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"Corpus Christi en Toledo, 1751"

Sphera AntiQua, Memoria de los Sentidos
Juan José Montero, organ
Dir: Carlos Martínez Gil
rec: May 23 - 27, 2008, Toledo, S.I. Catedral Primado (Capilla de Reyes)
Columna Música - 1CM0208 (© 2008) (50'00")

Juan Bautista CABANILLES (1644-1712): Tiento lleno, punto alto sobre el Pange lingua, tono 5°; Jaime CASELLAS (1690-1764): ¡Alarma, alarma, sentidos!, villancico al Santisimo Sacramento; Missa Pange lingua/Sacris Solemnis

Mercedes Pulgar, Carolina Clemente, soprano; Paz Martínez Gil, Sara López de la Torre, contralto; Miguel Bernal, Daniel Bernaza, tenor; Elier Muñoz, Simón Drago, bass; Rodrigo Gutiérrez, Mathieu Loux, oboe; Gábor Heghy, Andreas Kalthoff, trumpet; Tómasz Wesolowsky, bassoon; Javier Illán, Pablo Gutiérrez, Javier Alfonso, Sergio Gil, Lika Laloum, Maite Larburu, Úrsula Ros, violin; Alejandro Marías, cello; Michelle Wenderlich, double bass; David Valdés, timpani; Daniel Zapico, theorbo; Aarón Zapico, harpsichord; Juan José Montero, organ

This disc pays attention to one of the main religious feasts in Spain, Corpus Christi, which commemorates the institution of the Holy Eucharist by Jesus Christ. Elements of the celebrations were considered vulgar or profane and over the centuries attempts were made to eliminate them. But in Toledo in the 18th century the feast still contained the elements which lent it its specific profile. Part of the celebrations which lasted several days was a procession, and it was in particular here that sacred and popular elements were intermingled. The whole proceedings are described in detail in the booklet, which allows the listener to put the music in its context.

Here music is performed which was written for the feast of Corpus Christi on Thursday, 29 May 1751. Jaime Casellas is not a household name, although he was one of the most prolific composers of his time. This is an indication of how little we still know about Spanish music of the 18th century. In 1715 he was elected maestro de capilla of San María del Mar in Barcelona and in 1733 he was appointed in the same position in Toledo Cathedral. Hardly anything of the music he composed while working in Barcelona has survived, but a large corpus of music written in Toledo has been preserved. It comprises Latin liturgical music as well as villancicos, tonos and tonadillas on Spanish text. In his compositions he usually supports the vocal forces with orchestra, as in the music which is performed on this disc.

The main work is the Missa Pange lingua/Sacris solemnis. It is based on two of the hymns for Corpus Christi, which are also sung in plainchant during the Mass. 'Pange lingua' is sung before the Kyrie, 'Sacris solemnis' after the Gloria. It is mainly the musical material of the hymn Pange lingua which is used in the Mass. Material from this hymn is also used by Cabanilles whose Tiento lleno, punto alto sobre el Pange lingua, tono 5° is played after the Credo of the Mass. The scoring of the Mass, with 8 voices in two choirs and an orchestra of two violins, two oboes, two trumpets, bassoon and bc reflects the importance of this feast and the exuberance of the celebrations in Toledo. Casellas could count on a number of excellent musicians. Around the time this Mass was composed new singers were brought in, among them young castrati from Spain and Italy. The orchestra was enforced by experienced musicians. Both this Mass and the villancico which closes this recording must have taken profit from these circumstances.

Carlos Martínez Gil writes about the programme: "It would be fruitless to search for traces of intimacy in this recording. Everything here is advertisement for an institution [the Cathedral] that insisted on being the determining factor of the destiny of a city in undeniable decadence and which utilized, in this case, the art of music to manifest its grandeur". This and the information about the character of the celebrations on Corpus Christi in Toledo are to be kept in mind while listening to this music. It is mostly extraverted and often a bit loud. Even in the traditionally most introverted part of the Mass, the passage about Jesus' incarnation, the trumpets don't keep silent. But I am sure you will be able to appreciate this disc if you like Spanish music.

Jaume Casella's music is certainly worth listening to, not only the Mass but also the villancico, a uniquely Spanish genre. Although the content is sacred the style is very much alike the secular music of the time, and shows how sacred and popular elements are mixed. It is given a very energetic performance here with an especially good contribution of the tenor, whose name is not given. I assume it is the tenor from the first choir, Miguel Bernal.

To what extent the performance practice of the Mass reflects what is known about how the music was performed in Toledo in 1751 I do not know. There are several moments when bells are ringing and that is certainly historically justified. Whether the soft drumbeat which accompanies the singing of the hymn 'Sacris solemnis' reflects historical practices as well I can't tell. I am also not sure whether the pomp and circumstance of the Corpus Christi celebrations are fully explored with a performance of one voice per part as on this disc. Although the Mass is nice to listen to, the singing isn't always top-notch. In particular the sopranos are using too much vibrato, which is especially notable in the passages with a more modest scoring.

Like I said the booklet contains ample information about the Corpus Christi celebrations as well as about the music by Casellas. Unfortunately only the original Spanish text of the villancico is given. If a disc is released for the international market an English translation of uncommon lyrics is indispensable.

All in all, I recommend this disc mostly to those who have a special interest in Spanish music and Spanish culture. Let us hope it will also encourage other performers to explore the Spanish music of the 18th century which is not given as much attention as earlier repertoire from Spain.

Johan van Veen (© 2009)

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