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Josep MIR I LLUSSÀ (c1700 - 1764): Sacred works

Lluís Vilamajó, tenora
La Xantria (Pere Lluís Biosca); Vespres d'Arnadí (Dani Espasa)

rec: Nov 28 - Dec 2, 2010 & Jan 26, 2011, Vilafranca del Penedès, Auditori Municipal
musièpoca - MEPCD-004 (59'04")
Liner-notes: E/D/S/Cat; lyrics - no translations
Cover & track-list

Lauda Jerusalem in a minor; Missa a 8 in D; Quomodo obscuratum esta; Stabat mater in g minor

[La Xantria] Marta Cordomi, Glòria Fernàndez, Anna Rey, Marta Rodrigo, Isabel Señas, soprano; Elisenda Arquimbau, contralto; Húgo Bolivar, Pedro Manuel Beriso, alto; David Montserrat, César Polo, tenor; Josep Ramon Olivé, baritone; Elias Benito, Victor Vilca, bass

On this site you will find several reviews of discs which are devoted to Spanish music of the 18th century. This bears witness to the increased interest in this part of Spanish music history. As this is a relatively new development and this repertoire has been neglected for a long time, it is not surprising that every now and again a new name turns up, whose output is hardly represented on disc or even not at all. Josep Mir i Llussà is certainly one of them; the article on this composer in New Grove is very short and doesn't give much information about his life and work. The liner-notes of the present recording increase our knowledge, although it is unfortunate that the English translation is pretty bad and sometimes completely unintelligible. I hope you can read Spanish; the German translation is also much better than the English.

Mir i Llussà was born in Catalonia, probably in Solsona, somewhere between 1700 and 1704. Nothing is known about his musical education and the first stages of his career. The first sign of his activities dates from 1731 when he was appointed maestro de capilla of Segovia Cathedral. Here he remained until 1741, when he was appointed in the same capacity at Valladolid Cathedral. Another ten years later he was appointed as magisterio de capilla in the Monasterio de la Encarnación in Madrid. Here he remained until his death; he was succeeded by Antonio Rodriguez de Hita.

The oeuvre of Mir i Llussà comprises almost exclusively sacred, and in particular liturgical, music. It found a wide dissemination and was even performed in the New World. In the early 19th century some of his compositions were still copied and performed. The programme of this disc shows the various aspects of his output. It begins with a setting of the mass which reflects the style of the early 18th century. In the liner-notes it is rated as part of the style which is called "colossal baroque", with a full choir and orchestra, including brass, and written in a dense contrapuntal style. We find such pieces also in the oeuvre of Italian composers such as Perti and Colonna. This mass is for two choirs, the first of which comprises solo voices. There are no solo arias, just passages for one or several solo voices.

The Stabat mater is also for eight voices; it is an arrangement of a four-part setting by José Martínez de Arce (c1660-1721) who had been maestro de capilla in Valladolid and Segovia, those towns where Mir i Llussà had also been active. It seems likely that he reworked this piece during his time in one of those, either as a tribute to his predecessor or because the popularity of this work. It is written in the stile antico; the tutti are alternated with passages for a quartet of solo voices. There are also duets and a solo episode.

Very different is Quomodo obscuratum est, a setting of the second lesson for Holy Saturday from the Lamentations of Jeremiah. In its texture, for solo voice (tenor) and orchestra with an obbligato part for oboe, it has some similarities with the settings by Jan Dismas Zelenka, but stylistically this setting which dates from 1753 is much more modern, reflecting the influence of contemporary opera. That is especially notable in the extended coloraturas in the solo part, for instance at the Hebrew letter Daleth. The disc ends with a setting of Psalm 147, again for double choir - with solo episodes - and an orchestra of oboe, strings and bc. Stylistically it is more conservative than the Lamentation, and often one is reminded of psalm settings by Vivaldi.

This selection of four compositions by Josep Mir i Llussà has resulted in a compelling portrait of a composer who deserves the attention of modern performers. The quality of his music fully justifies a recording like this. I am happy to report that the interpretations are outstanding: a beautiful choir, fine soloists - especially Lluis Vilamajó in the Lamentation - and an orchestra with a bright and colourful sound. It seems to me that the Stabat mater is an interesting addition to the repertoire for Passiontide, considering its modest scoring and expressive qualities.

Johan van Veen (© 2013)

Relevant links:

La Xantria
Vespres d'Arnadí

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