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Oratio – 20th Century Sacred Music from Spain and Latin America
Alberto GINASTERA (1916 – 1983) Hieremiae prophetae lamentations, Opus 14
Nemesio OTANO (1880 – 1956) Tota Pulchra Est
Ernesto HALFFTER (1905 – 1989) Oratio
Jesus GURIDI (1886 – 1989) Fainal para gran organo
Javier BUSTO (1949 - ) Agnus Dei from Missa Brevis "Pro Pace"
Frederic MOMPOU (1893 – 1987) Ave Maria
Fernando REMACHA (1898 – 1984) Veni sponsa Christi
Pau CASALS (1876 – 1973) O Vos Omnes
Christobal HALFFTER (1930 - ) Panis Angelicus
Joaquin RODRIGO (1901 – 1999) Ave Maria
Joaquim HOMS (1906 - ) Les Illums den mon
Jesus GURIDI (1886 – 1961) Tantum Ergo
Padre DONOSTIA (1886 – 1956) O Jesu mi dulcissime
Xavier MONTSALVATGE (1912 – 2002) Aureola para una imagen de Ramon Amadeu
Anton Garcia ABRIL (1933 - ) Pater Noster; Ave Maria
Cesar CANO (1960 - ) Speculum in aenigmatem
Coro Cervantes
Charles Matthews (organ)
Carlos Frenandez Aransy (director)
Recorded: 2-4 April 2003, St. Jude’s Hampstead, London
GUILD GMCD 7266 [74.54]


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The Coro Cervantes is a London-based choir which specialises in music from the Iberian peninsula. This disc, their second on Guild, is a survey of 20th century Spanish (and South American) sacred music. The music on the disc rather divides into two categories: music by composers that most people have never heard of and music by composers that people have heard of but did not realise that they had written any liturgical music. As such it sheds a wonderful light on choral activity in Spain in the 20th century. If a lot of these pieces fall into the useful and effective category, rather than being inspired, this is probably because a lot of it was written in response to changes in need in the Spanish church. There were three congresses on religious music in 1907, 1912 and 1928 followed by the civil war which changed the landscape for ever. Then in 1962 the 2nd Vatican council changed the church’s attitude to religious music.

A Howells-like modality combined with a hint of plainchant seems to be the prevailing genre; pieces that would work well in a liturgical context but which do not always grab the attention when played end to end on a CD. There are some surprises. Ernesto Halffter’s ‘Oratio’ evinces no echoes of his great teacher, de Falla, whereas his nephew Cristobal Halffter’s ‘Panis Angelicus’ is a lovely setting for high voices, with some austerely beautiful textures. Frederic Mompou’s ‘Ave Maria’ lacks the beautiful simplicity of his more well known piano pieces. but Joaquín Rodrigo’s ‘Ave Maria’ revels in its rather interesting vocal textures. The name Padre Donostia, a capuchin monk, was new to me and he contributes a setting of ‘O Jesu mi Dulcissime’ which manages to avoid the obvious. Another surprisingly successful work is Pau Casal’s sombre setting of ‘O Vos Omnes’.

There are two organ solos on the disc. The first, by Jesus Guridi, has a vigorous opening which sounds as if Guridi was listening to too much Widor, but the piece succeeds in being both tricky and effective if not always very original. The second solo, by Xavier Montsalvatge is the first piece of real 20th century modernism on the disc. This fascinating work rather puts in the shade the preceding, effective but derivative works.

Abril’s two pieces, which follow the Montsalvatge, go some way to bridging the gap between the generic modality of the earlier pieces on the disc and the modernism of Montsalvatge. The disc finishes with the work which won the 1st prize in the 1997 ‘Juan Bautista Comes Choral Competition’. This piece, ‘Speculum in aenigmatem’ by Cesar Cano is a fascinating and thought provoking work and I would hope to hear more of Cano’s work.

Possibly the strongest piece on the disc is not even a liturgical one. Alberto Ginastera’s ‘Hieremiae prophetae lamentationes’, setting texts he selected from the Lamentations of Jeremiah, was written for concert use. Written when the composer was in exile in the USA in 1946, it opens the disc with a howl. This is a tremendous piece and it avoids being an obvious setting of the familiar words. The music can be rather tricky and there are just hints of Ginastera’s flirtation with serialism, but the choir sing the music with a wonderful sense of line and achieve a beautiful hushed tone in the middle movement. There is a sense that the piece stretches the choir to its limit but this only adds to the sense of unease and even discomfort that Ginastera manages to generate.

The performances are admirable for their clarity and accuracy; the choir is spot on musically in all this new music. If I have a criticism it is the lack of Latin tone in the pieces; instead we get a very English sound: clear and accurate, perhaps a little too cool. The Latin is not given a Spanish pronunciation which seems remiss.

The interesting disc opens a window on an entirely different musico-liturgical tradition. If not all the pieces are entirely interesting, they are welcome nonetheless for contributing to a beautifully performed comprehensive survey of Spanish 20th century liturgical music.

Robert Hugill

see also review by Hubert Culot

 



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