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Luis DE BRICEÑO (fl early 17th C): "El Fenix de Paris"

Le Poème Harmonique
Dir: Vincent Dumestre

rec: March 21 - 25, 2011, Paris, Église Évangélique Allemande
Alpha - 182 (© 2011) (71'08")
Liner-notes: E/D/F; lyrics - translations: E/D/F
Cover & track-list

anon: Canario; El baxel esta en la playa, air espagnol; Gaitas; Lloren mis ojos, tono humano; No soy yo, villancico; Para tener Nochebuena, jácara; Francisco BERXES (?-?): Ay, qué mal, tono humano; Luis DE BICEÑO: Andalo çaravanda; Ay amor loco, tono françes; Ay ay ay, todos se burlan de mi, romance; Danza de la Hacha; Dime que te quexas, seguidilla; El cavallo des marqués - Al villano se le dan, villano; Españoleta; Pasacalle; Que tenga yo a mi mujer, pasacalle; Serrana si vuestros ojos, folia; Venteçillo murmurador, villancico

Claire Leffiliâtre, soprano; Isabelle Druet, mezzo-soprano; Mira Glodeanu, violin; Lucas Peres, viola da gamba; Thomas de Pierrefeu, double bass; Marie Bournisien, harp; Vincent Dumestre, Thor-Harald Johnsen, Massimo Moscardo, guitar; Joël Grare, percussion

It is not unusual for people who belong to closely-connected cultures to have problematic relationships. That is the case with the Dutch and the Germans, with the Swedes and the Norwegians, and apparently also with the French, the Italians and the Spanish. The present disc bears witness to the fact that this was already the case in the early 17th century. On the one hand many people in France loved Spanish music. At the same time they hardly could hide their disdain for the culture of their southern neighbours.

The programme of this disc circles around the character of Luis de Briceño. He was born in Galicia and educated as a guitarist. In 1614 he was in Paris, and married a French woman. He wrote a treatise on playing the guitara alla spagnola, which was dedicated to a French woman. He even might have taught King Louis XIII to play this instrument. The treatise was printed, on Briceño's own cost, by the famous publisher Ballard. This undertaking was quite risky, but he must have felt that there was enough interest in what he had to offer. The ambivalence of the French toward everything Spanish was expressed by Briceño himself in one of his songs, included in the treatise, ¡Ay, ay, ay, tresveces ay! "They all make fun of me, and I make fun of all of them, for if they call me an ass, they are fools and idiots." On the other hand, as Thomas Leconte writes in his liner-notes, "it was essential for a 'gentleman' to be able to hear and speak at least the Italian and Spanish tongues".

He points out that Spanish music "played a modest but not insignificant part in Parisian life". Several dances of Spanish - or Latin-American - origin had found their way to the royal court. These include the pavane d'Espagne, the chaconne and the saraband. French collections of songs often contained a number of pieces on Spanish texts, and French composers were inspired by Spanish melodies. In the 1620s there was a growing interest in Spanish culture, but there was a strong satyrical element in it. Some of the misgivings felt in relation to Spain and Spanish culture were inspired by political developments.

Briceño was by no means an outsider in Paris. Not only was he married to a French woman, he also had connections in military circles close to Louis XIII. Whereas some criticised the Spanish guitar because it was considered a rival of the lute, the theorist Marin Mersenne praised the strumming technique of the guitar and the instrument's possibilities in regard to rhythm and sound. Briceño's treatise is further evidence of the dissemination and popularity of Spanish melodies in that only a succinct accompaniment and a few guidelines for the rhythm of the 28 songs are given, together with the Spanish texts. The melodies themselves are omitted, though; apparently these were well-known.

This causes quite a few problems for modern-day performers. They have to do a lot of research to find the melodies which Briceño will have had in mind. In order to deal with this the members of Le Poème Harmonique have looked into various contemporary manuscripts from Spain and elsewhere. They also had to improvise where the sources failed to yield conclusive solutions. In addition to Briceño's book they have taken compositions from other sources.

The result is an absolutely fascinating and often exciting recording. That is partly due to the rhythms which are so characteristic of Spanish music. These are brilliantly exposed on the three guitars used here. The violinist Mira Glodeanu also knows how to deal with the rhythmic nature of the pieces she has to play. The two singers are not Spanish, but give fully idiomatic performances, as far as I can tell. The singing of Claire Leffiliâtre reminds me of the late Montserrat Figueras, not so much in sound, but in particular in her treatment of the texts and her musical temperament. Isabelle Druet has a wonderful voice too, with an effective low register. Her performance of Ay, que mal by the unknown Francisco Berxes is outstanding. This piece is highly intriguing for its strongly chromatic character. Spanish music can also be introverted and moving, like the anonymous No soy yo: "It is not I you see living, for I am no more, no, no, no; I am the shadow of one who died".

For anyone who likes Spanish music this disc is not to be missed. It is one of the most original and exciting discs I have heard recently. And guitar aficionados will be thrilled to hear no fewer than three guitars on one disc.

Johan van Veen (© 2012)

Relevant links:

Le Poème Harmonique

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