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Antonio DE CABEZÓN (1510 - 1566): "La tecla de l'alma"

Lisa Serafini, sopranoa; Paola Erdas, harpsichord

rec: March 26 - 28, 2009, Bunnik (Neth), Dorpskerk
Arcana - A 357 (© 2010) (65'12")

anon: Cinco diferencias sobre las Vacas; Guardame las vacas (arr. Paola Erdas)a; Thoinot ARBEAU (1519-1595): Belle qui tiens ma viea; Antonio DE CABEZÓN: Ave maris stella; Diferencias sobre el canto La Dama le demanda; Diferencias sobre el canto llano del Caballero; Diferencias sobre las Vacas; Pavana glosada; Pavana italiana; Romance Para quien crie yo cabellos; Tiento I; Tiento II; Tiento del 1 tono; Tiento del 5° tono; Tiento sobre Malheur me bat; Tres III sobre el canto llano de la alta; Nicolas GOMBERT (c1495-c1560): Dezilde al caballeroa; Luis DE NARVÁEZ (c1500-1555/60): Diferencias sobre Guardame las vacas; plainchant: Ave maris stellaa; Gloria Patria; Jan Pieterszoon SWEELINCK (1562-1621): Pavana hispanica

Antonio de Cabezón was the most important composer of keyboard music in Spain in the 16th century. During his whole life he was closely connected to the royal court, and the favourite musician of King Philip II.

Hardly anything is known about his childhood, apart from the fact that he became blind and started his musical education at an early age. It is assumed he received part of his musical education at Palencia cathedral, where García de Baeza was organist. When Charles V, who had become king of Castile and Aragon in 1516, married Isabella of Portugal in 1525, De Cabezón entered the Queen's service the next year. Until his death he remained at the service of the royal family. Among his colleagues was Luis de Narváez, player of the vihuela.

After Isabella's death in 1539 De Cabezón became the music teacher of her children, one of whom was Felipe, who in 1543 became regent of Spain and appointed De Cabezón as his court organist. He accompanied Felipe (Philip II) on his many trips through Europe, bringing him in Italy, Germany, the Netherlands and England. As a result of these travels his art became known outside Spain and influenced composers in other countries.

The largest source of the music of Antonio de Cabezón is a collection which his son Juan published in 1578 under the title Obras de Musica para Tecla, Arpa e Vihuela. Another source of his keyboard works is the Libro de Cifra Nueava para Tecla, Arpa y Vihuela, published by Luys Venegas de Henestrosa in 1557. The titles of these collections show that there is no clear distinction between the music for keyboard, harp and vihuela. And that legitimates the performance of a piece for vihuela by Luis de Narváez, Diferencias sobre Guardame las vacas, on the harpsichord.

That shows that this disc is more than just a collection of keyboard pieces by Antonio de Cabezón. One of the interesting features of this recording is that De Cabezón is presented within a historical context. The diferencias are one of the main genres of keyboard music to which De Cabezón contributed. Several of them have been included here, and they are preceded, if possible, by the music which it is based upon. The Diferencias sobre el canto llano del Caballero belongs to De Cabezón's most famous pieces, which is an arrangement of a canción by Nicolas Gombert, Dezilde al cavallero, sung here by Lisa Serafini. The Romance Para quien crie yo cabellos is based on the same piece.

The song which is the subject of the Diferencias sobre el canto La Dama le demanda has not been found in Spain. Here a song from Thoinot Arbeau's Orchésographie of 1589 is used, which has almost the same melody. Malheur me bat is also a well-known chanson, mostly attributed to Johannes Ockeghem, and used by composers as cantus firmus of mass settings. But it is only the melody which has been preserved; only the text of the incipit is known. Therefore there is no vocal version on this disc.

Two plainchants are sung. Ave maris stella is followed by Antonio de Cabezón's arrangement. Pieces like this are often played at the organ, but as Spanish organs didn't have pedals they can be easily played at the harpsichord as well. The Gloria Patri has in time turned into the song Guardame las vacas. This piece is presented in four different versions: first an improvisation by Paola Erdas, who towards the end is joined by Lisa Serafini singing the song, and then three sets of variations by Luis de Narváez - originally for vihuela -, by an anonymous composer and by De Cabezón. The difference between the latter two is considerable, as De Cabezón's variations are much more elaborate and technically demanding. And as Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck's Pavana hispanica is based on the same material as De Cabezón's Pavana italica it has been included here as well. Glosas is a Spanish term for a set of variations, and therefore the Pavana glosada is not very different from the diferencias already mentioned.

With this piece the disc ends - or so it seems. According to the booklet there are 21 tracks. But there is a 22nd: it is nowhere mentioned in the booklet, and only the tracklist on the disc itself reveals that here Lisa Serafini, accompanied by some instruments, is singing a sephardic song, entitled La Rosa enflorece. I have really no idea what this is all about. Is it just a mistake? Anyway, it is not appropriate to add tracks without providing any information about the reasonings behind it or any details about the music.

The lyrics of this song are absent from the booklet. The other items sung by Lisa Serafini are printed, with the exception of Guardame las vacas. And the second stanza of Belle qui tiens ma vie as sung by Lisa Serafini is not printed either; the second and third stanzas as printed in the booklet are not sung. So this is a bit of a mess. Ms Serafini has a nice voice, but I think she is mistaken by trying to sing expressively. In particular her performance of the plainchant is not ideal.

But the main thing is, of course, the playing of Paola Erdas. There is definitely nothing wrong with that - on the contrary: she delivers excellent performances. Her tempi are mostly pretty moderate, and I find that quite convincing. All parts in the polyphonic pieces are easy to follow. That is not only due to her style of playing but also to the fact that the microphones have been quite close to the instrument. I probably would have preferred a little more distance, but fortunately the recording is not so detailed that the whole picture is lost. In particular if you listen with headphones you are well advised to turn the volume down.

The harpsichord is a particularly beautiful instrument. It is a copy of a Ruckers harpsichord which was extended by Johannes Couchet in 1652. He added a second manual and a 4' stop. Andreas Killström aimed at making a copy of the instrument in its original state. So the instrument as it is played here has one manual, three 8' stops and a buff stop. Although it is basically a 17th-century Flemish instrument it is well suited for the music of Antonio de Cabezón.

Despite my critical remarks in regard to several aspects of this production, this disc gives an interesting survey of De Cabezón's keyboard oeuvre. That and the completely convincing interpretation by Paola Erdas make this disc highly recommendable.

Johan van Veen (© 2010)

Relevant links:

Paola Erdas

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