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Pedro RABASSA (1683 - 1767): "Astro Nuevo"

Julia Doyle, sopranoa; Carlos Mena, altob; Alejandro Casal harpsichordc
Orquestra Barroca de Sevilla
Dir: Enrico Onofri

rec: Nov 2015, Sevilla, Instituto de la Cultura y las Artes de Sevilla; Oct 2017, Sevilla, Iglesia de San Pedro de Alcántara
Passacaille - PAS1071 (© 2020) (67'08")
Liner-notes: E/ES; lyrics - translations: E
Cover & track-list

Juan Manuel GONZÁLEZ GAITÁN Y ARTEAGA (1716-1804): Eternamente triste, Cantada a solo a la Purísima Concepción para soprano, violines, trompas y acompañamientoa; Voy buscando a mi cordero, Cantada a solo al Santísimo Sacramento para tiple, violines y acompañamientoa; Pedro RABASSA: Aleph. Ego vir videns, Lamentación 3a de Viernes Santo a solo con violinesb; Astro nuevo, Cantata al Santísimo con violinesa; Corred, corred, pastores, Villancico al Nacimento de Cristo para tiple con violinesa; Sonata para clavec; Juan Pascual VALDIVIA (c1737-1811): A del brillante cóncavo, Cantada (Si recatada, si traslúcida)

Rafel Mira, Vicente Giner, horn; Enrico Onofri, José Manuel Villarreal, Valentín Sánchez, Leo Rossi, Antonio Almela, violin; José Manuel Navarro, María Ramírez, violin, viola; Mercedes Ruiz, cello; Ventura Rico, double bass; Sara Águeda, harp; Alejandro Casal, harpsichord, organ

For a long time, only the music written at the Iberian peninsula during the renaissance period was given serious attention. Some ensembles, in particular from Spain, also performed some secular music and the more 'popular' form of sacred music, the villancico. It is only recently that the music written in the 17th and 18th centuries is performed and recorded. In recent years, especially the genre of the tonos humanos has been the subject of recordings, and the villancico repertoire of the 17th and 18th centuries is also taken more seriously. However, there is still much to discover. The disc under review here attests to that. Although music by Piedro Rabassa has been recorded before, he is largely an unknown quantity; the entry in New Grove takes merely two paragraphs, barely eight lines in total. The other two composers included here are completely omitted in this encyclopedia.

All three composers represented here worked in Andalusia, today the second largest and most populous autonomous community in Spain. It is the southernmost region, and includes important towns as Sevilla (the capital), Córdoba, Málaga and Granada. Rabassa was born in Barcelona, where he also received his earliest musical training. Around 1700, he worked as a singer in Barcelona Cathedral, where his teacher was Francisco Valls. In the first decade of the 18th century, many musicians from Austria and Italy worked at the court of Archduke Carlos II, and it is likely that they had a considerable influence on his development as a composer. In 1714 Rabassa was appointed maestro de capilla at Valencia Cathedral. In 1724 he moved to Sevilla, where he occupied the same post at the Cathedral. There he was to remain until his death; he retired from his position in 1757, but continued to compose.

Rabassa's extant oeuvre is quite large, and includes mostly sacred music in Latin and villancicos in the vernacular. In addition he wrote a few secular pieces as well as a single instrumental work, the harpsichord sonata included here. Rabassa was one of the first Spanish composers who adopted the Italian style in his sacred works. The disc opens with Astro Nuevo, a cantata to the Blessed Sacrament (al Santísimo) for soprano, violins and basso continuo. The Italian influence manifests itself in its structure: three arias (two with a dacapo) and two recitatives; the cantata closes with a section, entitled adagio. The latter can be seen as a reference to the music for the theatre, according to Juan María Suárez Martos in his liner-notes. He also suggests that this cantata may date from early in Rabassa's career, as it has been found in Palencia, a town in the north of Spain.

Corred, corred, pastores is a villancico for Christmas Day. This is quite interesting as in its form it is not any different from the cantata: it opens with an introducción, which is followed by a recitative and a dacapo aria. It shows that in the course of the 18th century, the influence of the Italian style resulted in a confusion of the genres of the cantata and the villancico. Whereas in the 17th and the early 18th centuries, pieces to the Blessed Sacrament and for Christmastide usually had the form of a villancico, later in the 18th century composers adopted the form of the Italian cantata for such subjects. The pieces by Valdivia and Gaitán bear witness to that.

Juan Pascual Valdivia was from Alcalà la Real, a community in Andalusia, and worked from 1760 on as maestro de capilla at the Collegiate Church of Olivares. It is telling that the liner-notes mention that most of his extant works are in the villancico genre. Apparently, A del brillante cóncavo for Christmastide, is reckoned among this category, despite being a cantata. From this work, the aria 'Si recatada, si traslúcida', preceded by a recitative, is taken. It is a dacapo aria, and its length (here about eight minutes) is in line with the size of Italian opera arias of the time. Valdivia's music shows that we are in a different world here, in comparison with Rabassa.

The same goes for Juan Manuel González Gaitán y Arteaga, who was born in Cordoba, and in 1752 was appointed maestro di capilla to his birthtown's Cathedral. Interestingly, the two cantatas selected for this disc are kept in American archives, which attests to the fact that Spanish music of this time still found its way to the New World. Eternamente triste is a cantata for the feast of the Immaculate Conception. Notable is that in the orchestra the strings are joined by a pair of horns. This can be explained by the tenor of the text, which is already announced at the start of the opening accompanied recitative: "Dreadful, hellish, fiery enemy - when you plunged, one third of pretty angels fell with you" - an obvious reference to Satan. This work dates from 1762, Voy buscando a mi cordero, a cantata for the Blessed Sacrament, from 1764.

Back to Rabassa. At the Collegiate Church of Olivares, a set of Lamentations is preserved. From this set we get here the third Lesson for Good Friday, the only piece for alto solo on this disc. The Hebrew letters, which are set to long melismas in French Leçons de Ténèbres of the baroque era, have the character of ariosos here. They are unusually lively. Notable is here the last section with the letter Beth: the text "He has made me sit in darkness like the dead of long ago" is set to long notes in a slow tempo.

As I wrote above, we also get here Rabassa's only instrumental work. It is mentioned in the liner-notes that the title sonata for a work like this was a novelty in Spain. It is a piece in four movements in the order of the sonata da chiesa.

It is just one of the features which makes this disc very interesting. It is a nice portrait of a time whose music is still little known, and from a region, which probably receives even less attention than other parts of 18th-century Spain. Rabassa is quite an interesting composer, and I hope to hear more from him, for instance his complete Lamentations. The other composers are from a different aesthetic era, close to the classical period, and that part of Spain's music history also waits to be explored. The Orquestra Barroca de Sevilla is quite active in the exploration of music of the 18th century, often in collaboration with the violinist Enrico Onofri, who plays first violin here. He had the brilliant idea to invite Julia Doyle and Carlos Mena to sing the solo parts, and they do so in a most stylish manner. Julia Doyle is probably associated mostly with earlier music, and from different parts of Europe, but she makes an excellent impression here.

This disc deserves the attention of anyone who likes to broad his musical horizon, and of those who have a particular interest in Spanish music.

Johan van Veen (© 2021)

Relevant links:

Julia Doyle
Orquestra Barroca de Sevilla

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