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Oratio:20th Century Sacred Works from Spain and Latin America
Alberto GINASTERA (1916 – 1983)

Hieremiae prophetae lamentationes Op.14 (1946/7)
Nemesio OTAÑO (1880 – 1956)

Tota Pulchraa
Ernesto HALFFTER (1905 – 1989)

Oratio (1935)b
Jesús GURIDI (1886 – 1961)

Final para gran organo (1960)c
Tantum ergo (1915)d
Javier BUSTO (b.1949)

Agnus dei (1985/6)
Frederic MOMPOU (1893 – 1987)

Ave Maria (1958)
Fernando REMACHA (1898 – 1984)

Veni sponsa Christi (1950)e
Pau CASALS (1876 – 1973)

O vos omnes (1932)
Cristóbal HALFFTER (b.1930)

Panis Angelicus (1956)
Joaquín RODRIGO (1901 – 1999)

Ave Maria (1954)
Joaquim HOMS (b.1906)

Les llums del món (1936)
José Antonio DONOSTIA (1886 – 1956)

O Iesu mi dulcissime (1941)
Xavier MONTSALVATGE (1912 – 2002)

Aureola para una imagen de Ramón Amadeuf
Antón García ABRIL (b.1933)

Pater Noster (1964)g
Ave Maria (1964)
César CANO (b.1960)

Speculum in ænigmatem (1997)h
Benjamin Hulett (tenor)a; Paul Parfitt (bass)b; Jennifer Fisher (alto)b; Andrea Johnson (soprano)e; Zulma Ramirez (alto)e; Karen Cull (soprano)g; Valerie McFarlane (alto)g; Esteve Gascón Martorell (bass)g; Debra Keen (soprano)h; Alan Widdowson (tenor)h; Coro Cervantes; Charles Matthews (organ)acdef; Carlos Fernández Aransay (director)
Recorded: St Jude’s, Hampstead, London, April 2003
GUILD GMCD 7266 [74:54]


20th century sacred music from Spain and Latin America. Well, not quite so indeed since Alberto Ginastera is the only Latin American composer featured here whereas Ernesto Halffter (as well as his brother Rodolfo) was born in Spain but settled in Mexico much later. So, most works here were composed by Spanish composers of various generations. Curiously enough, the oldest composer is Pau Casals whose O vos omnes was composed in 1932 whereas the youngest composer is César Cano, 1960, whose Speculum in ænigmatem , which ends this programme, was awarded 1st prize at the "Juan Bautista Comes" Choral Competition in 1997.

It would be completely idle on my part to detail all the works recorded here, though some definitely deserve some more comments. Let us say that most pieces are generally fairly simple, direct and quite beautifully made. Though some may be more familiar, a number of composers will be new to many of you. Such is Nemesio Otaño whose substantial miniature cantata Tota Pulchra for tenor, chorus and organ is featured here or José Antonio Donostia (pseudonym of José Gonzalo Zulaica y Arregui), a Capuchin apparently well-known as a folklorist and a musicologist, whose beautifully made O Iesu mi dulcissime for mixed chorus is sometimes redolent of Warlock’s bittersweet harmonies, or Fernando Remacha, a lesser-known composer from Navarra belonging to the same generation as Mompou, Guridi and Ernesto Hallfter, represented here by his fairly traditional, but quite moving Veni sponsa Christi beautifully set for women’s voices and organ.

As already mentioned, the oldest composer here, Pau Casals, is represented by his short anthem O vos omnes, a very fine setting of the three first lines only of the same text set by Ginastera. Needless to say, that his fine setting is definitely more traditional than Ginastera’s. Many of the other composers represented here roughly belong to the same generation the turn of the 20th Century. Ernesto Halffter’s Oratio from 1935 is an impressive, though rather austere setting for alto, bass and chorus. The name and work of Jesús Guridi has recently been brought into the public again thanks to a Naxos disc of some of his orchestral and vocal music. His fairly early Tantum ergo is a tender setting redolent of Fauré whereas his impressive Final para gran organo of 1960 brings Franck, Widor and Vierne to mind, which is not surprising since he – as many other Spanish composers of his generation – went and studied in Paris. Mompou’s beautiful setting Ave Maria somewhat reminded me of Rubbra’s Tenebrae Motets whereas Rodrigo’s own setting of the Ave Maria is also fairly simple, with some mild dissonance without which his music would not be what it is. Joaquím Homs’ setting of Les llums del món ("The Lights of the World" on a short Catalan text by S. Sánchez-Juan) for male voices is a real gem for all its brevity.

One of the real surprises here is Montsalvatge’s organ work Aureola para una imagen de Ramón Amadeu which often reminded me of Messiaen, with its abrupt changes of light and shades suggesting changing light through stained glasses. This quite impressive piece should appeal to enterprising organists looking for some worthwhile, unusual repertoire.

The younger generations are represented here by Cristóbal Halffter (the nephew of Ernesto and Rodolfo) with his quite early, uncharacteristic but extremely fine Panis Angelicus for female voices, Javier Busto, Antón García Abril and by the youngest man here César Cano whose Speculum in ænigmatem is in a slightly more advanced, but still quite accessible idiom.

Ginastera’s Hieremiae prophetae lamentationes Op.14 were written in 1946-1947 in the States where he had settled after leaving Peron’s Argentina. The choice of texts and the setting certainly reflect the circumstances of the time, i.e. the composer’s exile and the aftermath of World War II. The opening section O vos omnes is tense, furious and even aggressive at times, whereas the second section Ego vir videns paupertam meam is more inward and brooding. The final section Recordare attempts at finding some hopeful outlet to the accumulated tension of the preceding section. Needless to say that this impressive setting is quite demanding, in terms of vocal strength, rightness and intonation, and is obviously meant for professional groups, unlike many other pieces here that could be sung – quite satisfyingly – by good amateur choirs. This work was new to me and I hope that the times are now ripe for recording companies to consider Ginastera’s large-scale choral-orchestral works that are still conspicuously absent from his discography.

I have been quite impressed by the London-based Coro Cervantes’s immaculate, precise and assured singing that makes all these pieces sound easy, though they are not always easy to sing at all. The recorded sound is superb and the production up to Guild’s best standards. I urge you to listen to this, for there is much fine stuff here and – most importantly – wonderful singing by all concerned.

Hubert Culot


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