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"Ecos del Parnaso - Spanish madrigals"

Dir: José Duce Chenoll

rec: Sept 2018, Sueca (Valencia), Ermita des Sants de la Pedra
Brilliant Classics - 95905 (© 2019) (62'49")
Liner-notes: E; lyrics - translations: E
Cover, track-list & booklet

Joan BRUDIEU (1520-1591): Ma voluntat abla rahó s'envolpa - Plena de seny; Pues que no se puede hazer - Amor me tiene olvidada; Rodrigo DE CEBALLOS (1525-1591): Ojos hermosos; Mateo FLECHA 'El Joven' (1530-1604): ¡Ay de mí que'n tierra agena!; Stefano LIMIDO (?-1647): Amargas horas de los tristes días; Estáis en essa Cruz Christo enclavado; Cristóbal DE MORALES (1500-1553): Ditimi si o no; Juan NAVARRO (1530-1580): Ay de mi, sin ventura; Recuerde el alma dormida; Diego ORTIZ (c1510-c1570): Giorno felice; Sebastián RAVAL (1550-1604): Questo cor e quest'alma - Tu vuoi dolci sospiri; Solca già mar crudele; Pedro RUIMONTE (RIMONTE) (1565-1627): En este fértil monte; Pedro VALENZUELA (fl 1569 - 1579): La verginella; Mentre vieni o mio sole; Voi voolete ch'io muoia

Elia Casanova, Quiteria Muñoz, soprano; Isabel Marí, contralto; Hugo Bolívar, alto; Jorge Juan Morata, tenor; José Manuel Bustamante, baritone; Giorgio Celenza, bass; Sara Águeda, harp

The Spanish ensemble Amystis likes to break fresh ground. In recent years, Brilliant Classics released two discs with motets and villancicos by Juan Bautista Comes and with the complete vocal music by Joan Baptista Cabanilles respectively. With their most recent disc, the ensemble once again explores a repertoire that is hardly known and is badly represented on disc. It is telling that eleven of the sixteen pieces on this disc are first recordings.

The madrigal is a typical Italian genre which came into existence in the 16th century. Especially in the second half of the century many collections of such pieces were printed, and a large number have been preserved in manuscript. It lost some of its ground around the mid-17th century; Alessandro Scarlatti was probably one of the last composers to explore this genre. Madrigals were mostly performed at aristocratic courts. Some of them had their own madrigal ensemble, and employed composers who had to write music for such ensembles. One of the most famous was the Concerto delle Donne at the court of Ferrara, for which Luzzasco Luzzaschi wrote some of his madrigals.

The genre disseminated across Europe and the example of Italian composers was imitated elsewhere, for instance in Germany by Orlandus Lassus. In England a collection of Italian madrigals whose texts were translated into English, was printed, and English composers started to write madrigals on English texts themselves. It would be an exaggeration to say that this repertoire is well known; in fact, not that many collections of such madrigals are available on disc. However, in comparison, the madrigals written in Spain are even lesser-known. The composers represented on the present disc are mostly not that familiar either.

It was in particular in the Crown of Aragon (a composite monarchy which came to an end in the wake of the War of the Spanish Succession in 1716) in which the genre flourished, as it had close ties with Italy and its centres of madrigal writing (Naples, Rome, Venice). Spanish madrigals are not easy to recognize as such, because, as José Duce Chenoll explains in the liner-notes, there is no clear distinction between the madrigal and the typically Spanish genre of the villancico. Some specimens of the latter genre took the form of the madrigal and are "madrigals in the guise of villancicos". The earliest madrigals in Spain were published in 1561, and were from the pen of Pere Alberch i Vila. They are not included here, as they have been preserved incomplete; as only a few parts have survived, a reconstruction is impossible.

The pieces in the programme are ordered chronologically. The first is Ditimi si o no, the only madrigal from the pen of Cristóbal de Morales. As he studied in Rome, he must have become acquainted with the genre there. However, he seems not to have been interested in secular music in general, as almost his entire oeuvre comprises music for the liturgy. The second composer is Diego Ortiz, who today is almost exclusively known for his treatise Trattado de glosas, which includes musical examples that are frequently played (recercadas). However, he also composed vocal music; a collection of liturgical music was printed in 1565. The work-list in New Grove does not mention Giorno felice, his only known madrigal.

Next follow two madrigals by Joan Brudieu, a little-known composer, who was of French birth, and worked for most of his life at the cathedral of La Seu d'Urgell, lastly as maesto de capilla. Despite his position, he left only one piece of sacred music, a Requiem mass. The two madrigals performed here are from his only printed edition, a collection of madrigals on texts in Catalan and Spanish. Both are in two parts; for reasons not discussed in the booklet, in each of them one of the parts is performed by a soprano with harp accompaniment, whereas the other part is sung by the entire ensemble. Rodrigo Ceballos worked as a singer in various cathedrals, and ended his career as choirmaster of the Capilla Real in Granada. In addition to liturgical music, he left seven madrigals on Spanish texts.

Juan Navarro occupied posts as maestro de capilla in Salamanca and Palencia. His oeuvre comprises mainly liturgical music, but also some secular works. New Grove makes mention of six 'secular songs'; among them are probably the two pieces included here. Next is a piece by Mateo Flecha, mostly called 'the younger', in order to distinguish him from his uncle, who has become known for his ensaladas. The younger was for a number of years in the service of the Austrian Habsburgs. The madrigal performed here is taken from a collection published in Venice in 1568. Pedro Ruimonte (or Rimonte) was from Zaragoza and worked for some time in Brussels, where he was in the service of Archduke Albert and his wife, the Infanta Isabella.

Next are two composers who settled in Italy. Sebastián Raval was from Cartagena and went to Rome. His oeuvre includes sacred music, two madrigal books and a collection of canzonettas. Questo cor e quest'alma is in two parts. His madrigals are settings of Italian texts. That is also the case with the madrigals by Pedro Valenzuela; it is not known where he was born. He worked as a singer in San Marco in Venice and later in Naples. In 1578 his only extant printed edition came from the press: a collection of madrigals for five, six and eight voices.

The programme ends with two spiritual madrigals by Stefano Limido, who has no entry in New Grove. With him we are firmly in the 17th century. His madrigales espirituales were published under the title of Armonía Espiritual. Estáis en essa Cruz Christo enclavado specifically refers to Jesus's Passion.

It is a token of the general conservatism of Spanish music that these two pieces are written in the stile antico, and not fundamentally different from the older madrigals. This programme is quite interesting as it explores a repertoire which for some reason has been overlooked so far. Its exploration by Amystis is well justified, as these are fine specimens of the art of the madrigal, even though the level of the very best in Italy is not reached. However, that can hardly be used as the standard. The performances do them ample justice, although I would have liked a little more transparency. Once again, Amystis proves itself to be an adventurous ensemble, and I hope that they will continue to bring little-known repertoire to our attention.

Johan van Veen (© 2021)

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