Haskell Small is not exactly a household name, but he’s well-known among his fellow pianists who appreciate his craft and devotion to subtle beauty. The particular beauty he is bringing to Seattle comes from another lesser-known artist, Catalan composer Federico Mompou, once hailed as the successor to Debussy.
It’s just like Small to shun big-name programs and to choose pure art. He has announced that he will spend the next few years exploring “music that is primarily quiet, spacious and of a mystical nature.” Mompou’s “Musica Callada” (which the Washington, D.C.-based Small will perform in its entirety at this recital) fits this description perfectly; it’s as though the notes and chords serve primarily as a delicate frame, woven to encase a beautiful silence.
The comparisons between Mompou and Debussy are quite understandable. Certain movements have that similar glassy texture, those same melancholy dissonances that the great sonic Impressionist is famous for. But there’s really no one quite like Mompou, whose mix of austerity, mysticism, turbulence and local Catalan color are best taken on their own terms.
“Musica Callada” (“Silent Music”) opens with a sound like distant church bells ringing. It moves through a range of moods, though most of them could be described as dark and quiet. This is a fascinating point in itself, just how much variety there is in that end of the auditory spectrum.
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This music is lovely in recordings (Small himself has performed the definitive record of this work for MSR Classics), but its nature cries out for a physical space in which to resonate. The location for the upcoming recital is well chosen for the repertoire: the spare, elegant (recently remodeled) space of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church near Seattle Center, with its tall, natural timbers that suggest a Northwest forest, but more importantly, its contemplative air.
The contemplative nature of this event is worth re-emphasizing, as it hits all levels: composer, performer, venue. It will be a peaceful, regenerative Tuesday night, perhaps an oasis in the middle of some busy work weeks. But Haskell Small does not venture to Seattle often, so it is the rarest of aesthetic opportunities, and a breath of fresh creative air.