After the resurgence of interest in the music
of the Spanish renaissance that gripped the early music scene
through the early 1990s the "next big thing" was always
going to be either Eastern Europe or Latin America. Eastern
Europe is still waiting and the riches of the Spanish colonisation
of America are now being brought to renewed attention. Given
that Mexico had a well endowed Cathedral establishment from
the 16th century onwards, it would only be surprising if there
was not much music to be re-discovered. What there is is a rich
treasure trove of works by composers of whom we have never heard,
many of the early ‘maestri’ being Spaniards or Italians who
emigrated, their successors often being born and bred in Spanish
America. The music that they left is indistinguishable in quality
from that which was being produced in Europe at the same time,
and often has a distinctly original voice, as found here in
the 8 part Mass with violins by Manuel de Sumaya.
Sumaya is probably the greatest of the native
born composers to have become "Maestro di Capila"
at Mexico Cathedral and his works show much craftsmanship and
elegance. The same can be said of the two works by Francisco
López-Capillas; double choir writing of some dexterity.
The Misa (sic) Brevis by Hernando Franco is a considerably
less inspiring work, interesting only for its historical importance
in that Franco was the first Maestro of Mexico Cathedral.
The music is interesting, but the performances
on this disc do not do it full justice. The singing of La Cappella
Cervantina is mostly competent, but they are no match for the
likes of the Tallis Scholars or The Cardinall’s Music, both
of whom have recorded Spanish, if not yet Latin American, renaissance
repertoire. There are some nice moments from the sopranos, but
throughout the disc the basses lack any sense of focus in their
production and the tenors are, at best never quite at home in
any upper register work, at worst, just awful. (Sample 1) The
interpretations are well thought out, but the singers are generally
on the flat side of dull and really just not up to the job and
this is a shame, especially since there is some very nice violin
playing marred by the voices. (Sample 2) Their director, Horacio
Franco, is the recorder player of the anonymous sonata - which
he plays imaginatively, helped by well wrought continuo from
Jose Suarez at the organ. It is a pity that he is recorded too
closely and finds difficulty in regulating his articulation
of high notes; his recorder has plenty of attractive "chiff"
but exaggerated articulation at the end of the last movement
allows this to become "crack" instead.(Sample 3)
The programme notes are informative, if a little
verbose, but the biographical notes leave one wanting to dislike
the performers, so egomaniacal is their constant praise. Horacio
Franco apparently "appeared to those who happened to attend
one of his performances as a kind of inspired Till Eulenspiegel"
(!) This is pretentious nonsense arguably deserving of Till
Eulenspiegel’s unhappy fate. A little modesty Mr Franco! Fascinating
music, but these performances are not easily recommendable.