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Cristóbal GALAN (c1625 - 1684): "Canto del alma - Obras en latín y en romance"

La Grande Chapelle
Dir: Albert Recasens

rec: Oct 25 - 26, 2009 & Jan 24 - 26, 2010, Cuenca, Iglesia de San Miguel
Lauda - LAU010 (2 CDs) (© 2010) (1.38'55")
Liner-notes: E/D/F/S; lyrics - translations: E/F/S

Cristóbal GALAN: A la luz más hermosa, solo al Santísimo Sacramento; Al valiente enamorado a 8, jácara al Santísimo Sacramento; Ascendo ad Patrem meum a 8; Ave sanctissima Maria a 8; ¡Bellísima hija del sol! a 4, dúo y cuatro a la Purísima Concepción; Credidi a 8; Fénix, que en llamas de amor a 4, tono al Nacimento de Cristo; Fuentecillas lisonjeras a 2; dúo al Santísimo Sacramento; Laudate Dominum a 8; Mariposa, ¡no corras al fuego! a solo, tonada al Santísimo Sacramento; Ne recorderis a 4; No temas, no receles a 8, responsión general; ¡Oíd, troncos; oíd, fieras! a 8, villancico al Santísimo Sacramento; Oigan a dos sentidos a 8, villancico al Santísimo Sacramento; ¡Querubes de la impírea! a 8, villancico al Santísimo Sacramento; Salve Regina a 5; Stabat mater a 8; Stella coeli a 8; Veneno de los sentidos a 2, tono humano; Vivir para amar a 3, villancico al Santísimo Sacramento; ¡Vuele la flecha!, solo de Nuestra Señora de la Asunción; Juan DEL VADO (c1625-1691): Obra de lleno de primer tonoa

María Eugenia Boix, Anna Dennis, Camille Hesketh, Marisú Pavón, soprano; Rosa Domínguez, Joana Thomé, mezzo-soprano; David Allsopp, Daniel Collins, Gabriel Díaz Questa, alto; Gerardo López Gámaz, Nicholas Mulroy, Simon Wall, tenor; Jesús García Aréjula, Benoit Arnould, bass; Bjarte Eike, Peter Spissky, violin; Nicholas Milne, vihuela de arco; Bárbara Sela, bassoon; Joshua Cheatham, Thomas de Pierrefeu, violone; Eligio Quinteiro, theorbo; Siobhan Armstrong, harp; Herman Stinders, organ [soloa]

Recently I reviewed two discs with tonos humanos by Spanish composers of the 17th century. In the Guerra manuscript to which one of those discs was devoted the main composers of 17th-century Spain are represented. Among them figures Cristóbal Galán, and his oeuvre is the subject of this set of two discs by La Grande Chapelle.

He was born in Madrid around 1625; nothing is known about his musical education or the early stages of his career. Between 1653 and 1664 he acted as maestro de capilla in various churches. From 1664 to 1667 he was director of the choir at Segovia Cathedral, and then he was appointed director of music at the convent of the Descalzas Reales. The queen regent wanted him to become director of music at the royal chapel, but this met strong resistance. It was only in 1680 that he obtained this position. It didn't bring him much luck, as he felt that he wasn't appreciated enough. Payments were also often delayed, mainly because of the bad economic state of Spain in the last decades of the 17th century. Not only Galán, but all musicians suffered from this situation. (Does this sound familiar?)

Galán's oeuvre is considerable, and as his compositions have been found in many archives in Spain and in South America one may conclude that he was a composer of great stature. He composed in all genres of his time, although the largest part of his oeuvre is religious. This recording presents liturgical music on Latin texts on the first disc, and villancicos on Spanish texts on the second. Only one specimen of the genre of the tonos humanos has been included, Veneno de los sentidos. It is quite possible that more such pieces will be included in next volumes of the project around the Guerra manuscript.

The villancico is a typical Spanish phenomenon. Its subject matter can be both sacred and secular, but these two categories are mostly not that easy to discern. One of the features of the villancico is that expressions from secular poetry are used for sacred subjects. That is particularly the case with villancicos which are written al Santísimo Sacramento, for the Holy Sacrament. The music also contains strong references to secular music. Here we hear only villancicos with a sacred subject. They are all scored for one or more voices and basso continuo. The strings are only participating in A la luz más hermosa.
Listening to the villancicos by Galán I noticed two things. Firstly, many of them are for 8 voices, a scoring which Galán also often used in his liturgical music. Secondly, they seem more introverted than many villancicos I have heard over the years. It is telling that no percussion instruments are used in this recording. Whether this reflects the nature of Galán's villancicos or whether this is an interpretative decision on the part of Albert Recasens I can't tell. Whatever the reason may be, I have very much enjoyed the result. These villancicos are very fine pieces, and the approach of La Grande Chapelle seems to serve them well, and the connection between text and music receives the utmost attention. On the other hand, one of the features of villancicos is a strong rhythmic pulse, and that is certainly explored here.

The first disc is devoted to liturgical music. Whereas the villancicos are in line with modern fashion, Galán is more conservative in his music for the church. That doesn't surprise as this was characteristic of Spanish sacred music of the 17th century. Spain was no exception in this regard, as the Italian sacred music from the same time shows. The most striking example on this disc is the alternatim responsory Ne recorderis. The importance of the old-fashioned polyphony didn't withhold composers from using the devices of the stile moderno in regard to the connection of text and music. The liturgical pieces contain some striking examples of text expression, for instance in the setting of the Salve Regina. Most pieces are for eight voices, divided over two choirs. Here Galán links up with a Spanish tradition as pieces for double choir were frequently written by composers of the 16th century. Credidi is one of the most 'dramatic' pieces thanks to various contrasts. Whereas the Stabat mater is a piece of great solemnity, the first disc ends with the exuberant Ascendo ad Patrem meam, a piece for Ascension Day, with frequent 'allelujahs'.

I have previously sung the praises of La Grande Chapelle in my review of a recording of music by Antonio Rodríguez de Hita, and there is every reason to do so again. First of all, the very subject of this production deserves an unequivocal welcome. Galán turns out to be an excellent composer, and I very much hope to hear more from him. Secondly, Albert Recasens has again brought together a fine ensemble of singers with very nice voices. There is a great clarity in the sound of the ensemble, yet all participants perform the music with much passion and engagement. In the villancicos various singers show their great individual skills. The only regret I have is that in the liturgical repertoire some singers use a slight vibrato. But it is not really disturbing and certainly doesn't damage the overall result. As this is the first recording ever to be entirely devoted to Galán's music we can only be thankful for this eloquent and passionate plea for a little-known master of the Spanish baroque.

I strongly recommend these discs.

Johan van Veen (© 2011)

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