> DACA El Parnasso [GH]: Classical Reviews- Aug 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Estevan DACA (1537-1590)
El Parnasso (1576): Villancicos and Fantasia
El Cortesano:-
Jose Hernandez Pastor, counter-tenor
Ariel Abramovich, vihuela
Recorded at the church of St. Michael Valladolid, Spain August 2001
ARCANA A316 [61.20]
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I was trying to work out what kind of music lover would purchase this CD. Well, let me give you four possible categories of listeners: 1. Do you enjoy renaissance music? 2. Spanish music? 3. Do you enjoy very fine counter-tenor singing? 4. Do you enjoy a perfect match of music and words? If any of these fit you, this seemingly esoteric CD on a particularly esoteric label will appeal.

The presentation of this CD is, as ever with Arcana, a thing of beauty in itself. The 48-page booklet opens out in a folding cardboard-edged pamphlet in four languages with superb essays on the music, the composer and the poetic forms and texts. All is translated. It is not so easy to follow the Spanish text and the English translations at the same time, as they are on pages 17-20 and 26-29 respectively which I find a little frustrating but that is a small point.

Until the day when this CD plopped on my doormat I was completely ignorant about Estevan Daca. So who was he?

He was something of a recluse and died in obscurity. In fact reading the excellent notes by John Griffiths I was surprised to find that there is so much we know about him. He was born of a well-to-do family in Valladolid. They were affluent enough to have founded a family chapel c.1538. Esteven studied at the university there but it was always the vihuela and song writing that captivated him as can heard from this collection. El Parnasso consists of three books devoted to separate genres. The 1st is dedicated to twenty-two original fantasias, four of which are played here; the second to intabulations of thirteen motets and Book 3 to secular songs (mostly Spanish and a few French most of which are recorded here).

Incidentally it is a particularly nice touch that this recording has been made in the very church in which Daca was baptised and which he no doubt attended for most of his life.

I suppose that in many ways Daca could be described as a Spanish John Dowland: singer, composer and lute-player. His music is best when it is melancholy and his texts, which he mostly wrote himself, are similarly imbued. In John Tyler Tuttle’s generally tidy translations "Never again will my eyes see/Anything that gives them pleasure" (Nunca mas veran mis ojos) or "Cruel pain, terrible affliction, disastrous, inopportune hour and life of toil" (Duro mal, de Zaballos). It would be a mistake though to think that all of the songs were like this. Two are sacred in a secular sort of way (‘Allegrias’) "Songs of gaiety songs of elation… for this Queen of the heavens". Others concern the ubiquitous shepherds and shepherdesses and these tend to be of a more light-hearted nature in what we would now call compound time or triple time. An example is to be found in "Welcome me into thy flock shepherd, for the love of Heaven" ( Dame acogida en tu hato).

The CD ends with the longest track a wonderful song ‘Enfermo estava Antioco’ about a prince who is madly in love with another man’s wife and whose father is powerless to save his son’s ebbing life. It is a thoughtful ending to the recording and well chosen.

Jose Hernandez Pastor is a fine singer. His voice has a rich quality with a controlled vibrato. It can be powerful or gentle, with perhaps too much of the former, in fact rather like a very good Rioja. Ideal for this repertoire. Ariel Abramovich is a perfect match and they work as a partnership with an ideal ensemble and recorded balance.

Gary Higginson


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