musica Dei donum

CD reviews

Organ Music from Spain

[I] Joan CABANILLES (1644 - 1712): "Tientos, Pasacalles y Gallardas"
Léon Berben, organ
rec: Oct 19 - 20, 2007, Ataun, San Martín de Tours
Aeolus - AE-10671 [SACD] (© 2008) (78'38" [CD]/87'46"[SACDa])

[II] "Domenico Scarlatti & cia"
Andrés Cea, organ
rec: Feb 17 - 18, 2007, Madrid, Palacio Real
Patrimonio Nacional - MPC0717 (69'45")

[I] Joan CABANILLES: Gaitilla; Gallardas II de 3er tono; Pasacalles I de 1er tono; Pasacalles II de 1er tono; Tiento I de falsas de 1er tono; Tiento II del 1er tonoa; Tiento IV partido de mano derecha sobre Ave Maris Stella; Tiento XIII de dos Tiples y dos Baixos; Tiento XIV de 5° tono de mano derecha de clarines; Tiento XXIII de 7° tono por A la mi re; Tiento XXIV lleno de 8° tono; Tiento LIII de falsas de 8° tono; Tiento LXXVIII partido de mano derecha de 2° tono
[II] José LIDON (1748-1827): Fuga II sobre Quem terra; Fuga VI sobre Sacris solemnis; José DE NEBRA (1702-1768): Intento in C; Intento in g minor; Joaquín OJINAGA (1719-1789): Intento in D; Domenico SCARLATTI (1685-1757): Sonata C (K 384); Sonata in c minor (K 58); Sonata in D (K 177); Sonata in d minor (K 92); Sonata in d minor (K 213); Sonata in d minor (K 434); Sonata in f minor (K 185); Sonata in f minor (K 481); Sonata in G (K 372); Sonata in A (K 343); Sonata in b minor (K 87); Sonata in B flat (K 66)

Spanish music has a special place in the repertoire of organ music. Its peculiar style and the specific timbre of the organs for which it was written makes it rather difficult to be performed on organs outside the Iberian peninsula. This inevitably has led to this repertoire being less wel-known than that of other countries.

The heydays of Spanish organ music were in the late 17th century, and this was mainly due to Joan Cabanilles. He was born and died in Valencia, where he was unanimously appointed second organist of the Cathedral in 1665, only to become first organist just one year later. He held this position until his death. His fame is reflected by the wide dissemination of his organ compositions, which were still copied in the mid-18th century. His organ music consists of about 200 pieces and about 1000 versos for the alternatim practice in the liturgy. But as none of his works were printed during his lifetime and nothing has been left in Cabanilles' own handwriting there is considerable insecurity about the authenticity of compositions attributed to him.

Cabanilles' style is rather conservative - as Spanish music generally was - which is reflected by his use of forms which were already in vogue in the 16th century, in particular the tiento. This is what would be called a ricercar or fantasia outside Spain, and is characterised by counterpoint and imitation. Many of Cabanilles' tientos employ the medio registro, the 'broken keyboard'. In many organs the keyboard was divided into two halves with different disposition, and this allowed the composer to write a solo part for one hand, often including virtuosic figurations, and a polyphonic accompaniment for the other hand.

A special kind of tiento is the tiento de falsas which features unusual harmonic progressions and contain uncommon intervals and sharp dissonances. Some tientos are based on liturgical subjects, like the hymn 'Ave maris stella'. Cabanilles also wrote music on bass patterns, like the 'gallarda' and the 'passacalle'.

The programme Léon Berben has recorded offers an interesting survey of Cabanilles' oeuvre. The genres he explored are well represented, in particular the various kinds of tientos. The only genre lacking is that of the 'battalla', but this belongs to the more popular pieces from his output, whereas most of the repertoire recorded here is far less known.

The organ of San Martin de Tours dates from 1761 and is excellently suited to this repertoire. The total of 35 stops are all divided into 15 bajos (left hand) and 20 tiples (right hand). In addition the organ has the typical Spanish reed stops as well as some special effects, like bird voice and drums. What is especially important in this repertoire - and in particular the tientos de falsas - is the temperament, which is 1/5 comma meantone.

In recent years Léon Berben has made many recordings with rather unconventional repertoire, mostly of the 17th century. His performances are technically flawless and show a deep understanding of the various musical styles. This disc is no exception: this is a splendid disc with very impressive interpretations. He uses the special effects sparingly, and prefers to make the music speak for itself, adding tasteful ornaments where required. His phrasing and articulation is logical and natural; Berben's playing makes this music really breathe.
The booklet contains comprehensive programme notes of Cabanilles' music in general and all the pieces of the programme in particular, and the disposition of the organ.

Cabanilles was rather conservative in regard to the forms he made use of, but at the same time he further developed those forms in a way which earned him the admiration of his contemporaries and of later generations. But it still was the style of the renaissance he developed; his music doesn't contain any traits of the baroque style. The programme Andrés Cea has recorded is very different: we get here sonatas by Domenico Scarlatti, one of the most prominent composers of keyboard music at the Iberian peninsula, and a representative of the baroque style, and some pieces by composers of a later generation which show some influences of the emerging classical style.

The music chosen by Andrés Cea has much to do with the organ he plays. It was originally conceived by Leonardo Fernández Davila, who began the construction of the organ for the new Palacio Real in Madrid in 1756. But shortly before the organ was being installed he died. His successor was Jorge Bosch, an organ builder from Majorca. He extended the organ considerably according to his own concept. This included several stops which he claimed to be of his own invention. And when the building of the organ was finally finished in 1778 it was quite different from other Spanish organs at that time. It was certainly very different from the organ Léon Berben plays in his programme of music by Cabanilles.

Gone is the division of the manuals into two halves (medio registro) and in come stops like 'oboe', 'flauta traversera' and 'voz humana a la francesa'. "The most noteworthy is perhaps its extensive dynamic colour, which goes from the loudest in the exterior reed pipes to the subtlest and almost imperceptible echo effects of the choir organ", Andrés Cea writes in the booklet. Each stop on a particular manual has its replica on another manual; this allows the player to create dynamic effects while using the same stops. The organ also has a temperament which is described as "almost equal". As no further information is given about possible changes of the organ in later times one has to assume this temperament is original.

The programme begins with the Fuga VI sobre Sacris solemnis by José Lidon. This is particularly appropriate as Lidón was Royal Organist at the time the organ was inaugurated, and its builder Jorge Bosch married Lidón's daughter. It is in this piece that we hear the dynamic differences this organ allows to create. As a result there are three dynamic 'layers', so to speak, the softest of which is hardly audible, even with a headphone.
Also in the programme is José de Nebra, who was Lidón's teacher. His two compositions, called 'intento', are in fact fugues. In the Intento in g minor Cea adds a tremolo, the 'tremblor suave'. Joaquín Ojinaga was also a pupil of De Nebra. At the close of his Intento in D Cea uses the effect of birdsong ('pajaros'). Both De Nebra and Ojinaga never played the Bosch organ, so what we get here are adaptations of their music to this organ.

The largest part of this disc is devoted to sonatas by Domenico Scarlatti. Most of his sonatas are very much conceived for the harpsichord and simply unplayable on the organ without losing their character. But some sonatas fare pretty well on the organ. It doesn't surprise that most of the sonatas played here have tempo indication 'andante', sometimes with the addition 'cantabile'. Cea states that Scarlatti's sonatas "circulated fairly openly among Spanish organists as copies extant show". But when he adds that "[the] selection of sonatas that I offer in this recording tries to underline the close association existing between these pieces and Bosch's organ in the Palacio Real" I can't follow him. What connection does he mean? When the organ was constructed Scarlatti had already died. So what we have here is an impression on how an organist playing the Bosch organ could have adapted Scarlatti's sonatas to the instrument, supposing that these sonatas were still part of the repertoire of organists at that time.

It is fair to say that this disc puts the organ and its unique qualities in the centre. There is nothing wrong with that, and the organ is definitely worth getting attention, for historical and musical reasons. Another choice of repertoire may have been preferable, at least as far as Scarlatti is concerned.

Having said that Andrés Cea is giving a good demonstration of what this organ has to offer. His performances are outstanding and in general the adaptations are convincing. An exception is Scarlatti's Sonata in B flat (K 66): the repetition of notes, an example of the percussionistic elements in Scarlatti's sonatas, doesn't work well on the organ.
Anyone interested in Spanish organs and organ music is well advised to purchase this disc which is so different from most recordings of Spanish organs.

Johan van Veen (© 2009)

Relevant links:

Léon Berben

CD Reviews