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"El cielo y sus estrellas - Galant Cathedral Music from New Spain"

Molly Nettera, Eleanor Ranney-Mendozab, soprano; José Hernández-Pastor, altoc; David Trillo, tenord; Laura Quesada, transverse flutee
Camerata Antonio Soler
Dir: Javier José Mendoza

rec: June 2022, Madrid, Centro Mariápolis Luminosa, Las Matas
Orchid Classics - ORC 100208 (© 2022) (63'57")
Liner-notes: E/ES; lyrics - translations: E/ES
Cover, track-list & booklet

Santiago BILLONI (c1700-1763): ¿Por qué Pedro?ad; José HERRANDO (1680-1763): Sinfonia in D; Ignacio JERUSALEM (1707-1769): Qué dolor, qué desconsueloce; Si aleve fortunaa; Sube a gozarab; Luis MISÓN (1720-1766): Sinfonia in B flat; David PÉREZ (1711-1778): Sinfonia in D 'La tempestad del mar'; Esteban SALAS Y CASTRO (1725-1803): El cielo y sus estrellasabc

Laura Quesada, transverse flute; Miguel Olivares, Vicent Serra, horn; Ignacio Ramal, Roi Cibrán Pérez, Miguel Torres, Abelardo Martín Ruiz, Adrián Pineda, Sergio Suárez, violin; Víctor Gil Gazapo, viola; María Alejandra Saturno, cello; Sergio Fernández, double bass; Álvaro de Cárdenas, guitar; Mark Shuldiner, harpsichord

In the last two decades or so music from Latin-American sources has enjoyed increasing interest from performing musicians and ensembles. It has resulted in a number of recordings which include music never heard before and unknown from European sources. The term 'New Spain' in the title of the present disc refers to Mexico and Cuba. Some of the composers who are included in the programme, worked there, but others never set a foot on the soil of the New World. Their music can be found in libraries and archives there, testifying their use in and outside the church.

The best-known composer here is David Pérez. He was born in Naples and started his career as a composer of operas. This quality resulted in his being invited by the King of Portugal to become mestre de capela and music master to the royal princesses in 1752. He held this position until his death. In 1755 the earthquake which destroyed large parts of Lisbon as well as the royal palace and its music archive was a turning point: until his death he focused on the composition of sacred music. The work-list in New Grove mentions only a few instrumental works. The Sinfonia in D performed here, is not mentioned. It is a short piece in three movements; the title means "a storm at sea", a favourite subject of composers, such as Vivaldi. The second movement is entitled "rainbow", the third "ballet". This and the other sinfonias on this disc are comparable with the overtures to operas by Italian composers of the 18th century. They could be played during the liturgy.

Luis Misón and José Herrando were both from Spain and never worked in the New World. Misón was one of the main composers of zarzuelas in Spain, whereas Herrando was a highly respected violinist, who was in close contact with the castrato Farinelli, Domenico Scarlatti and the Geminiani family. Their respective sinfonias performed here are short works in three movements.

Ignacio Jerusalem was another composer of Italian descent. He was born in Lecce and at first wrote music for the theatre. In 1742 he moved to Mexico City, where in 1750 he was appointed maestro de capilla at the cathedral. Under his direction the quality of the choir and instrumental ensemble strongly improved. As a composer he was very productive, especially during the last ten years of his life. His extant oeuvre comprises a large amount of liturgical works and villancicos. The three pieces on this disc are cantatas which very much reflect the style of Italian opera. They include coloratura and have a dacapo. Si aleve fortuna is about Mary's reflecting about the birth of her son. It is sung by Molly Netter, who has a lovely voice and delivers an expressive performance. In the orchestra the strings are joined by a pair of horns. In Qué dolor, qué desconsuelo Mary expresses her sorrows, according to the liner-notes, but what exactly this piece is about, is impossible to say as in the digital booklet the text is omitted. José Hernández Pastor's performance is a bit disappointing, as his voice is not very 'open' and the text is hard to understand. Sube a gozar is about Mary's assumption into Heaven. The voices of Eleanor Ranney-Mendoza and Molly Netter blend well.

Santiago Billoni is probably the least-known composer in the programme; he has no entry in New Grove. He was also from Italy; he was born in Rome, where he started his career as a violinist. He moved to Mexico, where he played in the chapels of several cathedrals before becoming maestro de capilla at Durango Cathedral. ¿Por qué Pedro? is a duet, very much as one may expect in an opera. It is a dialogue between Jesus and Peter about the latter's denial of his master. The role of Jesus is scored for soprano, and Peter is sung by a tenor. Notable is the extended role of the transverse flute. Molly Netter and David Trillo deliver a very fine performance of this beautiful piece.

For the last piece in the programme we move to Cuba. Esteban Salas y Castro is the only one in the programme who was born in the New World, in Havana in 1725. He was the son and grandson of Canary Islanders and Cuban Creoles. In the parish church of S Cristóbal (now the cathedral) he received his first musical education as a boy chorister. From 1764 until his death he worked as maestro de capilla at the cathedral of Santiago de Cuba. His extant oeuvre comprises almost 200 pieces, most of them in Latin for the liturgy, and 53 paraliturgical in Spanish. El cielo y sus estrellas is a cantata, again in the form of an aria with a dacapo, for Christmastide. Eleanor Ranney-Mendoza, Molly Netter and Pastor deliver a good performance; the latter makes a better impression here than in the solo cantata.

This disc is quite interesting in several respects. The music performed in the New World is still largely unknown, despite a growing number of recordings. Very seldom this repertoire is part of performances by ensembles in Europe and often the composers are hardly known. This disc includes several of such composers. That even goes for Salas, whose oeuvre has been published. This disc also shows the influence of Italian music across the world, both in the sinfonias and in the cantatas. The programme demonstrates the variety of music that was performed in churches and cathedrals. Despite my critical remarks about Pastor's performance of one of the pieces, overall I am pleased by what I have heard here. The Camerata Antonio Soler, which since a number of years is recording the sinfonias by the Italian composer Gaetano Brunetti, who was active in Spain, shows its qualities here. I hope it will continue its exploration of music from the New World.

Johan van Veen (© 2023)

Relevant links:

José Hernández-Pastor
Molly Netter
Camerata Antonio Soler

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