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"Un Niño nos es naçido - Christmas music of Spain and Latin America from the 16th and 17th centuries"

Ensemble Phoenix Munich
Dir: Joel Frederiksen

rec: march 18 - 20, 2017, Achern (D), Alte Kirche, Fautenbach
deutsche harmonia mundi - 19075802592 (© 2018) (70'33")
Liner-notes: E/D/ES; lyrics - translations: E/D/[ES]
Cover, track-list & booklet

[in order of appearance] Antonio DE CABEZÓN (1510-1566): Fabordones del 4º tono; Tomás Luis DE VICTORIA (1548-1611): O magnum mysterium; anon: Ríu ríu chíu; Alonso MUDARRA (c1510-1580): Fantasía X; Juan DEL ENZINA (1468-1529/30): ¡Oh Reyes Magos benditos!; Cristóbal DE MORALES (c1500-1553): An tantae Nativitatis; Diego ORTIZ (c1510-c1570): Recercada III (Passamezzo moderno); Francisco GUERRERO (1528-1599): Niño Dios d'amor herido; Los Reyes siguen la estrella; Luys DE NARVÁEZ (1505-1549): Diferencias sobre Guárdame la vacas; anon: Yo me soy la morenica; Dadme albricias; Un niño nos es naçido; Gaspar FERNANDES (1566-1629): Vaya la princesa, vaya; anon: La Folia; Bartomeu CÀRCERES (16th c): La Trulla; Lucas Ruiz DE RIBAYAZ (fl c1650): Pabanas; José DE CASCANTE (c1640-1702): Oiga niño mio de mi corazón; Juan DE ARAÚJO (1646-1712): Ay andar, andar

Maria Andrea Parias, soprano; Petra Noskaiová, mezzo-soprano; Andrés Silva, Manuel Warwitz, tenor; Joel Frederiksen, bass, vihuela; Andreas Haas, renaissance flute; Domen Marincic, viola da gamba; Johanna Seitz, harp; Paul Kieffer, vihuela, guitar; Bruno Caillat, percussion

Every year sees the release of a number of Christmas discs. With a bit of luck, some of them include repertoire that is unfamiliar or comprise at least some pieces that are not that well-known. That is the case with the present disc, which includes some items that are fairly familiar, but largely consists of pieces most music lovers don't know or that are at least seldom performed. The charm of this disc is that the way it has been put together, is original, but makes good sense. The performers have taken some freedom in the way they perform the selected pieces, but at the time this music was written, only liturgical pieces and compositions such as madrigals had a fixed form. Quite a few are rooted in the world of what we call 'traditional' music.

What is presented under the title of "Un niño nos es naçido" (A Child for us is Born) and summarised as "Christmas music of Spain and Latin America from the 16th and 17th centuries" is in fact a journey to Bethlehem, to find the new-born King. The journey starts in Spain and ends in Latin America. Most instrumental items are not specifically connected to Christmas, but can serve to connect them. They are at least giving us an impression of the musical culture in Spain and the New World.

One of the features of Advent and Christmas is that it has not only been celebrated in church, but is also very much part of popular culture. That is documented at the very beginning of the programme. An instrumental piece by Cabezón is followed by one of Tomás Luis de Victoria's best-known motets, O magnum mysterium. Next we hear one of the better-known pieces in the programme, the villancico Ríu ríu chíu, by an unknown composer; it has been suggested that it is from the pen of Mateo Flecha, but Bartomeu Càrceres is also a possibility. Today this piece is sung by choirs and in the United Kingdom it has become well-known through the Advent and Christmas celebrations by the Choir of King's College Cambridge. This piece was originally part of a songbook, a so-called cancionero. Another songbook is the source of ¡Oh Reyes Magos benditos! by Juan del Enzina, in which we meet the three wise men. It does tell their story, but they are also asked for protection: "O blessed wise men of the East, since you are so beloved of God, protect me and speak for me!" Such a piece, like all villancicos, were not intended for ecclesiastical use. However, in the course of time they made their entrance into church, and the attempts of the ecclesiastical authorities to remove them from the liturgy, were rather unsuccessful.

With Cristóbal de Morales, we are in the church again. Ad tantae Nativitatis refers to the angels's announcing the birth of Jesus. Moráles is one of the main composers of the Spanish Golden Age, alongside Victoria and Guerrero. The latter is not represented here with liturgical music, for which he is almost exclusively known, but rather by two villancicos. Los Reyes siguen la estrella is about the wise men again. From the same songbook as Ríu ríu chíu are the three anonymous pieces that follow variations for vihuela by Narváez. Yo me soy la morenica is about a dark-skinned girl, and one immediately thinks here of the famous text from the Song of Songs, 'Nigra sum'. Dadme albricias refers to Adam and Eve: "Join me in jubilation, sons of Eve (...) because the new Adam has been born". Un niño nos es naçido, the piece which gave this disc its title, opens with the well-known words from Isaiah 9: "Unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given". The lasts stanza already refers to Jesus' passion.

The rest of the programme is devoted to music from Latin America. Gaspar Fernandes was from Portugal and settled in Guatemala, where he acted as organist. Vaya la princesa, vaya is about the woman as described by John in Revelation. La Trulla by Càrceres is a so-called ensalada, literally a salad, which is a sequence of different texts in the vernacular, and often of a satyrical character. It is quite long (here 24 minutes) and ends surprisingly with the doxology in Latin. More or less satyrical is also Oiga niño mio de mi corazón by José de Cascante. Ay andar, andar is an invitation to dance and celebrate the birth of Jesus: "Let Pascual play it again and again, for today he who gives us life is born".

This piece brings to a close a programme which is in many ways different from what most Christmas discs have to offer. This is a mixture of the sophisticated and the popular, alternated with instrumental pieces. The whole programme is performed with good taste. Frederiksen and his colleagues have avoided too demonstrative performances of the popular items in the way of exaggerated noise and overly fast tempi. Percussion is generally added with moderation. Only the long percussion solo in Càrceres' ensalada is disappointing, and something I don't quite understand. The motets by Victoria and Morales receive excellent performances. Frederiksen should consider recording Spanish polyphony with these singers, whose voices blend perfectly.

In short, this is a most entertaining and compelling Christmas disc, one which is well up for repeated listening. There is no dull moment here.

Johan van Veen (© 2019)

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