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Juan Manuel DE LA PUENTE (1692 - 1753): "Music at the Cathedral of Jaén"

María Espada, soprano; Marta Infante, mezzo-soprano; Jesús García Aréjula, baritone
Vandalia Choir; Orquestra Barroca de Sevilla
Dir: Enrico Onofri

rec: Nov 2011 & June 2012, Espartinas (Sevilla, ES), Iglesia del Santuario de Nuestra Señora de Loreto
Passacaille - 1037 (© 2018) (56'10")
Liner-notes: E/F/S; lyrics - translations: E/F/S
Cover & track-list

A dónde, niña hermosa, villancico de calenda a 10 voces en tres coros con violines a la Purísima Concepción; Con el más puro fervor, cantata humana con violines trovada a la Santísima Trinidad; Del risco se despeña la fuentecilla hermosa, cantata con violines al Santísimo; Lavanderita soy, tonada con violines a la Purísima Concepción; Miserere mei Deus, Salmo a 18 voces en 7 coros

One of the positive developments in the world of early music is the growing interest in Spanish music of the 18th century. In recent years I have reviewed several recordings of this kind of repertoire, and most of them were very good. The present disc is an important addition to the discography and testifies to the quality of a composer who very few music lovers will ever have heard of.

Juan Manuel de la Puente was born in Tomellosa, near Guadelajara, and received his musical education as a choirboy at Toledo Cathedral. During that time he already wrote his first compositions. From 1711 until his death he was maestro de capilla at Jaén Cathedral. Caén is a town in south central Spain, east of Córdoba. At the time it was a provincial town, and it seems that little of De la Puente's oeuvre was known outside the region. José A. Gutiérrez Álvarez and Javier Marín López, in their liner-notes, characterise him as "responsible and dutiful, sober, simple and perhaps rather introverted". This could explain why he apparently did little to disseminate his oeuvre across Spain. That does not mean that he did not value what he had written. He put some effort in the preservation of his output in a series of books. He was a very productive composer; the total number of his compositions is estimated at more than 1,000. Unfortunately about two-thirds of his oeuvre has been lost. What has come down to us is what he composed before 1735. That makes it impossible to know how he did develop as a composer. What has been preserved, indicates that he was receptive to the influences from Italy. The pieces included in the programme on the disc under review here attest to that.

That goes for the very first work, a setting of Miserere mei, Deus, one of the seven penitential psalms and dating from 1726. It is scored for 18 voices, divided into seven choirs. That is certainly a token of Italian influence, but - as is so often the case with liturgical music - in a style of the past, as polychorality is a phenomenon of the 17th rather than the 18th century. It is interesting to mention here the constitution of the different choirs: S, accompanied by harp; S with accompaniment (not specified); three voices (SAT) and harpsichord (the same for two choirs); three voices (SAT) and harp; violins and violone; 4-part choir (coro de capilla). It is also notable that De la Puente indicated in the score the spatial separation of the choirs and their exact location in the cathedral. As so many liturgical works this is an alternatim setting; the even verses are in plainchant. Often De la Puente applies echo effects (always in three parts, with eco and contraeco) - another relic of the past, as this was very popular in Italy in the early 17th century. The instrumental ensemble comprises strings - divided into two violins, without violas - and bass, plus dulcian (bajón). The latter instrument has an obbligato part in the 9th verse (Auditui meo dabis), and the violin in vs 15 (Libera me de sanguinibus). One of the most remarkable parts is the fifth verse, "Tibi soli peccabi" - "Against you, you only, have I sinned, and done what is evil in your sight". Here De la Puente indicates the character with "fúnebre temblado" - "funereal and trembling", which is eloquently depicted in the music.

Lavanderita soy dates from 1719 and is a tonada dedicated to the Immaculate Conception, for soprano, violins and basso continuo. It has the structure of a villancico: it comprises two coplas (stanzas) and an estribillo (refrain). The protagonist is a washerwoman who cleans the clothes of a girl who represents the Virgin Mary. Notable is the onomatopoeia on the words "tras, tras" (scrub, scrub). Another piece to the Immaculate Conception is A donde, niña hermosa (1734). This is a genuine villancico, but its scoring is rather unusual: ten voices, divided into three choirs (SAT, SAT, SATB). It has a role for the Virgin Mary, which is sung by a soprano from the third choir. The piece is a sequence of soli and tutti episodes, and has marked dramatic traits.

The two remaining pieces are both undated, and scored for soprano solo with violins and basso continuo. Both attest to the growing Italian influence, as they both comprise two arias, separated by a recitative. Del risco se despeña la fuentecilla hermosa is a piece al Santísimo (for the Most Holy). The most remarkable part is the second aria, which De la Puente called aria patética. Here the text refers to a swan that "dies singing". "De la Puente uses rhetorical devices with great effectiveness, one of the most characteristic of which is the D major seventh cadende in the first inversion over which the treble says "se acaba la voz" ("the voice is fading") which the composer leaves unresolved, open and suspended, as if the singer really could not continue" (booklet). In the recitative there is a meaningful pause following the words "and feels faint".

De la Puente's extant oeuvre includes fourteen secular cantatas; six of them have also been preserved with a sacred text (a contrafactum, or, as the sources say, trovada a la divino). One of them is Con el más puro fervor, which is dedicated to the Holy Trinity (a la Santísima Trinidad). The recitative of this version is entirely new. In accordance with the text it is not dramatic, but rather a smooth setting of a text which the protagonist closes with the words "I adore your Trinity".

The recordings date from 2011 and 2012; it has taken some time, until it was available on disc. But better late than never, because having listened to this disc I have to conclude that Juan Manuel de la Puente was an outstanding composer. Every piece on this disc is of fine quality. The pieces which especially struck me are Miserere mei Deus and the cantata Del risco se despeña la fuentecilla hermosa. In the latter case Enrico Onofri ends the work with a cadenza on the violin. The liner-notes say that this is in line with "the practice of the Italian violinists of the time", but I am not sure whether that goes also for vocal music. Moreover, De la Puente may have been influenced by the Italian style, that in itself is no reason to apply the Italian performance practice in all respects. In this case I feel that the cadenza overshadows the effect of the highly emotional close of the vocal part.

However, that is virtually the only issue here. The performances are very good: the soli are sung nicely and the ensemble is excellent. María Spada deserves special praise for her solos. All in all this disc is a strong case for the music of Juan Manuel de la Puente. I hope that more of his oeuvre will appear on disc.

Johan van Veen (© 2018)

Relevant links:

María Espada
Marta Infante
Orquestra Barroca de Sevilla

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