musica Dei donum

CD reviews

Mateo FLECHA (1481 - 1553): Ensaladas

La Stagione Armonica; Concerto di Viole
Dir: Sergio Balestracci

rec: Sept 7 - 10, 2003, Padua, Palazzo Giusti
CPO - 777 070-2 (© 2005) (61'16")

Antonio DE CABEZÓN (1510-1566): Diferencias sobre el Canto del Caballero; Diferencias sobre Guardame las vacas; Diferencias sobre la Gallarda milanesa; Diferencias sobre la Pavana italiana; Tiento del 1. tono; Mateo FLECHA: El Fuego a 4, ensalada; El Jubilate a 4, ensalada; La Justa a 4, ensalada

[SA] Federica Cazzaro, Pierangela Forlenza, Sonia Marcato, Silvia Toffano, soprano; Ilaria Cosma, Luisa Fontanieri, Viviana Giorgi, Immaculada Gomez Calatayud, Fabian Schofrin, alto; Michele Da Ros, Stefano Dal Cortivo, Alessandro Gargiulo, Alberto Mazzocco, Stafano Palese, tenor; Giancarlo Giacomin, Alessandro Magagnin, Alessandro Pitteri, Luca Tittotto, bass; Gregorio Carraro, recorder; Marie Garnier-Marzullo, cornett, cornetto muto; Stefano Vezzani, Marco Ferrari, shawm; Mauro Morini, David Jacus, sackbut; Massimiliano Raschietti, organ
[L'Amoroso] Guido Balestracci, Alba Fresno, Marianne Müller, Nicola Dal Maso, viola da gamba; Alberto Macchini, percussion

The ensalada is a typical Spanish genre, which was very popular in the 16th century. It was a mixture of different elements, which explains its name, meaning in English 'salad'. The 'ensalada' rooted in the popular culture, and was mostly related to Advent and Christmas, by far the most important time in the ecclesiastical calender.

The features of the ensalada are the combination of sacred and secular images, diverse rhythms and different languages (in the ensaladas recorded here: Spanish and Latin). Nothing is known about the way the ensaladas were performed, for instance in regard to the number of singers or the use of instruments. The choices made by Sergio Balestracci - a performance with more than one voice per part and the use of instruments to underline elements in the text - are perfectly defendable.

Any recording can only give a faint impression of what the original performances must have been like, as they also contained spoken text, mime and dance. In the programme notes in the booklet Sergio and Guido Balestracci compare them to "a form that today we would be tempted to term more 'multimedial' than intended for the theatre in the narrower sense."

The ensalada La Justa is a kind of battle piece, another genre which was very popular in Spain in the 16th century. Its tenor is revealed in its first lines: "Hear, all you people, a contest is announced! And the prize, so one hears, is the salvation of the peoples." It tells about Envy, who, supported by Arrogance, proclaims: "Over the stars of God I will elevate my throne and I will be equal to the Most High". His opponent is Adam, surrounded by 'the holy fathers'. But Adam fails: "Adam has fallen backward! Starting today you sinners must seek another to redeem you from suffering." A new knight arrives, the God of Israel, whose "helmet is a cross". Lucifer, the devil, is beaten. "And you Christians, happy Easter and a happy new year, for the nightmare now has its end!" The piece closes with a verse from Psalm 116: "Laudate Dominum omnes gentes".

El Jubilate is less dramatic: like the title says it is a jubilation about the birth of Jesus. This is specifically related to the fate of the snake, the devil who in Paradise seduced Adam and Eve to disobey God. It ends with the lines: "Through the Blessed Virgin all of you dance the grigonça. And she herself will crush your head" (a quotation from Genesis, ch 3, where the fate of the devil is revealed).

The third ensalada is called El Fuego, the fire. It puts fire and water in contrast to each other. These are used metaphorically: the fire is symbolizing sin, the water is Jesus Christ. "The birth from water, so pure, will be the end of our sufferings." This piece ends appropriately with a reference to the Gospel of John, ch 4: "He who drinks of this water will not thirst for all eternity".

In between these three ensaladas the instrumentalists play a selection from the two extant collections of instrumental music by Antonio de Cabezón, one of the most important composers of keyboard music in Spain in the middle of the 16th century. As he was organist these pieces are mostly performed on organ, although the title pages give vihuela and harp as alternatives. But the performers argue that in many comparable collections of music from that period the possibility of performances by an instrumental ensemble is suggested. As this way of performing De Cabezón's music is historically legitimate, the use of a combination of wind and strings is questionable. Until the beginning of the 17th century there was a general preference for ensembles of the same kind of instruments (either wind or strings).

In comparison with the way Spanish music of the 16th century is often performed, the interpretation by these Italian ensembles is rather modest, and more introverted than one would perhaps expect. Balestracci and his colleagues have opted for a more subtle approach, which makes use of dynamic and agogic means to represent the different affects within these compositions. I find the result very convincing, which doesn't mean that a more extraverted approach would be wrong. It helps that the ensemble has excellent singers and players, who show great flexibility in the expression of the texts. Maybe I would have preferred a performance with one voice per part. That way the texts would have been more clearly audible.

In short: this is a very fine recording of repertoire which is typical of the Spanish culture of the 16th century.

Johan van Veen (© 2006)

Relevant links:

La Stagione Armonica

CD Reviews