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"The Guerra Manuscript, Volume 2 - 17th Century Secular Spanish Vocal Music"

Juan Sancho, tenor
Ars Atlántica

rec: June 30 - July 2, 2009, Santiago de Compostela, Salón Teatro
Naxos - 8.572876 (© 2012) (64'53")
Liner-notes: E/S; lyrics - translations: E
Cover & track-list

anon: ¿A quién me quejaré?; Calla, no cantes; Dichoso yo que adoro; Frescos airecillos; Manda la piedad divina; Niña si encontrares; No cantes Filomena; Pues quiero la pena; Que las rosas de suyo; Suma belleza; Yo joven; Juan HIDALGO (1614-1685): Ay de mi dolor; ¿Cómo ha de saber Belilla?; Cuando puede en lo amante; La noche tenebrosa; ?Juan HIDALGO/?José MARIN (1619-1699): Amante ausente y triste; Juan DE NAVAS (c1650-1719): Pero bien haces

Eligio Luis Quinteiro, guitar; Manuel Vilas, harp

This is the second Naxos disc devoted to the so-called Guerra manuscript. Apparently Naxos plans to record the complete collection which includes 100 songs, all but two scored for solo voice and basso continuo.

The name of the collection, in Spanish Manuscrito Guerra, is derived from José Miguel de Guerra (1646-1722), scribe of the Royal Chapel from 1677 to shortly after 1680. It is likely that the manuscript was copied around 1680. The quality of the paper and the precision with which the music was written suggests that it was destined for royal or aristocratic circles. All the songs are anonymous, but through a comparison with other sources the composers of a number of songs could be identified. It turned out that most of the main composers of secular songs of the 17th century are represented.

These tonos humanos, as they are called in Spanish, were written to be sung in the homes of wealthy citizens and the palaces of the aristocracy, or were part of pieces for the theatre, either plays with music or operas and zarzuelas. Most songs comprise a number of stanzas (coplas) and a refrain (estribillo). There are exceptions, such as La noche tenebrosa by Juan Hidalgo, although every stanza ends with the same lines: "in sleep forgets his (her) sadness". There is no fixed structure and the way the refrain is used can differ from one song to the other. In the anonymous Pues quiero la pena the refrain comprises three lines. Every stanza ends with the last line of the refrain, and only at the end is the whole refrain repeated.

In his liner-notes José Ángel Vilas Rodriguez sums up the features of the tonos humanos: "precise and regular rhythms, clear melodies and harmonies aiding textual articulation, a tendency towards syllabic style, an absence of Italianate virtuosic vocal ornamentation and limited use of freer, recitative-like passages". An example of recitative-like episodes is to be found the opening lines of Manda la piedad divina. The strophic texture also implies that it is impossible to depict every single word in the music. Even so it is striking to hear how well the music fits the text. It is up to the interpreters to perform the songs in such a way that the content and the mood of every stanza is communicated to the listener. Some songs are quite theatrical, such as Hidalgo's Ay de mi dolor, especially the refrain.

Juan Sancho, Eligio Luis Quinteiro and Manual Vilas do a great job in this respect. Through differentiation in tempo and dynamics and a truly rhetorical treatment of the text they manage to convey the expression of the various songs in a most eloquent manner. The subjects of these songs may often be more or less the same - the trials and tribulations of love -, but there is much differentiation in the way it is treated, both in text and music. That is well reflected in the way these three artists perform this repertoire. Among the highlights are Hidalgo's La noche tenebrosa, ¿Amante ausente y triste? by either Hidalgo or José Marin and the anonymous Yo joven.

Songs like these are relatively unknown. That makes this disc most welcome. Fortunately this time English translations are available, in contrast to Volume I. I urge every reader to explore this repertoire. These discs offer an exellent opportunity to get to know it at budget price. This disc is full of gems, and I am pretty sure that once you have heard them you will be longing for more.

Johan van Veen (© 2012)

Relevant links:

Juan Sancho

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