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Jerónimo DE CARRIÓN (1660 - 1721): "Ah de los elementos"

Capilla Jerónimo de Carrión
Dir: Alicia Lázaro
rec: July & Sept 2007, Segovia, Real Academia de San Quirce
Verso - VRS 2058 (© 2007) (55'41")

A la salud de los Reyes; Ah de los elementos; Aves, ayres, fuentes; Ay tortolilla triste; Con el ayre ayrecoillo que corre; Con perlas la aurora; Gilguerillos, juguete festivo; Misa de Batalla del 8° tono

María del Mar Fernández Doval, Miryam Vincent, Carolina Martínez, soprano; Miguel Mediano, Miguel Bernal, Javier Corcuera, tenor; Emilio Gómez, baritone; Lluis Cill, Nuria Sanromà, cornett; Joaquim Guerra, bajón; Bárbara Sela, bassoon; Alba Fresno, vihuela de arco; Manuela Vilas, harp; Rodrigo Muñoz, percussion; José Ignacio Gavilanes, organ

The pioneer of early music in Spain, Jordi Savall, some time ago complained that so little was happening in his country in regard to the performance of early music. Not even the Spanish musical heritage of ages past was really appreciated. I have noticed more than once that musicians aren't always the most reliable sources in these matters: they so much concentrate on their own activities that what is happening elsewhere often seems to escape them. Over the years I have received discs with a wide variety of Spanish music by lesser-known ensembles and musicians which explore repertoire hitherto unknown. The present disc is a good example of this: its director, Alica Lázaro, is also the head of the Musical Research Section of the Don Juan de Bourbón Foundation, which is working on the recovery of the musical heritage of Segovia. As so often in Spain, cathedrals were the centre of music making, and that wasn't any different in Segovia.

The present disc concentrates on Jerónimo de Carrión, one of the most important masters of Segovia in the baroque era. He was born in Segovia and received his first musical education as a choirboy in the cathedral. From 1687 to 1690 he worked as maestro de capilla in Modoñedo Cathedral and then, having worked for less than a year in the same capacity in Orense Cathedral, he obtained the same post in Segovia Cathedral. Here he stayed the rest of his life. His oeuvre is large, consisting of four Masses, 28 Psalms, 7 Services and Lessons for the Dead, 6 Magnificats, 12 Lamentations, 16 motets and more than 500 villancicos.

What is characteristic for the musical practice in Spanish cathedrals is the extensive use of instruments, mostly wind, like shawm, cornett, sackbut and bassoon, but also low string instruments, lute, harp and percussion instruments, and, of course, the organ. These instruments could support the voices or take over some of the vocal parts, but they also could be used as a one of the choirs in a polychoral piece. As so often in Spanish music of the 17th (and 18th) century there is quite a difference between the pieces on Latin texts and compositions in the vernacular. The former are largely rooted in the contrapuntal style, sometimes with modern elements in regard to text expression, whereas the villancicos are more melodious and simpler in texture, even those which are polyphonic.

This disc presents a broad overview of two of the genres De Jerónimo has contributed to: a mass setting and 7 villancicos. In the Misa de Batalla the whole ensemble shows up. It is written for two choruses, and all voices are supported by one instrument. The bassoon - which at the time had replaced the sackbut - plays the bass in the second chorus. In the basso continuo we also find the organ, the harp and the vihuela de arco. In this mass the full splendour of Spanish church music is brought out.

The villancicos are quite different. Some are for one voice, others for a vocal ensemble, with either basso continuo or an instrumental ensemble. Con el ayre ayrecillo que corre and A la salud de los Reyes are written for Christmas, in which the shepherds and the 'three Kings' are figuring. Gilguerillos, juguete festivo is about the Holy Sacrament, Con perlas la aurora and Ah de los elementos are composed for Corpus Christi.

One can only be happy for undertakings like this as they reveal hitherto unknown treasures from the archives of Spanish cathedrals. At the same time one has to admit that the performances often are unsatisfying and show a number of shortcomings. That is the case here as well. The instrumentalists are playing well and give colour to the performances. But there is a lack of ensemble among the singers. Most voices are good as long as they sing alone, but they don't blend very well. In the first item of the programme, Con el ayre ayrecillo que corre the two sopranos don't match well, one of them is using far more vibrato than the other one, and there is also a lack of balance between them. In the Mass it is one of the tenors who has a quite penetrating voice - which I dont like anyway - and is too present within the ensemble.

I am not saying this is a bad recording, but it is just disappointing that music which is little-known - and therefore will not likely be available in better performances in the near future - isn't performed at the best possible level. It is therefore that I can only recommend this disc with some caution. It is probably people with a special interest in Spanish music who will be able to enjoy this disc despite the shortcomings of the performances.

Johan van Veen (© 2009)

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