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LOVE AND RECONQUEST: Music from Renaissance Spain
ANON Rodrigo Martinez, Ay luna, Nina y vina, Que bonito nino, Virgen digna de honor, A los maytines era, Calabaza, no se.
Luys de NARVAEZ Pasavase; Cancion de emperador;
Juan del ENCINA Levante, Pascuel; Qu, es de ti, desconsolado; Hoy comamos y bebamos; Fata la parte;
Miguel de FUENLLANA De Antequera ale sl moro; Madonna mia; Fantazia de redoubles;
Diego ORTIZ Recercada primera;
Alonso MUDARRA Fantasia de pasos; Israel mira tus montes; Fantasia que contrahaze; Gentil cavallero;
Juan de ANCHIETA Con Amores.
Adrian WILLAERT A quand a quand.
Luis MILAN Fantasia No 8, Durandarte;
Josquin de PREZ- Mille Regretz
Fires of Love
Recorded at Crichton Collegiate Church Scotland February 2001
DELPHIAN DCD 34003 [70.56]

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.

Gary Higginson


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