacob Druckman, but is very interesting and mysterious; compelling to listen to while still quite complex to try to analyze. The "Dark Backward if Time" is one the many works that Casablancas titled after lines from Shakespeare. The arresting opening gives way to more shifting harmonies and slower moving lines. The density is punctuated by some eery solos for the woodwinds; giving the piece moments of an almost chamber clarity. Casablancas has written several works bearing the title "epigrams". The "Three Epigrams" from 2001 are each short, compelling pieces give the whole a unified structure. The first, Esultante, is indeed "exalted" and ecstatic; the "Nocturne" slow, dark and mysterious and the closing "Giocoso" depends on fast, jumpy rhythms to propel the work forward. The other works on the disc are equally interesting. "Postlude" from 1991 is both the longest work in this collection but also the densest. It is quite harmonically and texturally complex but - like all of Casablancas' works here - contains moments of almost shocking respite like the strange but beautiful string quartet section that emerges temporarily near the end of this work. The "Love Poem" for soprano and orchestra is one of this disc's highlights. An atmospheric and beautiful work that takes its text from a Catalan poet, Miquel Marti i Pol, my one complaint is that text is not provided. My Spanish is not good enough to keep up but the symbiosis between word and sound makes a strong impression; reminiscent of the George Crumb- Lorca adaptations. "Intrada on the Name of Dali" is a short, attractive and clever piece (revolving almost exclusively around the three notes D, A and B (phonetically the i in Dali in Catalan dialect) It is a nice piece but not as attention getting as the others, most notably the title work and the "Love Poem" The whole disc is recorded very well and features sensitive, wonderful, skilled playing by the Barcelona Symphony and the Catalonia National Orchestra under the firm leadership of maestro Salvador Mas-Conde. I strongly recommend this disc for those wanting to discover a new voice in contemporary symphonic writing. One hopes that maestro Casablancas' work becomes better known and more frequently played outside his country; for it deserves to be.
Submitted on 08/23/10 by Dan Coombs 
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Works Details

>Casablancas, Benet : The Dark Backward of Time, for orchestra
  • Conductor: Salvador Mas Conde
  • Notes: Sala Pau Casals, L'Auditori, Barcelona, Spain (06/25/2007-06/28/2007)
  • Running Time: 18 min. 9 sec.
  • Period Time: Contemporary
  • Written: 2005

>Casablancas, Benet : Epigrams (3), for orchestra
  • Conductor: Salvador Mas Conde
  • Notes: Sala Pau Casals, L'Auditori, Barcelona, Spain (06/25/2007-06/28/2007)
  • Running Time: 13 min. 28 sec.
  • Period Time: Contemporary
  • Written: 2001

>Casablancas, Benet : Postlude, for orchestra
  • Conductor: Salvador Mas Conde
  • Notes: Sala Pau Casals, L'Auditori, Barcelona, Spain (06/25/2007-06/28/2007)
  • Running Time: 21 min. 42 sec.
  • Period Time: Contemporary
  • Written: 1991

>Casablancas, Benet : Love Poem, for orchestra
  • Performer: Ofelia Sala (Soprano)
  • Conductor: Salvador Mas Conde
  • Notes: Sala Pau Casals, L'Auditori, Barcelona, Spain (06/25/2007-06/28/2007)
  • Running Time: 6 min. 36 sec.
  • Period Time: Contemporary
  • Written: 1981

>Casablancas, Benet : Intrada sobre el nom de DALI, for orchestra
  • Conductor: Salvador Mas Conde
  • Notes: Sala Pau Casals, L'Auditori, Barcelona, Spain (06/25/2007-06/28/2007)
  • Running Time: 2 min. 42 sec.
  • Period Time: Contemporary
  • Written: 2006