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Juan Francés DE IRIBARREN ECHEVARRÍA (1699 - 1767): "Sacred Music in Málaga Cathedral"

Cristina Bayón Álvarez, soprano; Jorge Enrique García Ortega, alto
Ensemble Il Narvalo
Dir: Federico Del Sordo

rec: Sept & Oct 2018, Rome, Iglesia Nacional Española de Santiago y Montserrat (Conference Hall)
Brilliant Classics - 95859 (© 2020) (71'41")
Liner-notes: E; lyrics - no translations
Cover, track-list & booklet

Admite dueño amado; Aplaudan de las ondas; Conceptio tua; Deseando cantar juntos; Es el poder del hombre limitado; Hola Jau; Hortelanito hermoso; Hoy se concibe pura; Jardinera serpiente; La cierva herida; Pretiosa in conspectu; Puer qui natus est nobis

Mariana Fernández-Astaburuaga, transverse flute; Jacobo Díaz Giráldez, oboe; Valeriop Losito, Paolo Perrone, Caridad Martos, violin; Ulrike Pranter, cello; Carlo Calegari, violone; Aníbal Soriano Martín, theorbo, guitar; Federico Del Sordo, harpsichord, organ, basque tambourine; Antonio Tomás del Pino Romero, organn, Andalusian drum, castanets

Juan Francés de Iribarren Echevarria is one of the lesser-known Spanish composers of the 18th century. The present disc seems the first that is entirely devoted to his oeuvre. Earlier I reviewed two other discs which include a substantial number of pieces from his pen. Fortunately only one piece in the programme of this Brilliant Classics disc does also appear in one of the previous recordings (Es el poder del hombre limitado).

Iribarren was born in Sanguësa (Navarre) and went to Madrid at the age of 14 or 15 to continue his musical education at the court. In 1717 he became first organist of Santa Iglesia in Salamanca. In 1733 he was appointed maestro de capilla of Málaga Cathedral, a post he held until his death. The total number of his compositions is estimated at 975. It is due to his brother Juan, friar at the nearby Augustinian monastery, that his oeuvre has been preserved so well. He arranged for the collection of manuscript scores to be delivered to the secretary of the cathedral chapter, as Iribarren had agreed before his death, on condition that, as a sign of its appreciation for his works, the chapter should not allow them to be lost or copied, or to be performed other than as part of services held at the cathedral, to prevent their becoming "vulgarised" (booklet).

Although Iribarren was the Cathedral's organist, he seems not to have left any organ works. His entire oeuvre consists of vocal music, more than half on texts in the vernacular, mostly in the genre of the villancico. However, he also made use of the form of the cantata, a token of the influence of the Italian style in Spain, which manifested itself since around 1700. In addition, Iribarren wrote music on Latin texts for one to nine voices, either with instruments or a cappella.

The present disc includes specimens of all three categories. Pretiosa in conspectu is a motet to be sung in services for apostles and martyrs during Eastertide. It comprises two lines, each of them ending with an 'Alleluya'. The piece has the form of an Italian motet and is scored for solo voice and basso continuo. In both 'Alleluyas' Jorge Enrique García Ortega adds a little cadenza. Puer qui natus est nobis has the same scoring, but with an additional violin. It celebrates the birth of St John the Baptist.

Conceptio tua is a motet which celebrates the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary, which was a key element in Spanish Catholicism, although it was only in 1854 that it became officially part of the church's doctrine. Several villancico's are about the same subject. Conceptio tua is a dacapo aria for solo voice, violins and basso continuo. Oy se concibe pura opens with an accompanied recitative, which is followed by a dacapo aria and a canción final. Jardinera serpiente is a villancico, whose text refers to the story of Adam and Eve in Paradise. It is a relatively late work, dating from 1764, and scored for two voices, violins and basso continuo. Deseando cantar juntos is for soprano and violins and dates from 1743. It includes four stanzas, of which the last - for reasons I can't figure out - is omitted. The text uses some traditional pictures for the Virgin Mary, such as "rose among thorns" and "divine bride".

Another important subject of Spanish sacred music is the Holy Sacrament of the Eucharist (Santísimo Sacramento). La cierva herida is a dacapo aria for soprano, violins and basso continuo from 1752. Hortelanito hermoso is a villancico for alto, violins and basso continuo, which dates from 1745. It includes four short stanzas (coplas). Another villancico al Santísimo is Admite dueño amado from 1753 for soprano and violins. Aplaudan de las ondas is again for soprano and violins, but here Iribarren adds a part for transverse flute. It has the form of a cantata, comprising an accompanied recitative and a dacapo aria. The longest work, which closes this disc, is another cantata for the Holy Sacrament. En es el poder del hombre consists of two pairs of recitatives and arias for alto. The second recitative is an accompagnato which is followed by an aria in the style of a Vivaldian concerto depicting a storm at sea: "The gondola rushes, it's a full storm". The solo part's tessitura forces the alto to switch to his chest register; in particular the last pair of recitative and aria includes some pretty low notes.

Obviously, the main feasts in the ecclesiastical calender are also the subject of villancicos and cantatas. This programme includes just one cantata, Hola, Jau, which is for Christmas. It is a dialogue of two characters, Batín (soprano) and Jau (alto); the former encourages the latter to come and see the light in the sky heralding the birth of the Saviour. Together, they sing a lullaby for baby Jesus, but in the last section their joy is interrupted by a wolf, whose threat is illustrated by batalla figures.

There can be no doubt that Iribarren was an excellent composer. This disc bears witness to that. It also documents the influence of the Italian style in Iribarren's oeuvre. The cantatas are not fundamentally different from Italian chamber cantatas, and some arias are unashamedly operatic, including coloratura. I already mentioned the wide tessitura needed in En es el poder del hombre. It shows that Iribarren was well aware of modern developments and was not afraid of writing technically demanding music. The performers deal well with the challenges they are facing. Jorge Enrique García Ortega is a new name to me; I am impressed by his performances here. Cristina Bayón Álvarez does also well, but uses a bit too much vibrato now and then.

In the villancicos Federico Del Sordo decided to add percussion, especially castagnets. That is pretty common practice in this kind of repertoire, but there are also performers who are much more restrained in this department, or even perform villancicos without any percussion. It may be impossible to decide what is most close to the way this kind of music was performed at the time it was written. The differences in approach these days may well reflect different ways of performing at the time of the composers. As far as I am concerned, I can appreciate both, and the variety in performance can also be taken as a bonus.

The documentation leaves something to be desired. The disc comes with a booklet with liner-notes in English and a bibliography - bravo for that - but omits the lyrics. At the Brilliant Classics site a digital booklet is available for download. However, this only includes liner-notes in Spanish. It also offers the lyrics, but without any translation. This is all rather confusing and disappointing. Brilliant Classics usually do better.

Anyway, for those who like Spanish music of the baroque era - which is still not as well known as it deserves to be - this is a disc that is well worth investigating. It is to be hoped that more of Iribarren's music will appear on disc. There is enough to choose from.

Johan van Veen (© 2020)

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