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Francisco COURCELLE (Francesco CORSELLI) (1705 - 1778): "Music at the 18th-century Spanish court"

Nuria Rial, sopranoa
El Concierto Español
Dir: Emilio Moreno

rec: Feb 2002, San Lorenzo de El Escoral (Monasterio)
Glossa - GCD C80307 (R) (© 2013) (62'33")
Liner-notes: E/D/F; lyrics - no translations
Cover & track-list

A ti, invisible ruiseñor canoro, cantataa; Achille in Sciro, opera (marcia [allegro]; marcia [maestoso, e staccato]); Hasta aqui, Dios amante, cantataa; Il Farnace (sinfonia; marcia [stacato]; marcia); Lamentación 2a del Juevesa; Lectio 2a in Sabato Sancto (version 1761)a; Overture Achille in Sciro

Since the late 17th century Spain had come under the influence of the Italian style in musical matters. It is hardly surprising that during the 18th century various Italian composers played an important role in the music scene. The most famous of them was Domenico Scarlatti. Other names to be mentioned are Gaetano Brunetti, Luigi Boccherini and Francesco Corselli. The present disc is devoted to the oeuvre of the latter.

He was born in Piacenza of French parents; his original family name was Courcelle. His father was dance master to the Farnese family. At an early age he was active in Parma and became maestro di cappella of the Chiesa della Madonna della Steccata there. From 1727 to 1733 he also was maestro di cappella of the Duke of Parma, the future King Carlos III of Spain. When the Duke's mother Isabelle Farnese, the second wife of King Felipe V, was looking for a music master for the royal children, she turned to Corselli, who arrived in Madrid in January 1734.

Corselli was not only active as music teacher at the palace, he also composed music for the theatre, among them the only two operas from his pen which have been preserved complete: Alessandro nell'Indie (1738) and Il Farnace (1739). These were among the first specimens of the opera seria which were performed in Spain. In the next decades Corselli would compose mainly sacred music: masses, Offices of the Dead, sequences, responsories, Vespers, Magnificats, motets and villancicos. This was the consequence of his appointment in 1738 as Maestro de la Capilla del Rey; in this capacity he succeeded José de Torres who had died earlier that year.

In his sacred music he shows that he was looking forward, both in regard to harmony and to instrumentation. The latter aspect is especially interesting. At Christmas Eve 1734 a fire had destroyed the old Alcázar and its entire music archive. It was Corselli's duty to reorganise music life and build up a new repertoire. He wanted to purchase music by some of the most prominent Italian and Spanish composers of his time, such as Galuppi, Porpora and Durante, but that was not allowed. He was more successful in his reform of the chapel in that he added a viola to the string corpus. He also added wind instruments, especially bassoons and horns, to the orchestra. That left its mark in his own compositions in which he often gave wind instruments a prominent role.

That is also the case in some of the compositions recorded here. Most remarkable is the Lectio 2a in Sabato Sancto which is for soprano with strings, flutes and trumpets. The Latin letters are - as was common practice - set to long melismas but they are quite different from those in lamentations of the baroque period. They are mostly fugal. The lessons are rather concise and have hardly any repeats. The Lamentación 2a del Jueves Santo is different: the instrumentation is confined to violins and violones. The latter term refers to low strings - here: two cellos and one violone. They play with mutes.

The two cantatas are strongly operatic in character. They begin with a recitative which is followed by a da capo aria. In the aria from A ti, invisible ruiseñor canoro which is about the three wise men visiting baby Jesus, the flute plays an important role. The text refers to Philomena who, according to classical mythology, was the daughter of Poseidon and was turned into a nightingale. No wonder the aria begins with the flute imitating birdsong. Then the soprano enters, also imitating the nightingale; these imitations are then repeated by the flute. I am not quite sure what the other cantata is about, except that it has a sacred subject as well and could also be about the wise men. It is a shame that the booklet omits an English translation of the lyrics.

The rest of the programme is devoted to instrumental music from various vocal compositions. The music and the instrumental scoring confirm the suggestion that Corselli was quite an original composer and that his oeuvre deserves to be thoroughly explored. I would like to mention here a recording of two of his masses by vocal soloists and the Orchestra of New Spain, directed by Grover Wilkins who also wrote the article on Corselli (under the name 'Courcelle') in New Grove.

This disc was originally released in 2002; apparently I missed it, as this is the first time I have heard this recording. I am happy that it is reissued because Corselli is a most interesting composer and the performers serve him very well. Nuria Rial is a celebrated singer in the early music scene these days. At the time this recording was made she was still very young and her voice was lighter and less dramatic than it is today. Even so, all the qualities for which she is admired today are already there, including a very fine expression of the text. She matches the orchestra perfectly, and the balance between voice and instruments is very good. El Concierto Español delivers convincing interpretations of the orchestral scores; the wind players are especially admirable.

For those who have a special interest in Spanish music this disc is not to be missed.

Johan van Veen (© 2013)

This review was first published at MusicWeb International.

Relevant links:

Nuria Rial
El Concierto Español

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