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José CASTEL (1737 - 1807): "String Trios"

Concerto 1700

rec: Nov 2021, Madrid, Basilica Pontificia de San Miguel
1700 Classics - 17005 (© 2022) (67'09")
Liner-notes: E/DF/ES
Cover & track-list

Trio I in B flat; Trio II in F; Trio III in E flat; Trio IV in g minor; Trio V in A; Trio VI in E

Daniel Pinteño, Fumiko Morie, violin; Ester Domingo, cello

The string trio - a genre that was quite popular in the classical era - does not receive that much attention, in comparison with in particular the string quartet. It is not very often that such pieces are performed on the concert platform, and over the years only a relatively small number of recordings of such repertoire have crossed my path. There also seem to be only a few ensembles specializing in the genre. That may be explainable from the fact that string trios can have different scorings. A few years ago Concerto 1700 released a recording of divertimenti for string trio by Gaetano Brunetti. These are scored for violin, viola and cello. The trios by José Castel that are the subject of the present recording, have a different scoring: two violins and bass. The latter refers undoubtedly to the cello, which is the instrument played here.

Concerto 1700 focuses on Spanish music of the 18th century, which for a long time has been more or less neglected. In recent years several recordings of this repertoire have been released, which showed that there is no reason to ignore it. On this site you can find a number of reviews of such recordings. I am happy to be able to pay attention to another recording of Spanish music, thanks to Concerto 1700 which made this disc available.

The composer is one of many that are hardly known. It is telling that in New Grove the article on him takes no more than five lines, and the work-list hardly has any details about his output. Fortunately the liner-notes to the present disc include much useful information about Castel. He was born in Tudela in Navarra, where he received his first education in music as a choirboy at the collegiate church of Santa Maria la Mayor, and from 1751 to 1755 in the cathedral of Tarazona (Zaragoza). He then worked in several religious institutions in Aragon, first in the parish of Santa Maria la Mayor in Borja (Zaragoza), then as a tenor in a church in Calatayud (Zaragoza). Around 1760/61 he settled in Madrid, where he became involved in the music theatre. He wrote music for the theatre and instructed actors in singing. He also published theatre music, and tonadillas from his own pen and by other composers. Towards the end of 1773 he was appointed maestro de capilla at the college church of his birthplace Tudela, which became a cathedral in 1783. In this position he made a name for himself; the fact that he was often involved in the examination of organists and maestri de capilla attests to that. He did not stop writing theatre music, though. In Tudela he participated in concerts and acted as music teacher. In 1797 he was ordained a priest.

Castel's oeuvre comprises sacred music, theatre works, cantatas and villancicos, as well as instrumental music, both symphonies and chamber music. In 1775 he published a set of six duets for two violins in Paris; the trios which are the subject of the present disc were also printed there, probably around 1785. These pieces were attributed to Manuel Vicente Murgutio, founding member of a 'society of friends of the country'. This was a kind of association that was popular in Spain at the time, with the purpose of cultivating the arts and science and promoting music and dance. Among the activities of these associations was sponsoring philharmonic academies, which offered its members the opportunity to listen to music, played by professionals and skilled amateurs. In such academies Castel's trios may have been performed.

All but one of the trios are in major, and all but one close with a minuet with trio. This shows their similarity with the divertimento. However, these trios are more substantial than divertimenti, and more than just entertainment. Four of the six trios have three movements. The Trio II has two, but the first movement is in two sections: larghetto and allegro. The longest piece is the Trio IV, the only one in minor, which is in four movements; the first takes more than nine minutes. In this movement the first violin plays a dominating role. Overall the thematic material is shared by the two violins. The cello has mainly a supporting role, often playing repeated notes in the way of a drum bass in the left hand of keyboard music. Although these trios are similar in structure, they are quite different and have a character of their own.

These trios are very well written and one can only be happy that Concerto 1700 has recorded them. This is a very interesting and fine ensemble, which has previously released some excellent recordings. This is another one, which deserves the attention of each lover of music from the classical period. Technically the playing is excellent, and the interpretation is entirely convincing. I like the dynamic differentiation, which underlines that this is more than mere entertainment. This is very good stuff, and I hope that more of Castel's oeuvre is going to appear on disc. I also look forward to more treasures in recordings by Concerto 1700.

Johan van Veen (© 2023)

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