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CD reviews

Tonos humanos

[I] "Es el amor, ay, ay"
Regina Iberica
Dir: Laura Casanova
rec: Sept 2007, Madrid, Conservatorio Profesional de Música de Getafe (Auditorio)
Verso - VRS 2056 (© 2007) (59'33")

[II] "Entre el Ciela e y el Enfierna"
Laberintos Ingeniosos
rec: June 11 - 15, 2007, Paris, Église évangelique allemande
ZigZag Territoires - ZZT909301 (© 2009) (58'40")

[I] anon: Ay, amargas soledades; Es el amor, ay, ay; Juan ARAÑES (?-c1650): Digame un requiebro; Sebastián DURÓN (166-1716): Sosieguen, descansen; Juan HIDALGO (1614-1685): Ay amor, ay ausencia; Ay triste del que a sus rayos; Ay, que sí, ay, que no; Dulce ruiseñor; ¿Por qué más iras buscas?; Clemente IMAÑA (fl 2nd half 17th C?): Atiende y da; Filis, yo tengo un dolor; José MARÍN (c1619-1699): No sé yo cómo es; José DE NEBRA (1702-1768): Ay, Dios aleve; Juan ROMEO (fl c1675?): Ay de quien de amor es el fuego; Juan SERQUEIRA DE LIMA (?-c1726): Mares, montes, vientos; Tomás DE TORREJÓN Y VELASCO (1644-1728): Cuando el bien que adoro; Juan DEL VADO (c1625-1691): Con amor se paga el amor
[II] Francisco GUERAU (1649-1722): Gallardas; Marionas; Passacalles por el 1er tono; José MARÍN (c1619-1699): Al son de los arroyuelos; Aquella sierra nevada; De amores y de ausencias; La verdad de Perogrullo; Mi señora Mariantaños; Montes del Tajo; Ojos, pues me desdeñais; Sepan todos que muero de un desdén; Si quieres dar, Marica, en lo cierto; Tortilla, si no es por amor

[I] María Jesús Prieto, soprano; Miguel Bernal, tenor; Guillermo M. Concepción, cello; Laura Casanova, harpsichord; with Sara Ruiz, viola da gamba
[II] Lambert Climent, tenor; Xavier Díaz-Latorre, guitar; Pedro Estevan, percussion

It is generally assumed the Italian style which was spreading over Europe during the 17th century didn't have any followers in Spain. It is certainly true that there are few traces of the Italian style in the sacred and instrumental music in Spain at that time, but there was one aspect of Italian music which was finding its supporters, and that was the writing for one or more solo voices with basso continuo. It was in secular music and in music for the theatre that composers used this style as the disc of the ensemble Regina Iberica shows.

But very few specimens of this style have been preserved before the last third of the 17th century. The virtually only early representative of this genre is Juan Arañes, who is included in this programme, together with some anonymous pieces. But most of the music on this disc was written in the about 60 years around 1700. Some are indepedent songs, others are taken from works for the theatre. Juan Hidalgo, for instance, was the most important composers of theatre music. Ay amor, ay ausencia comes from a play which is attributed to Pedro Calderón de la Barca (1600-1681), whereas Ay, que sí, ay, que no is taken from a zarzuela by Francisco de Avellaneda (1625?-1684). Early in the 18th century the most prominent composer for the theatre was Sebastian Durón. Sosieguen, descansen is from the zarzuela Salir el amor del mundo.

This disc is a mixed baggage of famous and hardly-known composers. To the first category belong, apart from Hidalgo and Durón, José Marín and Tomás de Torrejón y Velasco. The latter is best known for his opera La púrpura de la rosa which has been recorded several times. Among the latter is Juan Serqueira de Lima, about whom nothing is told in the programme notes. According to New Grove he was a guitarist and harpist of Portuguese birth who worked in Madrid. Little is also known about Juan del Vado nor about Clemente Imaña. There is some uncertainty about the identity of Juan Romeo; it is suggested he could be identical with Juan Romero, one of the better-known masters from the third quarter of the 17th century.

The tonos were sung in the theatre, as indicated before, but also in the homes of the aristocracy and bourgeoisie. Gerardo Arriaga, in his programme notes, states that there is great variety among the metric forms of Spanish poetry, but that in the tonos only a few of them are used: "with very few exceptions, they are either romances with a refrain, or letrillas, while some, romances with a concluding letrilla, mix the two metric forms. The musical structure os overwhelmingly two-part: a strophic verse section, with just one melody for the poem's various strophes, and another, the refrain, with just one text." This strophic character means that there is not that much room for text illustration. Only in the refrain some of this may appear. "Exaggerating a little, it might be said that the sonorous ideal for the verses is for the text to be recited, and for the refrains to be sung".

One has to take Mr Arriaga's word for the lack of text illustration, since the booklet doesn't give translations of the lyrics, just a short synopsis of every piece. This lack of translations makes it hard to fully appreciate the poems and the way the composers have put them to music. And that is also one of the reasons I found it hard to keep my concentration while listening. Another reason is the lack of variety here. Considering the fact some of the songs were written for the theatre and others for the salon, wouldn't that ask for a more differentiated approach to the songs? The songs for the theatre are performed with too much intimacy. This, and considering the fact that all poems are strophic and almost all of them are about love, one is well advised not to listen to this disc at a stretch, but pick and choose some items from the programme and return to it at a later time.

Let me haste to say that María Jesús Prieto and Miguel Bernal have nice voices which match well in the duets, and the instrumentalists provide good support. And as this repertoire is still largely ignored and the music is nice to listen to, I recommend this disc, probably more to those with a special interest in Spanish music than to the early music aficionadoes at large. It would be nice if Spanish productions which are also geared to the international market would contain proper translations of all lyrics. Without them it is difficult to expect people without a good knowledge of Spanish to really appreciate this repertoire.

One of the composers the ensemble Regina Libera has included in its programme is José Marín. The second disc is completely devoted to his songs, with the addition of three guitar pieces by Francisco Guerau. Marín was "renowned in Spain and abroad for his rare skill in the composition and performance of music", according to La Gaceta de Madrid when it reported his death in 1699. But this was only one side of the man. During his life the papers reported about him being found guilty of theft and murder. He was ordained priest in Rome, sang in the royal chapel of Philip IV and later in the royal monastery of the Encarnación. After a period of repentance for his crimes his ecclesiastical licences were restored and he worked as a musician in Madrid.

Marín has written a number of tonos humanos most of which (51) are preserved in a manuscript in the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge. They are remarkable for several reasons. First, there is no basso continuo part but rather a written-out accompaniment for five-course guitar. This practice was last applied in the vihuela repertoire of the 16th century.
Secondly, harmony is used for expressive reasons. There are notable harmonic progressions and chromaticism in some of his songs. On this disc Que ben canta un ruiseñor and Aquella sierra nevada should be especially mentioned.

The approach of the artists on this disc is quite different from that of Regina Iberica. Here the style of performance is very theatrical, although there is some differentiation between the more intimate and the extraverted songs. "I have structured the programme in three 'days', because this is the virtual period of the action of the seventeenth-century plahys with which this music is so closely linked. Let us hope that the beauty of these tonos humanos will encourage stage directors and producers to include them in their future adaptations of Spanish classical theatre, so that they may be restored to their rightful place", Xavier Díaz-Latorre writes in his programme notes. But were all these songs meant to be sung in the theatre? I feel that some songs could do with a still more intimate approach.

The acoustics also play a role here: there is quite some reverberation, and this seems to me not appropriate for songs to be performed in the salons, but I think even in the theatre the acoustics are mostly a little drier than in this recording.
But I would like to underline that these performances in itself are excellent. Lambert Climent is a very good and expressive singer, which can be fully appreciated thanks to the full translations of the Spanish lyrics. Xavier Díaz-Latorre gives splendid support and also plays the three guitar solos very well. Pedro Estevan only shows up in a handful of songs, and in all cases the addition is probably not necessary, but justifiable.

Johan van Veen (© 2009)

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