musica Dei donum

CD reviews

The Guerra Manuscript, Volumes 4 & 5

[I] "The Guerra Manuscript, Volume 4 - 17th Century Secular Spanish Vocal Music"
Mercedes Hernández, sopranoa; Francisco Fernández-Rueda, tenorb; Manuel Vilas, harp
Ars Atlánticac
rec: July 5 - 7, 2010c, Nov 30 - Dec 2, 2011ab, Ferreira de Pantón (Lugo), Iglesia de San Vicente de Pombeiro
Naxos - 8.573678 (© 2017) (77'28")
Liner-notes: E/ES; lyrics - translations: E
Cover, track-list & booklet

anon: Aunque sabes, Nisec; Canta pajarilloa; Culpas son Nise hermosaa; Despertando estaba el solb; Hermosa tortolillaa; No hay razón que a lo bellob; Poco sabe de Filisb; Qué dulcemente cantaab; Si descubro mi dolorb; Cristóbal GALÁN (?-1684): Ya los caballosb; Juan HIDALGO (1614-1685): ¡Ay que sí, ay que no!a; Con la pasión amorosaa; Detén los rayosab; En los floridos páramosa; ¿Qué quiere Amor?b; José MARÍN (c1619-1699): Corazón que en prisióna; De la sierra morenaa; Diz que era como una nieveb; Filis, el miedo ha de serb; Juan DE NAVAS (1647-1719): Tente, Siques, esperac

[AA] Yetzabel Arias Fernández, soprano; Santi Mirón, viola da gamba; Eligio Luis Quinteiro, theorbo, guitar; Manuel Vilas, harp

[II] "The Guerra Manuscript, Volume 5 - 17th Century Secular Spanish Vocal Music"
Ars Atlántica
Dir: Manuel Vilas
rec: July 17 - 19, 2011, Ferreira de Pantón (Lugo), Iglesia de San Vicente de Pombeiro
Naxos - 8.574092 (© 2019) (75'01")
Liner-notes: E/ES; lyrics - translations: E
Cover, track-list & booklet

anon: ¿A quién me quejaré?; A las peñas las penas Diga el dolor; No lloren más mis ojos; ; Por no merecer; ¿Por qué afectas imposibles?; Pues de la beldad que adoro; ¿Qué quiere el sol en el monte?; Rompe, Amor, la venda; Ya, madre del ciego dios; Juan HIDALGO (1614-1685): Al aire se entregue; Porque no es falta; Recelos, cuidados; Zagalejos del valle; José MARÍN (c1619-1699): Apostemos niña que acierto; Aquella sierra nevada; Válgate Amor por Gileta; Matías RUIZ (c1665-1702): Oíd del amante más fino

José Antono López, baritone; Manuel Vilas, harp; Bruno Forst, harpsichord

In 2011 Naxos released the first volume of a series of six which include all one hundred songs collected in the so-called Guerra Manuscript. The two most recent volumes in this project are the numbers four and five, and were released in 2017 and 2019 respectively. As one may conclude from the dates of recording, the performances were not specifically intended for being released on disc. It is a matter of good fortune that these songs have made it to disc after all, especially as this repertoire is little-known, outside Spain, but among Spanish music lovers probably as well. And as I have reviewed the three previous volumes, I can safely say that the character and quality of these songs deserve all the attention they receive. The two volumes under review here confirm those impressions.

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.

José Ángel Vilas Rodriguez, in his liner-notes to the second volume, 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". Most songs comprise a number of stanzas (coplas) and a refrain (estribillo), although there are exceptions. Moreover, as Manuel Vilas points out in his liner-notes to Volume 4, in most cases it is left to the performer to decide where and when to insert the refrain. The anonymous Poco sabe de Filis [4] is one of those songs, in which a repeat of the refrain after each stanza is indicated.

It can hardly come as a surprise that most songs are about (unhappy, unrequited) love, as this was the dominating subject of renaissance madrigals and baroque secular cantatas. The poets sometimes use images from nature (José Marín, Aquella sierra nevada [5]) to illustrate the trials and tribulations of love, and we also meet characters from the world of Arcadia, such as Chloris, Phyllis and Amaryllis, and gods from classical mythology, among them Cupido and Apollo. In some cases it is known that the songs were originally part of music for the theatre. That goes in particular for those by Juan Hidalgo, one of the main composers of theatrical music of the 17th century. It explains their often theatrical character. Con la pasión amorosa, ¡Ay que sí, ay que no! [4] and Recelos, cuidados [5] are good examples. In other cases one may assume that they were also conceived for performance in the theatre.

Some tonos are in praise of King Charles II, such as Canta pajarillo [4]. Whereas most songs are serious in nature, the collection includes a few humorous or comic songs, such as Diz que era como una nieve by José Marín [4] and the anonymous ¿Por qué afectas imposibles? [5]. A special case, as far as the poetical form is concerned, is En los floridos páramos by Juan Hidalgo [4]. Manuel Vilas states that it is "a fine example of a tono setting in which the stress falls on the antepenultimate syllable. The literary-musical genre known as the baile that used texts with this metre enjoyed great success during the seventeenth century". Lastly, the entire collection includes only two duets; both are part of the programme of the fourth volume.

A couple of aspects of performance practice need to be mentioned. It was already noted that some composers of the songs could be identified through a comparison with other sources. Songs are sometimes preserved in different shapes in the sources, and in some cases Vilas decided to mix elements from two sources. An example is Corazón que en prisión by José Marín [4]; one manuscript includes a version with an instrumental realisation explicitly written for the harp. The song is performed as it appears in the Guerra Manuscript, but the accompaniment is based on the harp version. In the anonymous Qué dulcemente canta [4], the refrain omits an instrumental bass; that has been reconstructed for this recording.

The sources leave little doubt that the guitar and the harp were the main instruments for the accompaniment of tonos humanos. They are also the dominant forces in these recordings, but Vilas wanted to document that there were also other instruments which could participate in performances of songs, although on a far less frequent basis. That is the reason the harpsichord accompanies the singer in some songs in Volume 5, whereas in others he is joined by both harp and harpsichord. In this disc Vilas sometimes adds an instrumental introduction to the song, which was quite common at the time. The anonymous Por no merecer, for instance, is introduced by a passacalles from the pen of the harpist Diego Fernández de Huete (?1633/43-c1713). Another common practice was the transcription of songs for instruments. Here we get an example in the anonymous ¿A quién me quejaré?, which is performed on the harpsichord by Bruno Forst; the original vocal version is included in Volume 2 of this series.

Vilas not only wanted to demonstrate the different ways tonos humanos could be performed with regard to accompaniment, but also in the realm of vocal pitch. In the first and third volumes, the songs were performed by sopranos, Isabel Monar and Yetzabel Arias Fernández respectively. The latter can also be heard in Volume 4: the last two tracks could not find a place on Volume 3 and have been included here. in Volume 2 we heard the tenor Juan Sancho, and in Volume 4 the songs are shared by Mercedes Hernández (soprano) and Francisco Fernández-Rueda (tenor), who join each other in the two duets. In Volume 5 the songs are performed by the baritone José Antonio López. I can't remember having heard any of them before, and that made me curious to hear what they would make of these songs. Overall, the recordings in this series have been excellent, and these two discs are generally of the same level. Fernández-Rueda was the most pleasant surprise for me: he has a lovely voice and sings with great sensitivity. Mercedes Hernández also has a fine voice, and is at her best in the more vivid pieces; the theatrical nature of the two songs by Hidalgo mentioned above, comes off very well. When the tempo is rather slow, a slight vibrato creeps in, especially in forte passages. I had to get used to the voice and singing of López, who is also active as an opera singer. A slight vibrato is never far away, but with time it didn't bother me that much and I started to appreciate the way he treats the songs. He can be forceful, but also very subtle; Hidalgo's Al aire se entregue is a good example. The instrumental accompaniments are excellent; I like the creative manner in which Manuel Vilas accompanies the singers on the harp.

In short, these two volumes are worthy sequels to the previous three, and I am looking forward to the sixth volume, which will bring this exciting and musically-rewarding project to a close.

Johan van Veen (© 2021)

Relevant links:

Francisco Fernández-Rueda

CD Reviews