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Tonos humanos

[I] "The Guerra Manuscript, Volume 1 - 17th Century Secular Spanish Vocal Music"
Isabel Monar, soprano; Manuel Vilas, harp

rec: July 11 - 12 & 14, 2007, Valga (Pontevedra), Auditorio
Naxos - 8.570135 (© 2011) (50'42")
Liner-notes: E/S; lyrics - no translations
Cover & tracklist

anon: Cansada imaginación; Cuidado, descuido; Mayor es mi dolor; No parezca rigor el desden; Oyeme, escuchame; Que corriendo y volando; Si la gloria de adorar; Juan HIDALGO (1614-1685): Credito es de mi decoro; Peces, fieras, aves; ¿Quien es amor?; ¿Quien son aquellos?; Rompe amor las flechas; José MARÍN (1619-1699): Que obstinarse en las sombras; Que pues muero y me matas

[II] José MARÍN (1619 - 1699): "Tonos humanos"
Felix Rienth, tenor; Manuel Vilas, harp

rec: Jan 2008, Pombeiro (Lugo), Església de San Vicente
la mà de guido - LMG 2101 (© 2010) (54'50")
Liner-notes: E/S/Cat; lyrics - no translations

Ahora que estáis dormida; Amante, ausente y triste; Apostemos niña que acierto; Bercebú cargue contigo; De Amarilis yo vi la beldad; Dicen que de Inés; Esta mi necia pasión; Mi señora Mariantaños; Niña como en tus mudanzas; No piense Menguilla; Ojos pues me desdeñáis; Para las indias de Clori; Pensamiento que en tu daño; Sepan todos que muero; Si quieres dar Marica en lo cierto; Todo eres contradicciones; Válgate amor por Gileta; Ya desengaño mío

It is often tought that 17th-century Spain was resisting any influence of the Italian style. To some extent that is correct, but only in the field of sacred music. In the secular repertoire the picture is a little different. In the first half of the 17th century it was still mostly written in polyphonic style, but in the second half a large repertoire of tonos humanos for solo voice and basso continuo came into existence. These two discs are devoted to this repertoire. The Naxos disc is the first which explores music from a manuscript with solo songs which was only discovered in the late 1990s.

The collection is known under the title of Manuscrito Guerra, after José Miguel de Guerra (1646-1722), scribe of the Royal Chapel from 1677 to shortly after 1680. It is likely the manuscript was copied around 1680. The quality of the paper and the precision with which the music was written known suggests that it was destined for royal or aristocratic circles. The collection comprises 111 folios with one hundred pieces. All are anonymous, but through a comparison with other sources the composers of a number of songs could be identified. It turned out that most of the main composers of secular songs of the 17th century are represented. Among them are Juan Hidalgo, José Marín, Juan de Navas, Cristóbal Galán, Juan Del Vado and Matías Ruiz.

Not all songs are written as independent compositions. Some are taken from theatrical works like zarzuelas, for instance by Hidalgo, one of the main composers of such works. Almost all tonos or tonadas are strophic, with a refrain. There are some exceptions. On this disc the refrain of the anonymous Si la gloria de adorar is missing. Credito es de mi decoro by Juan Hidalgo also has no refrain, but that could well be intentional, as it is from his comedy Pico y Canente.

One of the most prolific composers of tonos humanos was José Marín. Not that much is known about him. From 1644 to 1649 he sang as a tenor in the Royal Chapel. Then he went abroad, and after his return he was apparently involved in criminal activities and exiled. The largest source of his music is a collection of 51 tonos humanos, some of whose texts are taken from theatrical plays.

The tonos humanos are about "general themes related to love, heartbreak, jealousy, envy or disdain", Manuel Vilas writes in the liner-notes of the Naxos production. We have to take his word for it, because Naxos offers the lyrics on its website but hasn't done us the favour of providing translations. The booklet of the Marín disc includes the lyrics, but also omits translations. That is a big shame, because these songs are very fine music, and show great variety. It would have been great to be able to know what exactly these songs are all about.

Even so, it is no problem to really enjoy both discs. Isabel Monar, Felix Rienth and Manuel Vilas bring outstanding performances. Ms Monar has a very beautiful voice and is able to realise the more extraverted songs - for instance No parezca rigor el desden - just as well as the more intimate pieces, like Cansada imaginación. She performs the songs with great sensitivity and much differentation. The Siwss tenor Felix Rienth, who also has Spanish roots and is fluent in Spanish, does equally well. I like his flexible singing and the way he deals with the various songs. The last piece, Bercebú cargue contigo, contains strong contrasts, and he realises them convincingly.

The scoring of the basso continuo is not indicated, but musical and literary sources suggest either guitar or harp. Manuel Vilas has opted for the latter instrument, and that turns out to be a very good choice. It offers the possibility to adapt the realisation of the bass line according to the character of the songs.

The recordings have the right intimate atmosphere these songs require. In the case of the Marín disc the listener is well advised to turn down the volume control, in particular when listening through headphones, in order to experience that intimacy.

These two discs once again show the fine quality of the Spanish tonos humanos. I recommend them both, and I look forward to the next volume(s) of the Naxos project. And can we then have the translations, please?

Johan van Veen (© 2011)

Relevant links:

Felix Rienth

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