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"Cristal bello - Músicas a lo divino en la España y el México virreinal del siglo XVIII"

Alicia Amo, soprano
La Guirlande
Dir: Luis Martínez Pueyo

rec: July 2020, Épila (Zaragoza, ES), Palacio del Conde de Aranda
Vanitas - VA-16 (© 2021) (68'24")
Liner-notes: E/D/F/ES; lyrics - translations: E/D/F
Cover & track-list

Jaime CASELLAS (1690-1764): Inmenso amor; Francisco Hernández ILLANA (c1700-1780): Erizada la noche; Ignacio JERUSALEM Y STELLA (1707-1769): Cristal bello; Versos de 2° tono; Pietro Antonio LOCATELLI (1695-1764): Sonata for transverse flute and bc in g minor, op. 2,6; José DE NEBRA (1702-1768): Sonata de 8° tonoa; JUan Martín RAMOS (1709-1789): Siguema, pastor

Luis Martínez Pueyo, transverse flute; Lathika Vithanage, Aliza Vicente, violin; Ester Domingo, cello; Silvia Jiménez, double bass; Pablo FitzGerald, archlute, guitar; Joan Boronat, harpsichorda

During the first half of the 18th century, two developments took place in Europe. On the one hand, the birth of the galant idiom, which had its roots in Naples, and its dissemination across Europe. On the other hand, the evolution of the transverse flute into one of the most popular instruments. These developments were closely connected, as the flute was the ideal instrument to express the features of the galant idiom. The disc under review here brings them together in a programme of Spanish music, in which the transverse flute figures prominently. Apart from a sonata by Locatelli, it plays an obbligato part in the vocal items.

Spanish music of the 18th century enjoys a growing interest of performers these days. In recent years I have reviewed several recordings of such repertoire, with pieces by composers as José de Nebra, Francesco Corselli, Juan Francés Iribarren Echevarriá, José de Torres y Martínez Bravo and others. The present disc includes pieces by composers I have not heard of before.

He was one of several composers who were of Italian birth and moved to Spain, where they found a musical culture that was increasingly receptive to the Italian style. They, for their part, contributed to its dissemination. As some composers went to the New World, the Italian style, and with it the galant idiom, established itself there. Jerusalem was one of them: in 1742 he set sail to Mexico, where from 1749 until his death he acted as maestro de capilla of Mexico Cathedral. The programme opens with Cristal bello, a dacapo aria for the Holy Sacrament, scored for soprano, strings and basso continuo, with an obbligato part for the flute. Jerusalem's Versos de 2° tono are intended for the alternatim practice in the liturgy. Such pieces are known from Italian composers of the 16th and 17th centuries, and are mostly intended for organ, but these are among those which are scored for an instrumental ensemble.

With Locatelli, we stay in Mexico: a manuscript preserved in the Museo Nacional de Antropologia e Historia de México includes the complete set of twelve flute sonatas Op. 2 by the Italian master, who for the largest part of his life lived in Amsterdam. It attests to the dissemination of the Italian style in the New World. This is also documented by two discs, recorded by the ensemble La Fontegara México.

Returning to Spain, we meet someone who has received quite some interest recently: José de Nebra, who was born in Calatayud into a family of musicians. He received his first musical training from his father who was the organist of Cuenca cathedral and teacher of the choirboys. He would later be promoted to maestro de capilla of the cathedral. He moved to Madrid in 1719, where he worked as organist in a convent and then as a member of the chapel of an aristocratic family, where he became the colleague of Antonio de Literes. In 1724 he became organist of the royal chapel and in 1751 was appointed as the chapel's vice-maestro. In this capacity he had the duty of replacing the church music which had been lost in a fire at the royal palace in 1734. He showed his inclination for Italian music by suggesting the purchase of compositions by Neapolitan composers such as Alessandro Scarlatti and Leonardo Leo. He is represented her with only a short keyboard piece, which shows stylistic similarity to the keyboard sonatas by Domenico Scarlatti.

Jaime Casellas is lesser-known. He started his career in Catalonia, but moved to Toledo in 1733 where he became maestro de capilla at the Cathedral. There he introduced the Italian style and extended the orchestra with winds (flutes, oboes and horns). He was a prolific composer, and here we get an example of a tono, as it called, to the Holy Sacrament. Inmenso amor is a typical specimen of a cantada which mixes elements of the Italian cantata - recitatives and dacapo arias - and of the traditional Spanish villancico (coplas). Again, the flute has an obbligato part in this work.

Even lesser-known is Francisco Hernández Illana, who has no entry in New Grove. He was director of music at the Real Colegio Corpus Christi of Valencia as well as in the cathedrals of Astorga and Burgos. His oeuvre includes oratorios and an opera. Illana was an exponent of the Italian style. Erizada la noche is a cantata for Christmas, consisting of a recitative and an aria; the latter includes strong contrasts, which lends it a dramatic character. It opens with the phrase "With fury howls the wind, war of treacherous ice", and that is graphically depicted by the strings, and the basso continuo playing staccato.

The programme ends with a piece by Juan Martín Ramos, another unknown master, who did not get an entry in New Grove. He was organist and later maestro de capilla at Salamanca Cathedral. The fact that he is hardly known is surprising, considering that he wrote more than 700 works. It is a token of the huge backlog in the exploration of 18th-century Spanish music. Sigueme, pastor is a cantata for the matins service for the Epiphany, scored for soprano, transverse flute, strings and basso continuo, dating from 1772. It comprises one recitative and one aria; the latter documents the modern style in that the baroque principle of a unity of Affekt has been abandoned, as the two sections are in different tempo and mood.

It brings to a close a quite fascinating journey through Spanish music of the 18th century, which attests to the dissemination of the Italian style, and in particular the galant idiom. It also shows that there is still much to discover in this field, and this disc is an important contribution to our knowledge of European music history. Apart from that, the pieces included here are of excellent quality, and there is really no reason to neglect them. The performers have caught the character of the repertoire perfectly, and deliver incisive performances. Alicia Amo's interpretations are not devoid of expression, and that has to be appreciated. It is just a shame that often she uses too much vibrato. La Guirlande is a very fine ensemble and Luis Martínez is an outstanding player of the transverse flute.

On balance, despite my reservations with regard to Alicia Amo, I strongly recommend this disc, especially to those who have a more than average interest in music of the Spanish-speaking world.

Johan van Veen (© 2022)

Relevant links:

Alicia Amo
La Guirlande

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