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"The Royal Chapel of Madrid - Sacred Music after the Great Fire of 1734"

María Espada, soprano
Dir: Javier Ulises Illán

rec: Oct 11 - 13, 2020, Madrid, Teatro Isabel Clara Eugenia
Pan Classics - PC 10427 (© 2011) (73'21")
Liner-notes: E/D/ES; lyrics - translations: E
Cover & track-list

Francesco CORSELLI (Francisco COURCELLE) (1705-1778): Concertino a 4; Lamentación segunda del Jueves Santo; ¡Oh, qué pena!, Cantata segunda al Santísimo; Pastores que habitáis, Cantada para Navidad; Salve Regina; José LIDON (1748-1827): Lamentación primera del Mércoles Santo; Domenico PORRETTI (1709-1783): Overture in D

Rodrigo Gutiérrez, Miriam Jorde, oboe; Marta Calvo, bassoon; Ricard Casañ, trumpet; Miguel Olivares, Ferrán García, horn; Pablo Suárez, Elvira Martínez, Marta Ramírez, Jesús Merino, Leonor de Lera, Sergio Suárez, violin; Lola Fernández, Paula García Morales, viola; Guillermo Turina, Carlos Montesinos, cello; Xisco Aguiló, double bass; Manuel Minguillón, theorbo, guitar; David Palanca, harpsichord, organ

It is remarkable how much music from the 17th and 18th centuries has come down to us. This reflects its importance in daily life. Few occasions passed by without the performance of some kind of music. At the same time, it is likely that about the same amount of music has been lost. The causes are manifold, such as negligence, wars and natural disasters. An example of the latter was the earthquake which hit Lisbon in 1755 and which destroyed the complete music library of the royal palace. The Spanish court was also hit by disastert, this time a fire. On Christmas Eve of 1734 a fire broke in the Royal Alcazar in Madrid. It lasted four days and destroyed a collection of paintings, but also the musical archive. As a result a part of Spain's musical history was erased. Fortunately, Spain was not as centralized in musical matters as Portugal. There were many cities with their own musical traditions, and in the course of history much music by Spanish composers was printed. Because of that, a considerable amount of Spanish music of previous centuries has been preserved.

The court played a crucial role in music life, and music was an important part of courtly life. Judith Ortega and María Álvarez-Villamil, in their liner-notes to the disc under review here, write: "[The] Royal Chapel (...) constitutes the heart of religious life centered around the kings, but its importance resides in the public and sacred dimension of its activity. In the Royal Chapel, liturgical music plays an essential role as a means of legitimation of the catholic monarchy's divine origin, as is the case in all European courts". The importance of (liturgical) music made it absolutely necessary that the repertoire that had been lost due to the fire, was replaced by new works. This was the duty of the musicians at the court, among them Francesco Corselli, also known as Francisco Courcelle.

The latter name doesn't sound very Spanish, and that is because he was born from French parents in Piacenza in Italy. He came from a family of dance masters; his father was dance master to the Farnese family. At an early age he was active in Parma and became maestro di cappella of the Chiesa della Madonna della Steccata there. From 1727 to 1733 he also was maestro di cappella of the Duke of Parma, the future King Carlos III of Spain. When the Duke's mother Isabelle Farnese, the second wife of King Felipe V, was looking for a music master for the royal children, she turned to Corselli, who arrived in Madrid in January 1734. He started to compose operas and villancicos. In 1738 he succeeded Joseph de Torres as maestro of the royal chapel and rector of the Colegio de Ninos Cantores (the boys' choir of the chapel). Corselli played a major role in music life surrounded by such renowned composers as Domenico Scarlatti, Gaetano Brunetti and Luigi Boccherini. At the time the famous castrato Farinelli also lived in Madrid.

For a long time, sacred music was written in a rather conservative style, sometimes even in the stile antico. The need for new repertoire offered the chance for a stylistic change. The present disc offers specimens of the new style of composing liturgical music. We note here the influence of the Italian style, and in particular of Italian opera, and a more prominent role of instruments. The first item, Lamentación segunda del Jueves Santo, bears witness to that. The solo part is more virtuosic than, for instance, in the French Leçons de Ténèbres of the baroque era, even though the Hebrew letters are still set - as was customary in such works - in the way of vocalises. Notable in this work is the obbligato part for the cello, which Corselli wrote for his colleague Domenico Porretti, a professional cellist.

The programme also includes two of Courselli's cantatas. ¡Oh qué pena! refers to cantada and villancico in its title. At this time there is little difference between the two genres. They mostly comprise recitatives and arias. This particular piece consists of two pairs of recitative and aria. It opens with an accompanied recitative, which is followed by an aria with an obbligato part for oboe. After a secco recitative, the soprano sings another aria, this time with an obbligato part for trumpet. The latter plays a candenza towards the end, whereas in the first aria there are cadenzas for both the soprano and the oboe. Pastores, que habitáis is a villancico for Christmas, and comprises only a secco recitative and an aria. The text of the A section of the aria could figure in any Italian secular cantata: "If merry goldfinches, with swift melodies spread in their voices a festive sweetness". It is only in the B section that the text refers to "the divinity". Corselli's setting of Salve Regina is for soprano with an ensemble of two oboes and strings.

With the Lamentación primera del Miércoles Santo by José Lidón, we are in a different world. As a child in the boys' choir school of the Royal Chapel he was taught by Corselli, and later on he worked as organist at the Royal Chapel from 1768 until his death. This setting of a lesson from the Lamentations of Jeremiah shows strong similarity with the sacred music of contemporaries like Haydn and Mozart. The soprano has a virtuosic solo part to sing and is accompanied by an orchestra, in which the strings are joined by trumpet, two horns and two oboes.

This disc also includes two instrumental works. The Concertino a 4 by Corselli is his only extant instrumental composition. It was the first piece for four-part strings composed in Spain. Notable is the obbligato role of the cello in the first of the three movements, the last of which is fugal. The Overture in D by Porrenti, written in the galant idiom, is scored for an orchestra of trumpet, two horns and strings and is in three movements.

This disc is part of a project which aims to bring to life the repertoire written after the fire of 1734. This part of Spanish music history is little known, and the quality and character of the music included here suggests that this is not justified. From that perspective this disc, and the project as a whole, is of great importance, as it not only enhances our knowledge of Spanish music history, but also completes and corrects the musical map of 18th-century Europe. The performances could hardly be better. María Espada is excellent in her solo parts, which she masters technically but also interprets with great sensitivity and much attention to the text. The playing of Nereydas is of consistently high quality, with some fine contributions by the performers of the obbligato parts. It is to be hoped that Javier Ulises Illán and his colleagues will have the opportunity to record more works from this interesting stage in Spanish music history. I am looking forward to future recordings.

Johan van Veen (© 2021)

Relevant links:

María Espada

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