The French label K617 has been undertaking
a number of collaborative projects with musicians from Central
and South America and the results have seen the recording of
some amazing repertoire and the uncovering of some seriously
neglected compositional talents. Tomas Torrejon y Velasco was
just such a talent. He was a musician in the service of the
Count of Lemos, who spent much time at the court of (Spanish-ruled)
Naples in the mid-17th century before being appointed Viceroy
of Peru, whence he took Torrejon in 1667. Within ten years Torrejon
was choirmaster of the Cathedral in Lima, a post of unrivalled
musical importance in America at that time.
The music of Tomas Torrejon y Velasco on this
disc has been carefully edited and this exhaustive background
bears fruit in allowing a really confident interpretation based
on known scorings and deployment of forces. The singing and
instrumental playing of the Ensemble Elyma is first rate, helped
in particular by the acquisition of the cornett player Jean
Tubery of ‘La Fenice’, whose ornamental decorations are marvellous.
(sample 1). Gabriel Garrido also gets the best out of his singers,
especially some wonderful sopranos who sound completely at home
in this repertoire. There is more of a problem with the Coro
de Niños de Córdoba. There probably were children
singing in the Cathedral at Lima, but in the mid/late 17th century
voices were breaking a lot later than nowadays and this choir
sounds like it is made of young children. To much of an extent
this is the fault of the training of those children; they may
be young, but they don’t have to sound young.
Fortunately they are not used too frequently, as they are almost
permanently flat and the vowel production is anything but uniform,
resulting in a grating choral timbre. (Sample 2) In the earlier
pieces on the disc, representing examples of Torrejon’s secular
music, the sopranos, who carry most of the interesting solo
work, more than make up for the deficiencies of the children.
The names of individual soloists are not mentioned so it is
impossible to say who is who, but this doesn’t matter too much
as the quality is consistent from all of the Ensemble Elyma
singers. (Sample 3). These secular works in particular have
a lot going for them.
At 47 minutes this disc is definitely on the
short side, and the music is interesting enough that a couple
more pieces would have been welcome. The packaging is attractive
and a large booklet has useful information and really stylish
design. It is such a pity then that the English translations
are completely abysmal. The notes tell us that it is not hard
to picture Torrejon "through all the documents thanks to
which all western man can leave proves of his crossing in life,
and that we can superpose [sic] on his compositions..."
What?! This is the work of Guy Strudwick, apparently a translator,
and K617 needs someone a lot better to bring the contents of
the booklet up to the standard of its appearance. Very disappointing
in what is otherwise a nice disc of some excellent music.