Joan Manén – a composer worth knowing

At one time, Joan Manén was as famous as his contemporary (and fellow Catalan) Pablo Casals. Manén rose to fame as a violin virtuoso and composer. During his career, he rubbed shoulders and performed with Antonin Dvorak, Max Bruch, and Richard Strauss.

By the late 1930s, Manén’s attraction as a performer was in decline. Although he had composed throughout his career, he turned now exclusively to composition. The works in this release are from that time.

The 1940 Violin Concerto No. 3 is subtitled “Ibérico.” it’s not as overtly Spanish as a Rodrigo works. Rather, the concerto seems to take inspiration from the fire and passion of Iberian music.

Spanish violinist Ana Maria Valderrama is incredible. She seems to “get” Manén’s subtext, drawing out his long, lyrical melodies. And she is more than a match for Manén’s technical challenges. Manén wrote the violin part based on his own abilities. They were — and Valderrama’s are — formidable.

Symphony No. 2 “Ibérica” comes much later. In 1953 Manén was 70 years old, and still composing music on his own terms. The work is a sprawling post-Romantic edifice. The Spanish elements are more prominent in this work, but ethnicity isn’t really the point.

Manén lays out his material and takes the listener on a journey through his sonic construction. It’s quite a trip.

Darrel Ang conducts different orchestras for each of these works. His conducting provides consistency of interpretation, making this release a cohesive whole.

I was not at all familiar with Joan Manén before. I definitely want to hear more.

Joan Manén
Violin Concerto No. 3 “Ibérico” (sin tono) Op. A-37
Symphony No. 2 “Ibérica”Op. A-47
Ana Maria Valderrama, violin
Barcelona Symphony Orchestra; National Orchestra of Catalonia; Darrell Ang, conductor
Naxos 8.574274-75
2 CD Set

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