musica Dei donum

CD reviews

Sebastián DURON (1660 - 1716): Secular vocal music

[I] "Lágrimas, Amor ..."
Eva Juárez, sopranoa
A Corte Musical
Dir: Rogério Gonçalves
rec: Feb 24 - 26, 2014, Gelterkinden (CH), Reformierte Kirche
Pan Classics - PC 10320 (© 2016) (59'14")
Liner-notes: E/F/D; lyrics - translations: E
Cover & track-list

anon: Chacona; Españoleta; Passacalles de 1° tono; Sebastián DURON: Coronis, zarzuela (Dioses piedad; El marido que sufrido); El imposible mayor en amor le vence Amor, zarzuela (Se hacemos treguas; Yo no puedo); La borrachita de amor, solo humano; Las nuevas armas de Amor, zarzuela (Auras Suaves)a; Vaya pues rompiendo el ayre, jácara de navidada; Veneno es de Amor la envidia, zarzuela (Llorad infaustos zagales; Ondas, riscos, peces, mares)

Vitaliy Shestakov, Lasma Meldere, violin; Theresia Kainzbauer, cello; Rogério Gonçalves, bassoon, percussion; Stephan Schürch, violone; Maria Cristina Cleary, harp; Maria Ferré, theorbo, guitar; Corien de Jong, harpsichord

[II] La Guerra de los Gigantes
Camilla de Falleiro (El Tiempo, Hércules), Eva Juárez (El Silencio, Júpiter), soprano; Anna Freivogel (La Immortalidad, Minerva), Maria Weiss (La Fama, Palante), mezzo-soprano
A Corte Musical
Dir: Rogério Gonçalves
rec: Jan 13 - 15, 2012, Sainte Croix (CH), Temple
Pan Classics - PC 10276 (© 2013) (72'55")
Liner-notes: E/D/F; lyrics - no translations
Cover, track-list & booklet

Martin Mühringer, trumpet; Daniela Henzinger, Davide Monti, Saskia Birchler, Judith Schreyer, violin; Theresa Kainzbauer, cello; Stephan Schürch, violone; Maria Cristina Cleary, harp; Rosario Conte, Nori Sugawari, theorbo, guitar; Corien de Jong, harpsichord; Rogério Gonçalves, percussion

Sebastián Durón is one of the most important Spanish composers of the late 17th and early 18th centuries. He was educated as organist; his first teacher was Andrés de Sola, organist of the cathedral of La Seo, Zaragoza. After holding several positions as organist in Seville, Burgo de Osma and Palencia, he was appointed second organist at the royal chapel in Madrid; in 1702 he took the position of maestro de capilla. Since entering the royal chapel he not only wrote sacred music but also various works for the stage. It was especially this part of his activities which was highly appreciated.

His career came to an abrupt halt during the War of the Spanish Succession. Antonio Martin Moreno, from the University of Granada, states that Durón "was evidently feeling an allegiance to the Spanish Habsburgs (from the House of Austria) which had been supporting and endorsing him in his career. Between 1704 and 1706 Durón took part in secret conspiratorial meetings directed against Felipe V, an activity which came to a climax in 1706. When Archduke Carlos of Austria was about to enter Madrid in person in June of that year, Sebastián Durón, together with the rest of the capilla de música, sallied forth to celebrate victory, thereby publicly demonstrating his support for the House of Habsburg. The consequence for Durón was that later that same year he was sent into exile, and he settled in Bayonne." However, some years later, Felipe V pardoned him and allowed him to return to Spain. There is no evidence that he indeed returned.

The years of his activities as a composer saw a development in Spanish music culture from a purely Spanish style to one in which tradition was mingled with influences from Italy and France. Music for the stage was dominated by the zarzuela, a mixture of sung and spoken dialogue. The solos were usually in the form of coplas (stanzas) and estribillo (refrain), the same form which was used for villancicos.

This first disc offers a survey of the various genres to which Durón has contributed. Only sacred music is not represented, unless one wants to rank villancicos among that genre. The programme opens with Vaya pues rompiendo el ayre, which is called a jacara de navidad. Jacaras are a subgroup of villancicos. The jácara has its roots in the underworld of southern Spanish towns in the time of the Moors. Jácaras are written to a fixed harmonic pattern and on a text in the dialect of the underworld which includes quite some coarse language. Obviously the latter is absent here but the form has remained the same; the singer was always accompanied by castanets as is the case here. Like all villancicos it comprises an estribillo and several coplas. The refrain is sung here only at the start and at the end; I have heard performances with the refrain being sung after each stanza but I don't know how much freedom performers have in this regard.

Another genre of secular vocal music is the tono or solo humano, a song for one or several solo voices and bc. Tonos humanos 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. Like the villancico the tono humano mostly consists of an estribillo and a number of coplas. That is also the case here; in addition it includes a recitative (recitado). Like most songs it is about love. The refrain says: "The girl tipsy with love: oh, how she laughs! oh, how she shivers! oh, how she wilts!"

The rest of the programme then takes us to the world of the zarzuelas. Here we find the influence of the Italian style in the often pathetic way in which the texts are set. Auras Suaves is a good example: the refrain ends with the words "If she doesn't end up killing me because of her severity, I would end up killing myself". This is illustrated by strong dissonants in the two violins. We find more text illustration on words like "exaláis" (breathe out) and "trináis" (trill). Ondas, riscos, peces, mares is another Italian-influenced piece; in this case that comes especially to the fore in that it has the form of a dacapo aria. It opens with descending figures.

Two of the most expressive pieces are Dioses, piedad and Yo no puedo. The former is full of descending figures, expressing the text: "Have pity, gods, heavens, help, help, gods, heavens, have pity". The text of the latter is in the same vein: "I am, incapable of resisting such misfortunes, since of my senses, even that of the voice is failing me". Both have a dacapo structure. The estribillo and coplas return in Llorad, infaustos zagales, another highly expressive aria: "Weep, ill-starred shepherd boys, suffer unsuspecting shepherds". Of a more light-hearted nature is El marido que sufrido.

Eva Juárez is the perfect interpreter of this repertoire. She has a very nice and agile voice. Technically and stylistically her singing is impressive and her delivery is excellent. But what is more important is that she fully explores the emotional content of every single piece. She makes the listener feel the intensity of the feelings of the protagonist. She is aptly supported by A Corte Musical which also delivers engaging performances of the instrumental pieces.

This disc offers the perfect opportunity to get to know Durón's oeuvre.

These arias make one want to hear more from Durón's pen, preferably a complete work for the stage. A good example is La Guerra de los Gigantes, one of the first compositions in Spanish music history which was called an opera. It is an opéra scénica in one act and dates from 1702. It was dedicated to the Count of Salvatierra; Antonio Martin Moreno assumes this work was written at the occasion of the 5th Count of Salvatierra, José Francisco Sarmiento de Sotomayor y Velasco, in 1702. "The plot of this work needs to be considered as a double allegory: the introducción serves as a clear homage to the Count of Salvatierra and to Leonor de Zúñiga on the occasion of their wedding, while the opera itself is a homage to Felipe V by the Count of Salvatierra (...)".

The opera takes as its starting point the myth - from the first book of Ovid's Metamorphoses - of the earth-dwelling Giants, who wish to conquer Olympus displacing the gods from there, before in the end being easily defeated. Allegorically one can read in this opera that "the power of the king designated in the will of Carlos II is immune to the attacks (even of his adversary's Gigantes or giants) which the archduke Carlos of Austria was starting to instigate (...)".

The opera has eight characters, personified here by two sopranos and two mezzo-sopranos - all of them taking two roles - who also sing the choruses, mostly representing the giants. The instrumental accompaniment is very limited: two violins (here two per part), trumpet and bc. The belligerent character of the story explains the presence of a trumpet. The opera is divided into an introducción and six escenas. Although it is called an opera La Guerra de los Gigantes has little in common with Italian opera of the time. The solos have the traditional form of estribillo and coplas, and there is only one recitative. The most Italian part is probably in the fifth scene where Minerva stabs Palante, the general of the giants, who then dies very slowly. Here we find a strong contrast between the triumphant singing of Minerva and the expressions of suffering by Palante: "¡ Ay, ay, ay!" The scene ends with his pathetic lament: "Jove, Hércules, Minerva, Dioses". In the closing scene the victory of the gods is celebrated; it ends with a chorus.

The booklet includes the text but omits any translation. That is very regrettable as many listeners will not be able to understand what exactly is going on; they have to rely entirely on the synopsis. For me as a reviewer the lack of translations makes it impossible to assess the performance of the singers from a dramatic point of view. On the other hand: this is not an opera as we know it from composers like Alessandro Scarlatti - to mention a contemporary from Italy - and it is even possible that the score only includes the musical sections and that originally the vocal items were connected by spoken episodes. From that perspective we should probably not pay too much attention to the dramatic aspects but concentrate on the music as such. It says much about the quality of the music that I have greatly enjoyed this work without being able to follow the text. The music is vibrant and colourful; there is really no dull moment here. But there are also some moving episodes, especially the fifth scene I mentioned above.

My enjoyment of the purely musical aspect of this recording also says much about the quality of the performance. The four singers deliver outstanding performances. Eva Juárez is here just as good as she is in the recording I reviewed before. Camilla de Falleiro, Anna Freivogel and Maria Weiss act at the same level. This is singing of the highest order and I am very happy to be able to listen to such nice singing without that annoying vibrato which spoils so many recordings. This performance shows that it is perfectly possible to realize a maximum of expression without such an unstylish aberration. The ensemble is first-class as well.

These two discs attest to the excellent qualities of Durón as a composer of music for the theatre. I hope that more from his output will appear on disc.

Johan van Veen (© 2016)

Relevant links:

Eva Juárez
Maria Weiss
A Corte Musical

CD Reviews