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"Ay Amor - Zarzuelas" (Barroco Español, vol. 2)

Al Ayre Español
Dir: Eduardo López Banzo

rec: Sept 21 - 24, 1994, Amsterdam, Waalse Kerk
deutsche harmonia mundi - 05472 77 336 2 / 82876 601612 (R) (© 1995/2004) (61'41")
Liner-notes: E//D/F; lyrics - translations: E/D/F
Cover & track-list

anon: Cancion Franzesa; Diferencias sobre la gayta; Discurso de ecos; Ruede la Vola; Sebastián DURON (1660-1716): Veneno es de amor la envidia (extr); El impossible mayor en amor le venze Amor (extr); Antonio DE LITERES (1673-1747): Azis y Galatea (extr); El estrago en la fineza o Jupiter y Semele (extr); Los Elementos (extr)

Marta Almajano, soprano; Jordi Ricart, baritone; Paolo Grazzi, oboe; Barry Sargent, Gerold Klaus, violin; Richte van der Meer, cello; Richard Myron, double bass; Juan Carlos Rivera, theorbo, guitar; Mike Fentross, chitarrone, guitar; Eduardo Lopez Banzo, harpsichord; Tino di Geraldo, percussion; Luz Martín León-Tello, castanets

The time around 1600 in Spain is known as the 'Golden Era'. However, in the middle of the 17th century it had lost its lustre. The musical style in Spain had always been rather conservative. When elsewhere in Europe the seconda pratica became predominant, Spanish composers were still holding to the prima pratica of the Renaissance. And the influence of the 'new' Italian music, which was noticeable in many European countries, was almost non-existent in Spain. It lasted until the 1760's when Italian singers and players made their appearance in Spain. It was the head of the government, Juan José of Austria, half-brother of King Charles II, who was mainly responsible for that. In the following decades composers integrated elements of Italian music in their works. As a result we see recitatives and da-capo arias, a stronger relationship between text and music and the use of baroque affetti. Another phenomenon was the introduction of the oboe.

In the recording under review here two key figures of the new development in Spanish music are represented with extracts from some of their works. These are so-called zarzuelas, a mixture of speech and singing, which usually contained some comic elements. The zarzuelas by Sebastián Durón and Antonio de Literes reflect the influence of Italian music, but upheld the traditional elements of the zarzuela, such as the sequences of estribillo y coplas (chorus and verses).

The Italian influence is manifesting itself in the relationship between text and music, such as the imitation of trumpets by voice and violins in the aria 'Suenen los clarinos' from De Literes's zarzuela Los Elementos: "Let the trumpets sound", followed by strong contrasting affetti on the lines "and in tender clauses and smooth voices may the sweet violins send their echos". A strong tenderness is also reached in the aria 'Ay amor' from the same piece. The aria 'Yo no puedo' from Durón's zarzuela El impossible mayor has a lamento character with chromatic descending chords. Another fine example of Durón's elaboration of the Italian style is the aria patético 'Ondas, riscos' from Veneno es de amor la envidia, which endes with the lines "I was born to beauty and to destruction", in which the violins are playing with sordino.

In between are some instrumental pieces, which all come from the five books of instrumental works which were collected and sometimes transcribed by Martín y Coll, organist in Madrid in the early 18th century. The four items on this disc have all been adapted to be played by an instrumental ensemble. That Spanish music life also had got acquainted with French music is demonstrated by the inclusion of the Cancion Franzesa, which has its origins in Lully's ballet L'Impatience.

This recording was made in 1994, and some of the pieces of which extracts are performed here, have been recorded in complete form later on. However, this disc is still worth having, in particular for those who are not familiar with this kind of music and don't know whether they are going to like it. This reissue at budget price is an excellent opportunity to get acquainted with this repertoire. It will be difficult to find a better ensemble than Al Ayre Español to perform this kind of music. Marta Almajano is perhaps the best interpreter of Spanish baroque music ever, and her singing is stylish and lively, dramatic but also sweet whenever that is needed. The playing of the ensemble is brilliant, energetic with good contrasts in tempo and dynamics.

In short, this is a superb recording, which I wholeheartedly recommend. But beware, if you listen to this there is a good chance you want to have much more. So watch your wallet.

Johan van Veen (© 2004)

Relevant links:

Al Ayre Español

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