There has been quite a spate of 16th Century
Spanish music on disc recently much of it chewing over familiar repertoire.
Twenty or thirty years ago it was quite acceptable to produce a recording
of this music in the form of a recital of variety as it were: a song,
a lute piece a duet etc. It did not have to have any particular structure.
Musica Reservata’s LP 'Music at the time of Christopher Columbus’ (Philips)
was a revelation in the late ’60s.
Recently a plan to a CD of renaissance music has seemed
preferable. The recent Collection ‘Cancionero’ from the Dufay Collective
(Avie AV 0005) is one example. I mention this because it includes some
similar pieces and is also on a recently formed record label. ‘Fires
of Love’ perform twenty-six short compositions but they do so without
any noticeable order or structure. However the idea behind this CD is
interesting and the booklet notes by Jonathan Hugh-Jones who sings bass
and plays recorder are quite outstanding in their clear explanation
of the music in its historical background and context.
The romantic city of Grenada had been captured in 1492
by Ferdinand and Isabel from the Moors who had made such an artistic
contribution to the Alhambra. After them Charles V and Philip II continued
to revitalise its life with a more Spanish culture. This collection
concentrates on tales of reconquest and courtly love and includes a
wide variety of styles.
The ‘Fires of Love’ consist of four young musicians
pictured in the booklet and includes a delightful and beautiful soprano
Frances Cooper whose vocal contribution is quite delicious. I enjoyed
her rendering of Mudarra’s passionate ‘Israel, mira tus montes’ and
of a more religious song, the anonymous ‘Virgin digna de honor’. I have
to admit that I am glad that she sings more often than the bass whom
I find dull and, to my ears, not always in tune. ‘Rodrigo Martinez’
a fun song about a ‘geese-herd’ (sic) is not a completely promising
start and the duetting of the two singers is not always successful.
Although they are more of a team in ‘Con Amores’ by Anchieta (d.1523)
this is the slowest performance of this enchanting song I have ever
heard. It is in 5-time and surely needs a light and lively touch so
that the unbalanced phrases delight the ear more easily. Also I must
add that the performance of the enchanting ‘Ay luna’ is possibly the
least interesting I have ever heard. It follows a performance pattern
found elsewhere a very slow start with vihuela accompaniment, then a
drum is introduced under the vihuela which improvises a little upon
the melody at a quicker speed before the voices enter.
The guitar and vihuela playing is poised and elegant.
Particularly fine here are the Fantasias by the great Luis Milan (d.1560)
and Mudarra. The ‘Pasavese’ is a Moorish melody of charm and interest
but lacks real authentic Spanish sparkle.
It is interesting to recall the cosmopolitan nature
of Spanish music c.1500. Josquin’s famous ‘Mille regretz’, in an arrangement
by Milan, is included as it was a particular favourite of Charles V.
Five of the songs however come from the ‘Cancionero Musical de Palacio’
known as the ‘Palace Songbook’ and another from the ‘Cancionero Columbina’.
Complete CDs of these songbooks have been recorded by Jordi Savall on
Astrée Audivis (E8763 and 8762) and I would say without hesitation
that they are in every way preferable. That’s not to say that this new
CD has nothing to commend it. I have already mentioned a few lovely
performances including some beautiful songs by Miguel de Fuenllana (d.1568).
I would also mention a fine, realistic and upfront recording in an excellent
church acoustic which I have not come across before. The first class
accompanying booklet with texts and clearly set out translations is
also well worth your attention.