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"Muy hermosa es María - Villancicos from La Real Audiencia de Quito"

Música Temprana
Dir: Adrián Rodríguez van der Spoel

rec: Dec 19 - 22, 2017, Renswoude (NL), Koepelkerk
Cobra Records - 0068 (© 2018) (57'50")
Liner-notes: E/ES
Cover, track-list & booklet

anon: Celebre la tierra (A la santísima Trinidad)bdehjkln; Ese viril con pan (Al Santísimo)abhijkln; Fuentes si naçéis (A la Navidad)abcdefhijkln; Muy hermosa es Maríaabcdefhijkln; Oigan que da (Al santísimo Sacramento)abhjkln; Sacro Sanctaeabcdefijkln; Seguilda marineros (De Navidad)abcdefhijkln; Vamos al lugar amor (Al Santísimo Sacramento)achkl; Antonio José Estévez APONTE (1916-1988), arr Adrián Rodríguez van der Spoel: Tonada de ordeñoacghklmn; Manuel BLASCO (c1628-1696): De uno en uno vayan entrandoabcdefhijkln; La chacona me piden (A la Navidad)abdehjkln; Juan CABANILLES (1644-1712): Paseos 6° tonon; Joseph HORTUÑO (c1660-1722): Vamos todos a ver (A la Navidad)abcdefhijkln; Santiago DE MURCIA (1673-1739): Cumbeeshkl; trad / Santiago DE MURCIA: Zangarillejabchklo

Lina Marcela Lópeza, Olalla Alemánb, soprano; Luciana Cuetoc, Sophia Patsid, contralto; Emilio Aguilare, Fabio Furnarif, tenor; Adrián Rodríguez van der Spoel, tenorg, guitarh; João Luís Veloso Paixão, bassi; François de Rudder, dulcianj; Joshua Cheatham, violonek; Johanna Seitz, harpl; Gabriel Aguilera Valdebenito, charangom; Catalina Vicens, organn, percussiono

The villancico is a typical Spanish musical genre. Originally this was a form used for secular music, but during the 16th century it was applied to sacred music or - probably a more precise term - devotional music. Villancicos were not intended to be sung in church, but in the course of time they entered the church nevertheless. From the reactions of the ecclesiastical authorities we know, that in the 18th century villancicos were sung in churches in Spain. It seems likely that this was also the case in Latin America. One of the features of the villancico is the mixture of the sacred and the secular. That was a feature of every day life in Latin America in the 17th and 18th centuries anyway, and probably still is.

In the wake of colonialism and Jesuit mission Spanish music, including the villancico, was exported to the New World. The present disc is devoted to specimens of that genre as they have been found in various sources. The starting point, and the source of most of the pieces recorded here, is a collection of manuscripts that has been found in the Archive of the Diocesan Administration of Ibarra in the north of Ecuador.

Except one piece in Latin, also included here (Sacro Sanctae), all the pieces are in Spanish, and scored for voices and instruments. In most cases the titles come with an indication of the occasion for which they are intended, such as "for the Holy Trinity" or "for the Blessed Sacrament". The focus in the present programme is on repertoire for Christmas. A programme almost identical with what is on offer here, was performed live in December 2017 in a series of concerts in the Netherlands, where the ensemble Música Temprana is based.

The composers of most pieces have remained anonymous. However, the lyrics were often written by nuns. For women, convents were the places to develop their talents, intellectually and musically. Adrián Rodríguez van der Spoel, in his liner-notes, states: "The names of the nuns are noted on the vast najority of the Ibarra parts, even for the lower voices. As at the famous Ospedale della Pietà in Vivaldi's Venice, young women may have sung the tenor parts an octave higher. Notes like "all three contraltos" or "Sister Rosa with the others" show us that more than one person sometimes sang one line, while other parts were enthrusted to a single singer".

This explains why women's voices - sopranos and contraltos - play the major part in this recording. The historical indications of performances with more than one voice per part legitimizes the number of singers involved here. But that can also be explained by the fact that some pieces come in a larger number of parts than one may expect in this genre. Several pieces are written for two separate groups, a kind of polychorality one does not expect in this repertoire. This is sometimes used to create a dialogue between two groups of people, for instance seraphs and shepherds in De uno en uno, one of the few pieces whose composer is known: Manuel de Blasco. Another example is the anonymous Fuentes si naçéis, and the above-mentioned Latin Sacro Sanctae is also for two opposing groups.

The texts are mostly lively and imaginative, for instance in the use of images to bring a message across. Seguilda marineros is a piece for Christmas, and refers to the three wise men, traditionally considered to be three Kings. This villancico tells they travel by ship: "See how, navigating on the virtue of mercy, the ship of the three Kings sails on favourable winds". This image is then used metaphorically: "The ship has triumphed over our evil. Long live the ship that led the three Kings from Sidon to the haven of salvation". One of the most emphatic pieces is Vamos todos a ver by Joseph Hortuño: the repeated phrase "Vamos todos a ver(le)" (Let us all go to see [him]), sung by the entire ensemble, has an electrifying effect and makes a lasting impression, as I experienced during the live performance and once again while listening to this disc. The same happens through the repetition of "picar" (eat) in Ese viril con pan, a villancico for "the most sacred" (i.e. the Eucharist). Villancicos are often rather extroverted, or they are performed that way. However, in this programme we find also some much more introverted and restrained pieces, such as Vamos al lugar amor, a wonderful villancico for the Blessed Sacrament, scored for two voices, in which the use of harmony is also notable.

That brings me to the performances. Whether extroverted or more restrained, rhythm is an important feature of villancicos. It entices some performers to include percussion. In contrast, Rodríguez van der Spoel confines himself here to two plucked instruments, the guitar and the harp, which are used both for rhythm and for harmony. It is telling for the ensemble's approach of this repertoire that the organ plays a major role. The dulcian strenghtens and colours the bass line.

For this Adrián Rodríguez van der Spoel has brought together an exquisite ensemble of singers, whose voices are perfectly suited to this repertoire. They show great flexibility with regard to rhythm, and sensitivity towards the texts and the overall content of the pieces selected for this recording. As in most pieces two or more voices sing together, a perfect blending is of great importance, and in that respect this recording leaves nothing to be desired.

Although this disc has more to offer than music for the Christmas period, I decided to review it for this time of the year, as Christmas villancicos play a major role in the programme. I greatly enjoyed the live performances last year and this disc gave me the opportunity to relive that experience. It will certainly give you much pleasure during the last weeks of the year, and beyond.

Johan van Veen (© 2018)

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