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"Via Crucis - La Passione nella Spagna del XVI secolo" (The Passion in 16th-Century Spain)

Dir: Dario Tabbia
rec: Dec 2005, Castagneto Po (Turino, I), Chiesa di San Genesio
Symphonia - SY 06224 (© 2007) (47'30")

anon: Sicut ovis; Juan DE ANCHIETA (c1462-1523): In passione Domini; Juan ESQUIVEL (c1563 - na 1613): O vos omnes; Francisco GUERRERO (1528-1599): O Domine Jesu Christe; Sancta Maria; Alonso LOBO (c1555-1617): Vivo ego, dicit Dominus; Cristóbal DE MORALES (c1500-1553): Peccantem me quotidie; Per tuam crucem; Juan NAVARRO (c1550-1580): Dicebat Jesus; Francisco DE PEÑALOSA (c1470-1528): Sancta mater istud agas; Martín DE RIVAFRECHA (c1479-1528): Anima mea liquefacta est; Julian ROMERO (b 1967): Deus meus; Ecce lignum crucis; Ego dormivi; In monte Oliveti; Tomás Luis DE VICTORIA (c1548-1611): Animam meam dilectam; Ecce quomodo moritur; Eram quasi agnus

Alena Dantcheva, soprano; Alessandro Carmignani, alto; Gianluca Ferrarini, tenor; Marco Scavazza, baritone; Enrico Bava, bass

The music for Passiontide from the Spanish renaissance performed by the ensemble Daltrocanto is ordered according to the stations of the Via Crucis, also called Via Dolorosa or, in English, the Stations of the Cross. According the the Catholic Encyclopedia these names are used "to signify either a series of pictures or tableaux representing certain scenes in the Passion of Christ, each corresponding to a particular incident, or the special form of devotion connected with such representations." In this case the term is used in the latter sense. "The object of the Stations is to help the faithful to make in spirit, as it were, a pilgrimage to the chief scenes of Christ's sufferings and death, and this has become one of the most popular of Catholic devotions. It is carried out by passing from Station to Station, with certain prayers at each and devout meditation on the various incidents in turn."

This disc is a musical pilgrimage, in which every station is connected to a motet. In addition, as Dario Tabbia explains in the very short notes in the booklet, "the texts have been chosen imagining each motet pronounced by a character present at the stations of the cross". This means that we meet here - apart from Jesus himself - Pilate, Simon of Cyrene, Mary Magdalena, Peter and Judas - all mentioned by the Gospels, but also Veronica and a wayfarer, mythological figures which don't appear in the Gospels. Moreover, the connection between the motets and the characters is also up for discussion, as when it is suggested that Simon of Cyrene is a follower of Jesus, which the Bible doesn'n give us any reason to assume.

Like I said the notes in the booklet are very short, which means that it doesn't give any information about the composers. In this review I'll list the programme as it is performed on this disc, with some information regarding the composers, if necessary. There is no need to tell anything about the likes of De Victoria or Morales who belong to the most famous masters of the Spanish renaissance, but the programme also contains motets by unknown composers like De Peñalosa and De Rivafrecha.

The first station is "Jesus is condemned to death". Here the motet Dicebat Jesus by Juan Navarro is sung. He was a tenor in Málaga cathedral when Morales was maestro de capilla there. Later he was appointed as maestro de capilla in Valladolid cathedral. The text is from the Gospel of John: "Jesus said to the crowds of Jews and high priests: 'Which of you can accuse me of a crime?'"

Station 2, "The condemned Jesus embraces the cross", is connected to a motet by De Victoria, Eram quasi agnus innocens: "I was a lamb, brought to the slaughter". It is from the Tenebrae Responsoria for Maundy Thursday.

Station 3: "Jesus falls for the first time". Here the anonymous motet Sicut ovis is performed: "As a lamb brought to the slaughter he let himself be tortured", a text from Isaiah.
Guerrero is one of the greatest composers of the Spanish renaissance, who wrote very expressive music. That is well proven by Sancta Maria succurre miseris (Holy Mary come in help of the unfortunate) - a text by Bishop Fulbert of Chartres (around 1000) - which is sung to the 4th Station: "Jesus encounters his mother".

Another great Spanish composer was Cristóbal de Morales, who for a considerable part of his life was a member of the Capella Sistina in Rome. He composed a large amount of music much of which has been published in Rome. His motet Per tuam crucem is sung to Station 5: "Simon of Cyrene carries the cross": "By your cross save us, Christ the redeemer".

Martín de Rivafrecha's name is spelled in various ways: on this disc it is "de Ribaflecha". I use the first spelling given in New Grove. he wasn't very succesful in the various positions he held, but was appreciated as a composer. His motet Anima mea liquefacta est is one of three motets on texts from the Song of Songs and one of the only five compositions by De Rivafrecha which have been preserved. It is sung here at Station 6: "Veronica dries Jesus' face". The text says: "My heart melts at the voice of my lover! I have looked for him but I couldn't find him".

Station 7: "Jesus falls for the second time", is linked to Animam meam dilectam by Victoria: "I have delivered my soul into the hands of the enemies". It is again from the Tenebrae Responsoria, this time for Good Friday.

Station 8, "Jesus meets the pious women of Jerusalem", is connected to the motet Vivo ego by Alonso Lobo: "I live, says the Lord, I do not wish for the death of sinners, but that they turn from their ways and live". Lobo was assistant to Guerrero at Seville cathedral, where he became maestro de capilla in 1604, when he acted in the same capacity at Toledo cathedral.

We return to Morales at Station 9: "Jesus falls for the third time". The motet is Peccantem me quotidie, a text from the Office of the Dead: "The fear of death anguishes me".

At Station 10, "Jesus stripped of his garments", a text from the Lamentations of Jeremiah is sung, O vos omnes: "All of you who pass this way, look and see if any pain can be comparable to my pain". Liturgically this text is the fifth responsory for the Matins of Holy Saturday. The composer is Juan Esquivel, another lesser known master of the Spanish renaissance. He was a pupil of Juan Navarro and held the position of maestro di capilla in several cathedrals. His music was sung well into the 17th century in Spain and Portugal and in Latin America.

Station 11: "Jesus is nailed to the cross". Here we hear stanzas 6 and 7 from the Stabat mater, which are set as an independent motet by Francisco de Peñalosa. He belongs to the earliest composers in the programme, and a considerable number of his compositions have survived. In 1498 he was appointed at the Aragonese royal chapel. He also sang a number of years in the papal choir in Rome. Both in Spain and in Rome he was highly appreciated as a composer.

At Station 12, "Jesus dies on the cross", In passione Domini by Juan de Anchieta is performed. This text is a hymn by Bonaventura (1221 - 1274): "In the passion of our Lord (...) let us remember Christ's shameful suffering". De Anchieta was a contemporary of De Peñalosa and De Rivafrecha, and served Queen Isabella and later her son Don Juan. Not many compositions have been preserved.

Station 13, "Jesus' body is taken down from the cross", puts Joseph of Arimathia into the limelight with O Domine Jesu Christe by Guerrero: "I adore you, O Lord Jesus, wounded on the cross, who drank vinegar and gall".

Lastly, Station 14: "Jesus is laid in the tomb". Here we turn again to Victoria, with his motet Ecce quomodo moritur: "Behold how the just man dies, and no one take it to heart", a text from Isaiah.

The last word is given to 'the Prophet', as he is called. He quotes Psalm 3, Ego dormivi: "I slept a deep sleep: and I rose again because the Lord took me to abide with him. Alleluia", an appropriate close to the programme.

This text is set by Julian Romero, a contemporary composer who also has set the text with which the programme opens: In monte Oliveti, marking the start of the 14 Stations: "Upon the mount of Olives Jesus prayed to his Father". Later on 'the Prophet' returns with Ecce lignum crucis: "Here is the wood from the cross from whence comes the salvation of the world", sung between the 11th and 12th Station. Between Stations 6 and 7 one of Jesus' words at the cross is sung, again set by Julian Romero: Deus meus, quia dereliquisti me? (My God, why have you forsaken me?).
Romero's idiom is modern, but is not too far out of step with the rest of the programme, and therefore doesn't harm the concept of this disc.

The five singers of Daltrocanto give fine performances. Their voices blend well and the singers are responsive to the various styles of composition and the different content of the texts. The connection of characters to the various motets may be not always convincing, the concept of this disc is original and well thought-over. The short playing time is a bit disappointing, but it is the consequence of the concept of the programme. The programme notes are very short and don't give any information about the composers or the music. The lyrics are printed, though, with an English translation.

Johan van Veen (© 2009)

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