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Joan ARANIÉS (c1580 - c1650): "El Sarao de la Chacona"

Nuevo Sarao
Dir: Rafael Bonavita

rec: 2012, Lleida, Studio L'Intèrpret Produccions
musièpoca - MEPCD-07 (© 2013) (63'27")
Liner-notes: E/D/F/S/Cat; lyrics - no translations

anon: Lanchas para baylar; San Juan de Lima con sus diferencias; Joan ARANIÉS: A la luz del díabc; Aquel niñobcd; Avecillas suavesbcd; Dígame un requiebrobc; Dulce desdéne; En dos lucientes estrellasbcd; Halconcillo nuevoc; Mi zagalad; Para recibir a Lisacd; Parten las galerasbcd; Pensamientos altosbd; Un sarao de la Chaconaabcd; Andrea FALCONIERI (1585?-1656): La suave melodia; Marco UCCELLINI (1603-1680): Sonata II detta La Luciminia contenta

Sources: Joan Araniés, Libro segundo de tonos y villancicos a una, dos, tres y quatro voces, 1624; Marco Uccellini, Sonate, correnti et arie; Andrea Falconieri, Il primo libro di Canzone, Sinfonie ... a uno, due e tre con il Basso Continuo, 1650

Laia Frigoléa, Mercedes Hernándezb, soprano; Marta Infante, contraltoc; David Hernández, tenord; Tomàs Maxé, basse; Raúl Orellana, violin; Oriol Aymat, cello; Manuel Vilas, harp; Rafael Bonavita, guitar; Pere Olivé, percussion

Very few music lovers will know the name of Joan Araniés, but one of his compositions has become quite famous thanks to the concerts and recordings of Hespèrion XX. It is the piece which gave this disc its title, El Sarao de la Chacona. It is of some historical importance as it is the first chaconne for voices by any Spanish composer which appeared in print. It is part of the collection which is the subject of this disc and which was published in 1624 in Rome.

The latter fact may surprise. However, at that time Araniés was in the service of the Spanish ambassador in Rome. The collection includes twelve tonos and villancicos for one to four voices and guitar. The lively rhythms which are so characteristic for this kind of music may suggest that they belong to the category of 'popular' music, but that is certainly not the case. The title of the chaconne indicates for which occasions these pieces were written: sarao means soirée. This is music for domestic performances among the higher echelons of society. Another reason that this collection was printed in Rome is that at this time the Spanish guitar was quite popular outside Spain. That was not only the case in Italy, but also in France as the activities - for instance the publication of a treatise on playing the guitara alla spagnola - of Luis de Briceño show.

The title of the collection indicates that it is the second book; the first book seems to have been lost, but it is assumed that several pieces which have been preserved in manuscript could have been part of that collection. Otherwise no music from Araniés' pen is known. We also know very little about himself; the year and place of his birth are unknown, and so is the year of his death. As far as his career is concerned, it is known that from 1614 to 1620 he worked as mestro de capilla in the cathedral of Lleida. He then went to Rome, and he probably returned to Spain shortly before the ambassador did the same. From 1627 to 1634 and again for a short period of time in 1649 he worked as mesto de capilla of the cathedral of La Seu d'Urgell.

The pieces from the 1624 collection have features which we find in many works of this kind by Spanish composers: lively rhythms, mostly derived from dances, many melismas and percussionistic elements which are here emphasized by the use of percussion instruments. The texts are mostly anonymous; one is from the pen of Lope de Vega, the most famous Spanish playwright of the 17th century. What exactly these texts are about is impossible for me to tell: the booklet includes the lyrics, but omits any translations. That is especially disappointing as this is the first recording of the complete collection and there are no alternatives to turn to for translations.

These pieces are for voices and guitar, but as one can see in the list of performers there are also other instruments involved. The reasons for that are not discussed in the booklet. The use of a harp is the least surprising: it is known that in Spanish music the guitar and the harp were more or less interchangeable in the accompaniment of songs. The role of the cello is more questionable: if a string bass is needed to support the harp or guitar, a viola da gamba or violone seem more likely choices, especially as the cello as we know it had not been invented yet. The violin regularly plays ritornelli between the stanzas. I would like to know what exactly is played: is there any indication for this in the score or are these ritornelli improvised? The programme is extended by instrumental pieces of about the same time. Raúl Orellana plays well, but his tone is not always very subtle.

However, the vocal performances are the main aspect of this recording. Generally speaking the singers deliver fine performances. To what extent they explore the expressive qualities of the texts is impossible to say, because of a lack of translations. The lively rhythms certainly come off. The voices blend well, but the contributions by Marta Infante are a bit of a problem. Her incessant vibrato damages the quality of the ensembles, including the Chacona which closes this disc. This piece doesn't have the same verve here as in Hespèrion XX's performances, but the modest line-up of this ensemble is probably historically more correct than Hespèrion's larger forces.

This disc is very interesting and an important addition to the discography of Spanish music of the 17th century. Lovers of Spanish music shouldn't miss it, but as the music is infectious it should have a far wider appeal.

Johan van Veen (© 2014)

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