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Silent Music - Mompou's Musica Callada / Jenny Lin

Release Date: 04/26/2011
Label: Steinway & Sons Catalog #: 30004
Composer:  Federico Mompou Performer:  Jenny Lin Number of Discs: 1
Recorded in: Stereo Length: 1 Hours 14 Mins.
Liner Notes

Catalan composer Federico Mompou was a direct heir to the legacy of French impressionism and one of the greatest Spanish composers of the 20th century. Música Callada is his rarely recorded late masterwork. Jenny Lin is one of the most sought-after players of the music of our time. Her live performances often feature Mompou's music and the many requests for a complete recording of his music have inspired this release.

Album Credits:
Música Callada recorded February 5 & 6, 2009 at The Recital Hall of the Performing Arts Center, Purchase College, State University of New York.
Secreto recorded January 28, 2011 at Patrych Sound Studio, New York City.
Read more Producer/Engineer: Silas Brown, Legacy Sound
Assistant Engineer: Andy Ryder

Art Direction: Oberlander Group
Cover photo: Michael Lubik
Piano: Steinway Model D (New York)
Piano Technicians: Hideaki Onishi, Ed Court, Ismael Cunha

Música Callada (Music of Silence) is a very special work, one of the most beautiful and elusive in the entire piano repertoire. It is extremely difficult to perform. On the one hand, there's the temptation to stretch each piece out hypnotically, if monotonously, while quicker speeds preserve the music's melodic essence at the expense of much of its atmosphere and harmonic richness. For although much of the music is indeed quiet, and none of it moves quickly, it is all meaningful.

Mompou himself found the perfect balance between incident and repose, and of all the pianists since, Jenny Lin arguably comes closest to doing the same, only in much better sound. It's not so much that her tempos match Mompou's own (she's actually not copying him--it would hardly be possible in a work containing 28 individual pieces), but rather that her phrasing and sense of timing let the music breathe and sing with its own special poetry. To take just one example, consider the sadness that Lin finds in the fourth piece, "Afflitto e penoso", by allowing the piece's harmonic color time to speak simply and eloquently.

Another secret of her success is the splendid equilibrium between left and right hands. The treble gleams, bell-like, while the sonorous bass lines carry the music right through the many pauses, aided in no small degree by discretely timed use of the pedals. "Secreto", from the early Impresiones intimas, makes the perfect encore and rounds out the program in a most satisfying way. If Música Callada represents Mompou's masterpiece, then this beautifully engineered disc must be its finest modern recording. It deserves a home in every serious piano music collection.

Artistic Quality: 10; Sound Quality: 10
–- David Hurwitz,

The music of the Catalonian composer Federico Mompou is soft-spoken but direct: its melodies are graceful and pleasing, and its harmonic language, though mostly tonal, occasionally flirts with both expressive and purely coloristic dissonance. If you were to guess its origin on first hearing, you would more likely say France than Spain.

“Musica Callada” (“Silent Music”), a collection of 28 aphoristic piano works composed between 1958 and 1967, reveals a strong current of Gallic elegance. But there is more to it: many of these gentle, texturally transparent pieces could pass for music of Morton Feldman, were it not for their brevity.

Mompou’s themes here have an almost Minimalistic simplicity. Some movements are built of short, slowly expanding phrases that describe a single musical idea, without so much as a countertheme; others are more elaborate, but you will look in vain for stark contrasts within a piece.

Tempos are mostly slow. Lento is the most plentiful dynamic marking, with variations of Calme and Tranquilo also prominent. And the dynamics generally range from pianissimo to mezzo-piano.

Yet constrained as the music is, its variety is striking. Works built largely around single lines are offset by chordal meditations and occasionally involved (if patiently unfolding) counterpoint, and moody introspections are set beside pieces with a childlike playfulness that calls to mind some of the less rambunctious movements in Schumann’s “Kinderszenen.”

Jenny Lin, an eloquent pianist whose tastes more typically lead her to new music of a wilder stripe, gives a magnificently serene, probing account of these works. She draws you so fully into Mompou’s world that even his most subtle coloristic gradations seem clearly drawn.

The beautifully recorded disc is among the first releases on a new label started by the piano maker Steinway & Sons, which backed into the record business with the purchase of ArkivMusic in 2008.

-- Allan Kozinn, New York Times

"Mompou’s music has drawn the attention of prominent soloists like Rubinstein, Michelangeli, De Larrocha and Stephen Hough, and in 1974 the composer recorded his own works for posterity. Now add to their number Jenny Lin, a resourceful performer blessed with superb technique and indefatigable curiosity. Her recording of Música Callada, newly issued on the Steinway & Sons label, is an essential document, one in which every matter of tempo, dynamics and articulation sounds inevitable. It’s also a truly fine piano recording, capturing each nuance of a fine instrument."

-- Steve Smith, TimeOut New York

"Mompou’s music is both serious and very moving, especially in the hands of Jenny Lin. All four books are wonderful visions of white and simplicity. And while some speak of peace, many are dark and disturbing, yet remain strikingly beautiful."

-- American Record Guide

"Pianist Jenny Lin has taken on quite a challenge on this recording. Música Callada is not an easy work to negotiate and the line between communicating its unique, almost hypnotic beauties and inducing narcolepsy is fine indeed. Lin is magnificent. There are no wasted gestures in her playing, and that may be one of the highest accolades a pianist can earn in this repertoire. Lin leaves the music alone and it works brilliantly. Her phrasing is impeccable, her touch is perfectly calibrated and her tone is generous and lush. It also helps that the engineers have lovingly captured every nuance of Lin playing a Steinway Model D, making this is one of the most realistic sounding piano records I’ve heard in a long time. Música Callada is not easy to grasp on first hearing, but Lin’s performance makes a very strong case for it being considered one of the 20th century’s greatest solo piano cycles."

-- Craig Zeichner,

"How does Lin’s Música Callada stack up against the competition? She’s tied with the composer’s, and a clear alternative to him and the versions I’ve heard because, in an entirely appropriate way, she plays it with a Romantic, Chopinesque level of expressiveness (Mompou adored Chopin, so that makes sense). There’s a level of intensity here, of great investment in achieving the full emotional impact of each individual piece, that’s downright startling... when she dwells on a piece, interpretive rewards are reaped. Mompou’s expressive markings are followed pretty closely, though not inhibitively so... The Romanticism of Lin’s playing doesn’t include the composer’s left-hand-first tic, by the way. It does include a songful projection of melodies, wide dynamic range, deep characterization of each piece, and a wonderful sense of flow with plenty of tastefully applied rubato and agogics, yet no violations of structure, no distensions. Nor does this approach diminish the vividly modernist aspects of this unusual music; in fact, it heightens it, with its outbursts set off powerfully and its brooding passion granted Expressionistic starkness. Sonically, this is superb, as one would hope for from the house label of the most famous piano company. All in all, when I want to hear Música Callada, this will be the one I’ll put on most often."

-- Steve Holtje, CultureCatch

“Silent Music? – You’ve got to be kidding!” Well, the Silent Music (Musica Callada) of Spanish composer Federico Mompou (18931987) isn’t exactly silent, though it seldom raises its voice above piano. More to the point, Mompou’s aim of stripping music down to its barest essentials tends to make the silences in his piano music just as eloquent as the actual notes that find expression.

As performed by Jenny Lin, a Taiwan native who currently resides in New York City, the 28 pieces in Books IIV of Mompou’s Musica Callada seek their own space, expressing deep emotion through the sparest of means. You might think of Erik Satie, minus that composer’s outrageous satirical humor. But Mompou went farther still in his ultimate inspiration, a quest that reveals a decided kinship with the 16 th century Spanish mystic and poet St. John of the Cross (Dark Night of the Soul) and the modern French poet Paul Valéry. “I receive the messages,” he is quoted as saying, “But I don’t know from whence they come…they come at unexpected moments. One must learn to wait.”

With such an ascetic preoccupation as Mompou’s, it is not surprising that his music has been slow to gain a popular audience, even in his native province of Catalonia. Listeners will either respond to the eloquence of the composer’s notes immersed in silence, or they won’t see the point at all.

Having said that, I must add that Mompou could not wish for a better advocate than Jenny Lin. She does a superb job of shaping and characterizing the 28 pieces of Musica Callada, plus an encore in the form of “Secrets” from Impresiones Intimas. Most of these pieces are meditative in mood and marked for a slow tempo: The marking Lento or lent is found no fewer than 12 times, calme and tranquillo three occasions each. But there is variety to be found within these markings, and Lin discovers it. Witness Book II: 2, Allegretto, one of Mompou’s few pieces in a quicker tempo, its movement evocative of footsteps hastening to discover a moment of truth. Or take Book II: 3, marked Lento but enfolding as a moment of despair before ending in acceptance. The mood of a given piece may even be an expression of the patient joy that can descend upon one in a state of meditation, as it does in Book III: 2, Luminoso. Lin, who has shown a penchant for exploring music appealing to the listener’s inner self (see Shostakovich’s 24 Preludes, Op. 87) proves a most reliable guide to this composer’s music.

-- Audio Video Club of Atlanta

Here is assuredly one of the greatest masterpieces of late 20th century piano music. And yet, it has only really been in the last 10 years that this magnificently austere and deeply spiritual music has begun to have a reputation close to commensurate with its genius. Mompou wasn’t exactly a prepossessing composer in his long life (he lived to be 94). His life as a composer is largely as a semi-obscure piano colorist or miniaturist played as seasoning in a recital or on a disc by a De Larrocha or a Horowitz. And yet here, in this astonishing music inspired by a poem of St. John of the Cross and published between 1959 and 1967, you have the haunting place in music where Erik Satie seems to meet Olivier Messiaen. De Larrocha performed it first in 1974, but this “Silent Music” might as well have fallen on deaf ears. It was pianist Herbert Henck’s 1993 ECM recording of it (recorded when the pianist was 45 but released some time later) that first acquainted a wider world with the austere gorgeousness and aphoristic magnificence of these four books of minimalist pieces to be heard, said the composer, “with the inner ear.” Theoretically, these pieces are of a technical difficulty that would make them approachable by almost any advanced student pianist. In practice, though, a listener to the entire 74 minutes of music needs a pianist of the greatest profundity and fearlessness. Young pianist Lin—born in Taiwan, raised in Austria—plays it as sublimely as Henck, which is high praise indeed. One of the great piano discs in a year already prodigious with them.

-- The Buffalo News

At something of an opposite extreme from Eno’s environmental music is Música Callada (“Silent Music”) by a composer who can barely be called modern: Federico Mompou was born in 1893. But Mompou, who was Catalan, lived a long life, dying as recently as 1987, and Música Callada is a late work, having been composed in four sections between 1959 and 1967. It is also a work that looks backward, not to the Romantic era but to French impressionism and the minimalism of Erik Satie. Quiet and reserved, it requires considerable nuance to play effectively, and receives just that from Jenny Lin. The sheer length of this CD (74 minutes, including the short Secreto from Mompou’s very early Impresiones intimas of 1911–14) creates either a calming effect or a wish that something more would happen—depending on the individual listener. Mompou may have been born 50 years or more before most of the other composers mentioned here, but like them, he had a highly personal compositional voice whose enjoyment, at least where Música Callada is concerned, is very much a matter of taste.

-- Infodad

Federico Mompou wrote the 28 brief piano pieces that make up the four volumes of his Música Callada (Silent Music) between 1959 and 1967, but they could easily be mistaken for a product of the first decade of the century. The influence of Satie and Debussy is pronounced, but the music has an idiosyncratic individuality that keeps it from being mistaken for the work of either of those composers. The composer traced his aesthetic in part to his memories of the sound of bells when he was a child, and it’s not hard to hear the influence of bell-like sonorities in Música Callada. The music doesn’t follow the conventions of traditional tonality, but Mompou is discreet in the use of dissonance and the result is very gentle music that is not always clearly directional but is easy on the ear. Each of the miniatures is beautifully structured and proportioned, and even though most of them are slow and quiet, Mompou finds infinite ways to create slow, quiet moods without sounding redundant. The set, which lasts about 70 minutes, should make for very pleasant listening for fans of pastel keyboard music flavored with touches of impressionism and gentle modernism. The performance by Jenny Lin tends to be on the loud side, with greater dynamic contrasts than are usual for the work. Just hearing her playing, without knowing the title of the piece, it’s doubtful that many listeners would guess Silent Music was an appropriate title. On some levels, Lin’s performance works on its own terms; her tone is lovely, and her phrasing supple and flexible. Her wide dynamic range, however, makes the piece sound more conventional than the composer seems to have intended; the aura of distant mystery that a very quiet performance can produce is missing, as well as the composer’s apparent intention to flout tradition by writing a work of this length within an unusually circumscribed dynamic range. The sound of the Steinway & Sons recording is immaculate, but a little on the bright side.


I confess that Federico Mompou’s name was only vaguely familiar to me before I gave this album a spin, but Jenny Lin’s transcendently glowing account of Mompou’s mystical Musica Callada cycle has made me sit up and take notice. This is music of exceptional quietude and reverence, steeped in the protominimalism of Erik Satie and inspired by the religious writings of Paul Valery and St. John of the Cross, and it is simultaneously soothing and deeply moving. No library collection with an interest in 20th century classical music should be without this work—and this recording is the one to own.

-- CD Hotlist

Federico Mompou (1893–1987) is often referred to as a “minimalist.” But there are different stripes of minimalism. Mompou’s is not of the rarified La Monte Young or hyperactive Philip Glass varictics, but rather in the Erik Satie tradition. By employing the simplest and most economical means, the composer increase his music’s expressiveness. The 28 brief movements that make up the four books Mompou’s Música Callasa (Silent Music) are almost all slow in tempo and mostly inhabit the softer end of the dynamic spectrum. Yet there’s a remarkable emotional range, as the mood shifts from calm to worried agitation. The harmonic syntax is modal and impressionist, and clearly indebted to Debussy and Ravel.

Jenny Lin is a sensitive and subtle interpreter, fully tuned to the spirit of these small but absorbing pieces. The recording, originating from the SUNY Purchase Performing Arts Center, is outstanding. Producer/engineer Silas Brown provides an immediate piano sound, with an ideal blend of hamamer-on-string and instrumental mass. Those occasional moments when the lowest octaves of the Steinway Model D are in play are quite impressive.

-- Classical CD Reviews

Mompou’s Musica Callada—“Silent Music”—is a very large piano work, four books containing a total of 28 pieces ranging from less than a minute to almost five. The musical language is sedate, simple, quiet, and without artifice. The time of its premiere, 1974, was not fortuitous to general acceptance as the academic elites were choking on rampant modernism, and forcing a whole generation of composition students to choke on it as well. Even the inroads of the “anti-modernists”, beginning with Terry Riley’s In C were not enough to pave the way for the beauties of Mompou’s conception.

Comparisons are often made to Satie, but he was a composer steeped in stasis, while Mompou does move, albeit cautiously and without fanfare. But Satie often smiles, even broadly when engaged in a large musical practical joke, and Mompou is deadly serious. I think this is the one thing that so deadens some responses to this piece. And to be fair, it is not the most consistent in musical inspiration; sometimes Mompou’s supposed channeling of things divine into his music makes one question just how mystical the process really is. The divine is never boring, and there is a lot of boring stuff in this piece, which is much better sampled parts at a time unless you happen to be really awake and in a really meditative mood.

But if you are Jenny Lin is your gal; she knows the music inside out and is able to provide a very persuasive take on it. Her tone is warm and rich while still clear and very concise, something needed in music that relies so heavily on contrast and balance. If this is your thing, don’t hesitate, and there are rewards to be had.

-- Audiophile Audition

The title Silent Music might suggest undemanding New Age piffle, but Federico Mompou found it in a 16th-century poem by St. John of the Cross, and that poem is reprinted in the booklet to this release. Mompou’s cycle consists of 28 short pieces, divided into four books of five to nine pieces each. Most are identified by simple tempo designations—two by a metronome marking alone—and the composer drops a few hints in others with headings such as Angelico and Afflito e penoso (or afflicted and painful). A sense of reverence and ritual is conveyed, but no specifics are forthcoming. Perhaps none exist. Mompou was a modest man. As we are told in the booklet note, Mompou once said, “I receive the messages, but I don’t know where they come from.”

The quietness and apparent simplicity of much of this music might make it appealing to New Age fans. I think that simplicity is deceiving, however. Mompou often does not go where one expects him to go. Several of the pieces in Música Callada sound like children’s songs, albeit children’s songs that have been harmonized in counterintuitive ways. Sometimes a mood of innocent Satie-like introspection is broken—very briefly—by an aggressive Schoenbergian passage. Sometimes the harmonies are bluesy or jazzy, but the music never sounds like either blues or jazz. Commentators invoke all kinds of predecessors when they talk about Mompou’s piano music. In addition to Satie, Debussy gets mentioned, and so does Scriabin, but again, the truth is that Mompou really doesn’t sound like anyone other than Mompou. Record collectors are starting to realize and like that, so recordings of his music are becoming more frequent. In Fanfare 30:6, for example, Peter Burwasser reviewed pianist Javier Perianes’s Harmonia Mundi recording of Música Callada, and compared it with recordings by Herbert Henck (ECM New Series), Josep Colom (Mandala), and Anita Pontremoli (Centaur). To these I can add Mompou himself, in a four-disc collection from Brilliant, or in an individual release from Ensayo. Music that once was ignored now seems to be enjoying a healthy life in the recording studios.

Jenny Lin is a bright and very able pianist who does not shy away from challenges. (One of her earlier releases was aptly called The Eleventh Finger.) Música Callada does not present her with the kinds of technical challenges that were presented by the likes of György Ligeti and Claude Vivier on the aforementioned CD. Here, the challenge is one of intellect and taste—qualities in which Lin is not lacking. One can’t argue whether or not a pianist played a G#, but one can argue endlessly over how well he or she played it, because such assessments are largely subjective. On his recording, Mompou (by then in his 80s) takes two of these short works about a minute faster than Lin, but his total timing is only a minute or two shorter than Lin’s, so one can’t say he is consistently faster. Huybregts (on René Gailly) is quite a bit faster than both, whereas Masó (Naxos) is closer to the composer, and the aforementioned Perianes is, on the whole, slower than all of the above. (I’d weigh in on Henck, but I can’t locate his CD in my personal chaos right at this moment.) What I like about the composer’s own performance is that it is played very simply. One doesn’t hear him thinking, “OK, here’s a dissonance,” or “This is going to sound poignant.” Simply doesn’t mean metronomically, though—there’s quite a lot of flexibility to his tempos. It doesn’t feel imposed, however. One feels that the music is pulling him, not the other way around. On the other hand, some might prefer a pianist who is more overtly expressive, such as Perianes and Lin. I have no problems at all with Lin’s Música Callada. Anyone coming to this music for the first time should be pleased with it, and the engineering and piano sound are attractive. Still, those who enjoy the present release owe it to themselves to hear Mompou’s own recording—not because it presents the only correct way to play this music, but because it is different and presumably authentic, for what that’s worth.

The single excerpt (3:18) from Impresiones intimas neither adds nor detracts, but if I were this recording’s producer, I would have separated it from Música Callada by at least a minute of actual silence.

-- Fanfare Read less