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Francisco LÓPEZ CAPILLAS (1614 - 1674): "Missa Re Sol, Missa Aufer a nobis, Motetes"

Capella Prolationum; Ensemble La Danserye

rec: June 30 - July 3, 2014, Sevilla, Iglesia del Santuario de Nuestra Señora de Loreto en Espartinas
Lindoro - NL-3025 (© 2014) (59'15")
Liner-notes: E (abridged)/S; lyrics - translations: E/S
Cover & track-list

Francisco LÓPEZ CAPILLAS: Aufer a nobis a 4, motet; Cum iucunditate Nativitatem a 4, motet; Missa Aufer a nobis a 4; Missa Re Sol a 4; Oh, admirable Sacramento a 4, alabado; Quicumque voluerit a 4, motet; Velum templi scissum a 4, motet; Juan DE RISCOS (c1570-1637): Canción Re Sol a 4

[CP] Verónica Plata Guerrero, Rocío de Frutos, superius; Andrés Miravete, Israel Moreno, altus; Eduardo Martínez Graciá, Francisco Díaz Carrillo, tenor; Francisco Javier Jiménez Cuevas, Nacho Álvarez, bassus
[ELD] Fernando Pérez Valera, recorder, cornet, sackbut; Juan Alberto Pérez Valera, recorder, shawm, bajoncillo; Luis Alfonso Pérez Valera, recorder, sackbut; Eduardo Pérez Valera, recorder, shawm, bajon
with: Andrés Cea Galán, organ

Since a couple of decades the music from archives in Latin America receives quite some attention. Recently I reviewed a disc with music from late 18th-century Brazil, this time a Mexican composer of the 17th-century is the subject of a disc by two Spanish ensembles.

Francisco López was born in Mexico as the son of Bartolomé López. Not much is known for sure about his early years but it is possible that he received his first musical education as a choirboy in Mexico Cathedral. In 1641 he was appointed assistant organist and dulcian player at Puebla Cathedral under Juan Gutiérez de Padilla. In the latter capacity he was active until 1645 when he joined the choir. He left the Cathedral in 1648 but his whereabouts in the next six years are not known. In 1654 we find him in Mexico City; he was appointed organist and maestro de capilla of the Cathedral; he held this job until his death, but in 1668 his duties as organist were taken over by Joseph Ydiáquez. At the time of his death López - who had added Capillas ("of the Chapels") to his name after he was appointed to Mexico Cathedral - received one of the largest salaries ever received by a church musician in Mexico during the colonial period.

When in 1969 a book was published on Mexican archives containing music from the colonial period López Capillas took a central place; the authors called him "the Ockeghem of Mexico". This may seem strange for a 17th-century composer but his music adheres to the stile antico. In the preface to his Missa super scalam Aretinam he mentions Palestrina and Morales among the composers who had influenced him. But in the liner-notes to the present disc it is stated that López was not merely a conservative composer and that he included elements of the baroque style into his compositions. That is probably not very evident in the present recording as the text of the mass offers relatively few opportunities for text expression.

The booklet includes many pages in Spanish which unfortunately I am not able to read. In comparison the liner-notes in English are rather concise. Particularly interesting are the notes on performance practice. A couple of issues need to be mentioned here. First of all, as we are pretty much accustomed to we hear here a mixture of voices and instruments. "The combination of voices and instruments in Spanish and Latin American music chapels is widely described in cathedrals and collegiate churches from sixteenth through eighteenth centuries." But it needs to be noted that there are performers and scholars who disagree and don't believe that instruments participated so frequently as is sometimes stated; one of them is Albert Recasens, director of La Grande Chapelle.

A second issue is the number of singers and the voice types used. Here the Capella Prolationum comprises eight singers - two per part -, "slightly smaller than the number of singers listed in Mexico Cathedral chapel at the time of López Capillas (twenty and seven adult singers were active in 1647 and 1675, respectively) (...)". It is rightly added that these numbers don't indicate that all the singers were involved in all works which were performed. The alto part is not sung by male altos but by high tenors, "as was common at the time in Spain and New World". "The fact that the altus line can be sung by tenors without falsetto gives the vocal chapel a clear, full, and robust sound."

Thirdly, the performers sing from a facsimile reproduction of the original manuscript, reading directly from mensural notation. This is a practice which seems to have been used first by the Cappella Pratensis. So far it has been embraced only sporadically. The singers and players are also placed around a lectern. As a result the voices and instruments of the same register are closely together.

For the listener to a disc like this it is not so easy to discern the effect of these decisions in regard to performance practice. It would be interesting to compare different ways of allocating singers and players. What counts most is the overall result, and I am happy to say that this music, most of which is recorded here for the first time, receives outstanding performances. This is fascinating music and the mixture of voices and instruments is delightful. Some motets are performed instrumentally which offers the opportunity to admire the instrumental playing of the Ensemble La Danserye. The disc ends with Oh, admirable Sacramento, an alabado. This is a hymn of praise, in this case for the Eucharist. According to New Grove it was brought to the New World by the Franciscans "at least as early as 1716". Apparently it was much earlier, considering that López Capillas died in 1674.

Lovers of renaissance polyphony - because that is what this music basically is - should not hesitate to add this disc to their collection.

Johan van Veen (© 2016)

Relevant links:

Ensemble La Danserye

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