Pianist Haskell Small is in the midst of a project to explore music that is “primarily quiet, spacious and mystical,” and, in Federico Mompou’s “Musica Callada” he has a work that perfectly embodies this ideal (he recorded it for MSR Classics in 2008). Its 28 movements proceed unhurriedly, many of them with a limited range and simple textures. There are unassuming songs and an occasional abstract rumination. Almost all of the movements are rhythmically uncomplicated and, as the piece unfolds, you become increasingly aware of the primacy of the upbeat in so many of the rhythmic patterns.
Small gave “Musica Callada” a carefully articulated and devoted account Saturday at the Westmoreland Congregational Church. He explained up front that this was meditative music and that it was entirely appropriate, indeed desirable, to close one’s eyes and go wherever the music led. The lights went way down, Small sat down, and the music began.
Without the luxury of being able to shut my eyes and zone out, however, I had to experience the 80 minutes of quiet musings on a much more mundane level, and what I was most aware of was the imagination and delicacy of Small’s approach to this understated music. His attention to the silences between each piece was as carefully considered as his attention to touch and to phrasing. In a work that demands pedal artistry, he was a pedal artist. He gave the illusion of an enormous dynamic range within just a small bit of what the gorgeous Bluthner piano he was playing could actually produce and he made all of this sound natural and inevitable.
But with eyes (and ears) wide open, the sameness in many of the short movements also became evident, and those musical qualities that may have been terrific as a background for meditation wore thin for the objective listener.
Reinthaler is a freelance writer.