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"Folias - Spanish music for harpsichord from the 17th century"

Lydia Maria Blank, harpsichord

rec: Sept 6 - 8 & 19 - 20, 2010, Gutenbrunn (A), Heiligenkreuz-Gutenbrunn
Passacaille - 992 (© 2013) (76'58")
Liner-notes: E/D/S
Cover & track-list

Pablo BRUNA (1611-1679): Tiento lleno de 6° tono sobre Ut Re Mi Fa Sol La; Joan Bautista José CABANILLES (1644-1712): Diferencias de Folias; Gallardas de 3° tono; Tiento lleno de 4° tono; Tiento lleno de 5° tono (XVIII); Francisco CORREA DE ARAUXO (1584-1654): Dies y seis Glosas sobre el Canto Llano Guárdame las Vacas; Tiento de 1° tono (LXII); Tiento de 1° tono, de a cinco (LII); Tiento de 5° tono (XX); Tiento pequeño y facil; José XIMÉNEZ (?-1678): Folias con 20 diferencias; Obra de lleno 1° tono sin paso

Source: Francisco Correa de Arauxo, Libro de tientos y discursos de música practica, y theorica de organo intitulado Facultad organica, 1626

It was only in the last decades of the 17th century that the Italian style began to have its impact on Spanish music. In the previous eras Spain represented a voice of its own in the European chorus. The villancico was a form of vocal music which had no match outside Spain. In the 17th century it was the zarzuela which was a typical Spanish phenomenon as the music for the theatre is concerned. The idiom in keyboard music was also quite different from what was common elsewhere. In this genre it is especially the repertoire of the 16th century which is paid attention to, with Antonio de Cabezón as its towering figure. In comparison the music of the 17th century is less well-known. If the latter is played, it is mostly at the organ, whose peculiar character is partly due to the unique sound of Spanish instruments. A large part of the keyboard music of this period can be played on both instruments, and many pieces which Lydia Maria Blank has selected are better known in performances on the organ.

It doesn't surprise then that all the composers represented in the programme were active as organists. Francisco Correa de Arauxo was born in Seville and died in Segovia. He was ordained priest and first acted as organist in Seville, from 1605 to 1636. He then was organist in Jaén, and in 1640 he was appointed as prebendary of Segovia Cathedral. He was not only a player and composer but also a theorist, and as all his extant keyboard works have been included in a didactic work it is plausible to suggest that he wrote them for pedagogical purposes. By far the largest part of his output consists of tientos. The term is derived from the verb tentar which means "to attempt" or "to try out". It is more or less comparable to the ricercar by Italian composers of the late 16th and early 17th centuries. It is dominated by polyphony and consists of sections with fugal, imitative entries which are connected without interruptions. Some of these pieces are quite virtuosic, and that also goes for the long tientos from Correa de Arauxo's pen here, such as Tiento de 1° tono (LXII) and Tiento de 1° tono, de a cinco (LII). Others are of more modest proportions and technical requirements, such as the Tiento pequeño y facil.

Antonio de Cabezón, the favourite keyboard player of King Philip II, was blind from birth, and so was Pablo Bruna. He was born and died in Daroca. His extant oeuvre consists of 32 organ pieces, most of which are in the genre of the tiento. His Tiento lleno de 6° sobre Ut Re Mi Fa Sol La is a sequence of sections which are contrasting due to varieties in rhythm. The scale of six notes which is the foundation of this piece was often used for keyboard pieces, for instance by Frescobaldi.

José Ximénez was born and died in Zaragoza. He was probably a pupil of Sebastian Aguilera de Heredia; in 1620 he became his assistant as organist of the cathedral of La Seo. In 1627/28 he succeeded him as organist. Otherwise we know very little about him and his extant oeuvre is rather small. These include various pieces for the liturgy, such as hymn and psalm verses, and two batallas, another typical Spanish genre. Obra de lleno 1° tono sin paso is a piece in a free improvisatory style without a specific subject. Ximénez is also one of the composers who wrote diferencias on the Folias. If one listens to this piece one won't recognize the subject which is familiar from the variations by the likes of Corelli and Vivaldi. They used a later type whereas here the subject is the Spanish Folias.

The same subject was used by Joan Bautista José (better known as Juan) Cabanilles, the most important Spanish composer of keyboard music in the late 17th century. He was held in high regard by his contemporaries which is indicated by the wide dissemination of his compositions. He was born near Valencia, and in this town he also died. He sang as a choirboy in the cathedral and was appointed second organist in 1665. Three years later he was ordained priest which was required by the cathedral chapter. In 1666 he had already become first organist, a position he held until his death. Although he composed some vocal works, the far majority of his compositions is written for the organ. Among them are a large number of tientos, many of them for 'broken keyboard' (medio registro, meaning that the two manuals are registered differently) and often characterised by unusual harmonic progressions (often referred to as tientos de falsas). The Tiento lleno de 4° tono is an example of the latter. The Tiento lleno de 5° tono (XVIII) includes free improvisatory elements, which gives this piece the character of a toccata. The Gallardas de 3° tono is another piece which are different from what one may expect. It has nothing to do with the dance known as galliard, but is rather a series of variations on a theme.

All the music on this disc was originally conceived for organ, but this recording shows that a number of pieces can convincingly be performed on the harpsichord. That is one of the interesting features of this disc. It offers a different perspective to the repertoire, which is not that well-known anyway. One reason is that this music doesn't fare very well on other than Spanish organs, and these are rather rare outside Spain. It would be nice if those pieces which lend themselves to the harpsichord would be performed in keyboard recitals. The fine quality of the music and the outstanding interpretations by Lydia Maria Blank have resulted in a very compelling disc which should not be missed by any lover of 17th century keyboard music. The harpsichord is a beautiful instrument well suited for this repertoire, but unfortunately not specified in the booklet. The recording engineer deserves accolades for a very natural recording in which the miking is exactly right.

Johan van Veen (© 2014)

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Lydia Maria Blank

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