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"D'Amor mormora il vento - Songs and Dances alla spagnola"

La Boz Galana

rec: April 26 - 29, 2019, Haltingen (D), Georgskirche
Ramée - RAM 1909 (© 2019) (69'42")
Liner-notes: E/D/F; lyrics - translations: E
Cover, track-list & booklet

anon: Aria di Fiorenza; Ciaccona; De mis tormentos y enojos [4]; Espagnoletto; Españoleta; Folía; Gagliarda; Por los jardines de Chipre [4]; ¿Quién menoscaba mis bienes? [4]; Tra queste selve [5]; Tres niñas me dan enojos [4]; Vuestra belleza, señora [1]; Juan DE ARAÑES (c1580-c1649): Agora que la guitarra [6]; Dígame un requiebro [6]; Dulce desdén [6]; Halconcillo nuevo [6]; Mi zagala sus paños [6]; Antonio CARBONCHI (fl 17th C): Ciaccona passegiata per B [10]; Passacagali del E [10]; Giovanni Girolamo KAPSPERGER (c1580-1651): Avrilla mia [2]; Vezzosett'e care [2]; Stefano LANDI (1587-1639): Amarillide, deh! vieni [7]; Fonti del mio dolor [9]; Carlo MILANNUZZI (c1594-c1647): O Clorida vaga e gentile [8]; Ut, re, mi, fa, sol, la [3]

Sources: [1] Giovanni Stefani, ed., Affetti amorosi, 1618; [2] Giovanni Girolamo Kapsperger, Il secondo libro di villanelle, 1619; [3] Carlo Milanuzzi, Primo scherzo delle ariose vaghezze, 1622; Giovanni Stefani, ed., [4] Scherzi amorosi 1622; [5] Concerti Amorosi, 1623; [6] Juan de Arañes, Libro segundo de tonos y villancicos, 1624; [7] Stefano Landi, Il secondo libro d'arie musicali, 1627; [8] Carlo Milanuzzi, Sesto libro delle ariose vaghezze, 1628; [9] Stefano Landi, Il quinto libro d'arie, 1637; [10] Antonio Carbonchi, Sonate di chitarra spagnola con intavolatura franzese, 1640

Sebastián León, baritone; Louis Capeille, harp; Edwin García, guitar

The subtitle of this disc suggests that the music is Spanish in character. However, most of the composers in the programme are Italian, and many songs have Italian texts. What exactly is the connection between Italy and Spain in the first half of the 17th century? For some centuries, parts of Italy were under Spanish rule, and this resulted in an influx of Spanish musicians in Italy. Whereas Spain was largely isolated from influences from elsewhere, such as France, there was quite some exchange between Spain and Italy. Spanish composers took profit from the fact that music printing in Italy was well developed, and this way their music became known in Italy. One of the main products the Spanish exported to Italy, was the 5-string chitarra espagnola. The songs included here are intended for performance to an accompaniment of this instrument.

Many song collections were advertised as notated in an alfabeto della chitarra alla spagnola. This refers to a fingering notation system for chords. In this system a single letter is assigned to each guitar chord, for instance the A indicating G major, whereas numbers above single letters refer to barré chords. This term is used to describe the technique of stopping all or several of the strings at the same point by holding a finger across them (as explained in New Grove). The number denotes the fret used for the barré. Some composers utilised letters for dissonant chords and acciaccaturas.

The guitar was mostly used for songs of a more light-hearted nature, such as villanelle and canzonette. These are usually written in strophic form and avoid heavy emotions. They were quite popular in the late 16th and early 17th centuries. Even composers of high stature such as Lassus, Monteverdi or Kapsperger contributed to these genres. The programme recorded by La Boz Galana comprises mostly pieces by Italian composers; only Juan de Arañes represents Spain. Most of the texts seem to be anonymous; at least the booklet does not mention the authors. There are some exceptions, though. Especially Miguel de Cervantes (anon, ¿Quién menoscaba mis bienes?) and Lope de Vega (Arañes, Dulce desden) need to be mentioned, as they were two of the main playwrights in 17th-century Spain.

Some of the composers are rather well-known. Kapsperger was already mentioned; he was one of the most brilliant players of and composers for the theorbo in his time, but also composed vocal music. Another composer of fame is Stefano Landi, who has become best-known for his opera La morte d'Orfeo of 1619. The lesser-known Carlo Milanuzzi published eight books of tuneful ariose, a genre that became very popular in his time. A prominent name in the programme is Giovanni Stefani. He was not a composer, but an editor. He published a number of collections of songs with an accompaniment of either basso continuo or the chitarra espagnola, which found a wide reception; three of them have been preserved. He did not indicate the names of the composers, and in most cases they have not been identified. That also goes for the songs from his collections selected for this programme.

The only Spanish composer on this disc is Juan Arañes, who was a priest and was for a short time active in Italy: in 1623 he accompanied the newly appointed Spanish ambassador to the Holy See. In 1624 he published a book with tonos and villancicos for one to four voices. The programme ends with what is certainly his most famous work, Agora que la guitarra, a chacona in four parts, and the first such piece for voices by a Spanish composer to appear in print. It has been (and is) regularly performed by Jordi Savall and his ensembles. Here we get a different perspective in a performance by a solo voice, a guitar and a harp.

This is probably the standard line-up for the kind of songs included here, although composers were mostly rather pragmatic with regard to the way their songs were performed. From a musical point of view the approach of La Boz Galana is pretty much ideal. Sebastián León has a fine voice that is perfectly suited to this kind of repertoire. I very much like the way he performs these songs, in an almost relaxed manner. He reminds me of the style of singing of Marco Beasly, who also often sings this kind of songs. Many of these songs are written in a dance rhythm and the rhythmic pulse is perfectly realised by the three artists of La Boz Galana. The style of playing of Louis Capeille on the harp and Edwin Garcia on the guitar is infectious. They not only accompany Sebastián León, but also play some instrumental pieces. Two of them are by Antonio Carbonchi, who lived and worked in Florence and was a guitarist himself. The anonymous Aria di Fiorenza sounds quite familiar; the tune is also known as aria del Granduca. Arañes's Agora que la guitarra is introduced by an anonymous ciaccona which is full of dissonances.

This is a lovely disc that brings music to our attention that is little-known but very entertaining. The performances are simply superb, and therefore I urge curious minds, who like to broaden their musical horizon, to investigate this disc. I certainly hope to hear more from this outstanding ensemble.

Johan van Veen (© 2020)

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