Barcelona native Leonardo Balada’s work has been labelled “Dalí’s surrealism in music”. (According to the sleeve notes, the great artist said of him: “I consider the young composer, Mr Leonardo Balada, to possess a remarkable talent!”).
The release notes say this is an aspect of his work explored in this programme “through the technique of sound transformation in which abstract musical materials become familiar melody.”
It’s not quite as unfamiliar as it sounds – it’s quirky more than difficult, and Balada clearly has a sense of humour. This has been hard to review, admittedly, but we’ve listened to it many times (possibly more times than anyone other than the composer) and it’s not as “hard” an album as a first play might suggest, the overall feeling being skittish and playful.
The term “caprichos” in Spain is associated with a series of Francisco Goya etchings that critique life in late 18th- and early 19th-century Spain, and depicting poverty, corruption, superstition, violence. Balada’s Caprichos are not critiques of society but do reference Spanish heritage, admittedly mostly obliquely.
Played by a quartet, Caprichos No.7, Fantasies Of La Tarara, (which is modern, 2009) opens and the first section is Obsessions, a rather playful piece. The percussion (vibraphone, xylophone) gives it a quirkiness that often offsets the slightly more jarring wind instruments. The second piece, Surprises does indeed, as the playfulness vanishes to be replaced by a slightly creepy if gentle piece; the music for an arty kids’ animation in which strange creatures cavort in the woods in moonlight.
The eerie mood is strengthened in the third movement Intimate, though the clarinet is more gentle, the strings adding a slight folk feel. No.6 is on the whole quieter, though it ends amusingly.
The Double Concerto is last and is lively piece with plenty of virtuosity. The sleeve notes claim it to be avant-garde but it’s highly listenable, a cross between folktronica from popular music, classical music from a kids’ animation and jazz. There are folk tunes buried in there, too.
Out on Naxos (8.579056) this is for people who like their music adventurous and embracing; it might take a few plays but it’s worth the effort.