This is a delicious
recital of relatively unfamiliar music.
A ‘tono humano’
is a Spanish song, usually for solo voice, setting a secular
text, unlike its sacred counterpart, the ‘tono divino’. It effectively
came into existence in the seventeenth century, and its emergence
and flourishing seem largely to have been associated with courtly
life in Madrid. Many of the ‘tonos humanos’ seem to have been
adapted from theatrical performances; most are made up of a
series of verses (coplas) with a repeated refrain (estribillo).
Marta Almajano has
a rich voice, full yet flexible, and she uses it with great
musical intelligence, always clarifying the meaning of the texts
she sings, while producing sounds of ravishing loveliness.
There is both passion and precision in the work of Almajano
and her accompanists, not least Juan Carlos Rivera whose work
on archlute and baroque guitar is a joy in itself.
The songs range
from the plaintive to the stately, their rhythms informed at
times by the dance, at others by a peculiarly Spanish melancholy.
Most of the texts are love songs and there is, indeed, much
of that “sweet pain” which the CD’s title promises. There are
many impressive pieces, including Juan Hidalgo’s ‘¡Ay de mi dolor!’, with Ventura Rico’s
viola da gamba contributing movingly to its instrumental introduction
and Almajano’s expressive singing a thing of rare power; the
anonymous ‘Sobra las ramas de un sauce’ in which the unhappy
lover listens to the ‘duet’ of stream and nightingale, with
singer and instrumentalists alike wonderfully responsive to
the text; the anonymous ‘Sarao de la minué francés’, a colourful,
symbolic poem, gorgeously sung to an accompaniment in which
Pedro Estevan’s subtle percussion is heard at its best. Or,
indeed, one of the non-amatory pieces, Juan del Vado’s ‘Las
campanas’, written on the occasion of the death of King Philip
IV in 1665, more than ten minutes of sustained intensity, with
singing of great beauty from Almanajo.
But, in truth, there
isn’t a dull track to be found on the CD. Whether for the fascinating
repertoire, for Almanajo’s voice - like a rich (but not heavy!)
red wine - for the skill of the instrumentalists, or for all
of these things, this is a CD which no one with an interest
in seventeenth-century music should miss, now that it has been
reissued (it was formerly Harmonia Mundi 987028). The booklet
notes, by Cristina Diego Pacheco, are very helpful and full
texts and translations are provided.