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Joan Baptista CABANILLES (1644 - 1712): "Mortales que amáis - Complete vocal music"

Dir: José Duce Chenoll

rec: June & Oct 2012, Valencia, Royal Monastery (El Puig de Santa Maria)
Brilliant Classics - 94781 (2 CDs) (© 2014) (1.44'19")
Liner-notes: E; lyrics - no translations
Cover & track-list

Ah! de la región celeste a 15, villancico al Santísimo Sacramento; Arroyuelo no huyas a 4, tono al Santísimo Sacramento; Atiende a mis suspiros a 4, tono al Santísimo Sacramento; Beatus vir a 12; El galán que ronda las calles a 2, duo al Santísimo Sacramento; Magnificat a 12; Mi esposo asesta sus flechas a 11, villancico al Santísimo Sacramento; Misa a 6; Mortales q ue amáis a 4, tono al Santísimo Sacramento; Son las fieras a 3, tono al Santísimo Sacramento

Elia Casanova, Lucía Martín, Quiteria Muñoz, Yolanda Marín, Aurora Peña, soprano; Isabel Marí, Sonia Gil, Ma Cruz Llopis, Christina Martínez, contralto; Christian Roca, José Manuel Bustamante, Francisco José Pérez, Enrique Llorca, Jesús Navarro, tenor; Valentín Petrovici, Antonio Sabuco, Alfons Pérez, bass; José Duce Chenoll [intonation]
F. Javier Ibiza, Israel García, cornett; Javier Martos, sackbut; Ovidio Giménez, dulcian; Germán Peris, violone; Robert Cases, theorbo, guitar; Oscar Oliver, organ

This is a most remarkable recording. Juan Cabanilles is almost exclusively known as a composer of keyboard music. This repertoire was conceived for organ, but part of it can also be played on other keyboard instruments, such as the harpsichord or clavichord. The vocal part of his oeuvre is virtually unknown, and, as one may conclude from this recording, rather small. However, it seems very likely that he has written much more and that most of his vocal music has been lost.

Cabanilles was born and died in Valencia, where he was appointed second organist at the cathedral in 1665. This was remarkable because the cathedral chapter required an organist to be a priest which Cabanilles was not at the time. It didn't prevent him from being promoted to first organist in 1666 either; only in 1668 he was ordained as a priest. He is generally considered the greatest organ composer in Spain of the 17th century, comparable to De Cabezón in the 16th. He was held in high regard by his contemporaries which is indicated by the wide dissemination of his organ works in manuscript.

The extant vocal music comprises three liturgical works, a Mass a 6, a Magnificat and a setting of Psalm 111 (112), Beatus Vir. These are written in a rather archaic style, rooting in the stile antico of the 16th century. It is probably impossible to date them, but it seems that they were written well before Italian influences made their way into Spanish music. However, those influences were largely confined to secular music. The liturgical repertoire written in Cabanilles' time and even by composers of following generations is mostly rather conservative and shows little influence of the modern Italian style. It is remarkable that two of the liturgical pieces are for 12 voices which is reminiscent of the polychoral style as practiced in the decades around 1600. This style, known as cori spezzati, is mostly associated with Venice, but was also practised elsewhere, such as in Rome. It was also popular in Spain: Tomás Luis de Victoria composed a number of pieces for eight voices in two choirs. Polychorality remained common well into the 18th century: the oeuvre of Francesco Valls includes a number of works for large scorings.

The antiphonal principle is not confined to these two pieces. The Mass is for six voices, which are divided into two 'choirs': two solo voices - soprano and tenor - versus four-part tutti. This texture can also be found in the oeuvre of Tomàs Milans y Godayol. Even more remarkable is the large scoring in cori spezzati of some religious works in genres which are characteristic of Spanish music: the tonos and the villancicos, mostly written for the Blessed (or Holy) Sacrament.

They are usually divided into coplas (stanzas) and an estribillo (refrain). Three of Cabanilles' contributions to these genres are quite long: Mortales que amáis lasts a little under 13 minutes, Ah! de la región celeste takes almost 16 minutes and Mi esposo asesta sus flechas just over 13. Although I have the impression that the tempi in these performances are on the slow side, this length is rather unusual. In the case of the second piece just mentioned only the refrain lasts almost 6 minutes. This is partly due to the long text, but parts of these are also repeated several times.

The opening lines of Mortales que amáis include some unusual harmonic progressions, including a couple of striking dissonances. It is a big shame that the booklet includes the lyrics, but omits any translations. If you don't know Spanish it is impossible to notice the connection between text and music. The use of translation software helps a little - and so may knowledge of languages as Latin, French or Italian - but is not enough to fully understand how Cabanilles has depicted the content of the text in his music. It would be nice if Brilliant Classics or the ensemble would make translations available on their respective websites.

Because of a lack of translations it is also impossible to tell how the singers deal with these texts and if they do justice to Cabanilles' settings. My general impression is very positive; I have greatly enjoyed these performances. Amystis is a fine ensemble with excellent singers. Only in Beatus vir I noticed some vibrato in one of the voices, but that has hardly any influence on the overall result. The solo parts in the polychoral pieces bear witness to the quality of the individual voices. These are also exposed in the tonos for three and four voices and the beautiful duet El galán que ronda las calles. The players of the cornetts and sackbuts do a fine job as well.

This is a most remarkable recording indeed. Cabanilles vocal music is of a high quality and if he has written more it must be considered a great loss that it has not been preserved. But let us enjoy what has come down to us.

Johan van Veen (© 2014)

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