The 'ensalada' is a typical Spanish genre, which was very popular
in the 16th century. It was a mixture of different elements,
which explains its name, meaning in English 'salad'. The
'ensalada' was rooted in the popular culture, and was mostly
related to Advent and Christmas, by far the most important
time in the ecclesiastical calendar.
The features of the ensalada are the combination of sacred
and secular images, diverse rhythms and different languages – here,
Spanish and Latin. Nothing is known about the way ensaladas
were performed, for instance in regard to the number of singers
or the use of instruments. The choices made by Sergio Balestracci
- a performance with more than one voice per part and the
use of instruments to underline elements in the text -
Any recording can only give a faint impression of what
the original performances may have been like, as they also
text, mime and dance. In the programme notes in the booklet
Sergio and Guido Balestracci compare them to "a form
that today we would be tempted to term more 'multimedial'
than intended for the theatre in the narrower sense."
The first ensalada is a kind of battle piece, another genre
very popular in Spain in the 16th century. The tendency
of this piece
is revealed in its first lines: "Hear, all you people,
a contest is announced! And the prize, so one hears, is the
salvation of the peoples." It tells about Envy, who,
supported by Arrogance, proclaims: "Over the stars of
God I will elevate my throne and I will be equal to the Most
High". His opponent is Adam, surrounded by 'the holy
fathers'. But Adam fails: "Adam has fallen backward!
Starting today you sinners must seek another to redeem you
from suffering." A new knight arrives, the God of Israel,
whose "helmet is a cross". Lucifer, the devil,
is beaten. "And you Christians, happy Easter and a happy
new year, for the nightmare now has its end!" The piece
closes with a verse from Psalm 116: "Laudate Dominum
The second ensalada is less dramatic: as the title indicates
it is a jubilation about the birth of Jesus. This is specifically
related to the fate of the snake - the devil who in Paradise
seduced Adam and Eve to disobey God. It ends with the lines: "Through
the Blessed Virgin all of you dance the grigonça. And she
herself will crush your head" - a quotation from Genesis,
ch 3, where the fate of the devil is revealed.
The third is called 'El Fuego', the fire. It puts fire
and water in contrast to each other. These are used metaphorically:
fire symbolizing sin, the water, Jesus Christ. "The
birth from water, so pure, will be the end of our sufferings." This
piece ends appropriately with a reference to the Gospel of
John, ch. 4: "He who drinks of this water will not thirst
for all eternity".
In between these three ensaladas the instrumentalists play
a selection from two collections of instrumental music
by Antonio de
Cabezón, one of the most important composers of keyboard
music in Spain in the middle of the 16th century. As he was
organist these pieces are mostly performed on the organ,
although the title pages give vihuela and harp as alternatives.
The performers argue that in many comparable collections
of music from that period the possibility of performances
by an instrumental ensemble is suggested. As this way of
performing de Cabezón's music is historically legitimate,
the use of a combination of wind and strings is questionable.
Until the beginning of the 17th century there was a general
preference for ensembles of the same kind of instruments:
either wind or strings.
In comparison with the way Spanish music of the 16th century is often
performed, the interpretation by these Italian ensembles
is rather modest, and more introverted than one would perhaps
expect. Balestracci and his colleagues have opted for a more
subtle approach, which makes use of dynamic and agogic means
to represent the different affects within these compositions.
I find the result very convincing, which doesn't mean that
a more extraverted approach would be wrong. It helps that
the ensemble has excellent singers and players, who show
great flexibility in the expression of the texts. Maybe I
would have preferred a performance with one voice per part.
That way the texts would have been more clearly audible.
In short: this is a very fine recording of repertoire which is typical
of the Spanish culture of the 16th century.