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Francesc VALLS (1665-1747)
A todo correr [9:44]
Pues oy benignas las Luzes [5:24]
Pablo BRUNA (1611-1679)
Obras de falsas de sexto tono [2:05]
Francesc VALLS
Quando Antonio glorioso [6:41]
Sagrado portento de amor [8:29]
Obra de medio registro [5:05]
Francesc VALLS
Que estruendo de clarines [6:28]
Espiritu ardiente en llamas [6:31]
Joan CABANILLES (1644-1712)
Tiento XII de falsas [3:30]
Francesc VALLS
La que en el jardin serafico [8:13]
Anonimo del Siglo XVII
Passacalles de primer tomo [1:43]
A Corte Musical/Rogério Gonçalves
rec. June 2004, Chiesa di Sant-Laurent, Lausanne
SYMPHONIA SY 05215 [67:03]

For me, the name Francesc Valls has for a long time meant just one piece, the ‘Missa Scala Aretina’ with that fascinatingly strange opening to the Kyrie. This harmonic novelty for the period comes as the result of using an unprepared 9th interval, something which caused something of an uproar in musical circles at the time. The booklet notes to this release are a concise and learned education on ‘Dualism in the Spanish Baroque’, giving considerable background on the royal and political situations in which the artists found themselves – an essential part of artistic life, since without the patronage of the highest ranks in society their could be no creative existence.

Valls was a prolific composer and respected theoretician, reaching the prestigious positions of Chapel Master in Catalonia, and later both in Mataro and as Chapel Master in the Cathedral of Gerona. He finally achieved the top position in the Cathedral in Barcelona, where he remained for over thirty years.

The sound on this CD represents the Spanish style of the time, avoiding the Italianate cornettos, shawms and sackbuts, which were considered ‘dangerous’. The result is a clean sounding ensemble with violins and a cello, the plucked strings of guitars or lutes, organ and some swingingly syncopated percussion to accompany the voice or voices. The pieces of this time are referred to as tono which was a general term for all Spanish song or melody, further described by words such as humano (secular), and divino or sagrada (sacred). Valls’ own treatise, the Mapa armonico practico, describes the differences between national styles as seen by a composer proud of his Spanish heritage. This is quoted in the booklet, and gives some interesting insights into the values held most important to musicians in his time. The song texts are provided in full but not in translation, making full appreciation of the message in the songs something of a struggle – you can get the gist, but non-linguists like me will always have the feeling that they are missing something. 

There are few if any of the luscious dissonances in the Mass to which I referred earlier, but the music on this disc more than makes up for this in terms of energy and sheer rhythmic gusto. There is plenty of variety in what is little more than a chamber ensemble, and the recorded sound is excellent. Judging by the photos on the inside of sleeve the musicians were ranged on the balcony of the church, and with an elegant spread of baroque guitars or lutes left and right and a beautiful acoustic the whole thing is very easy on the ears indeed. I enjoyed the singing as well, which is natural and unforced, with expressive vibrato and a sense of unmannered and joyous music making throughout.

The other composers, Pablo Bruna and Joan Cabanilles, represent some of the important work for organ which was written by some of Valls’ contemporaries. These works provide valuable interludes and contrast in timbre between the ensemble pieces and are a good move in terms of programming. The tientos falsas are the chromatic or ‘unsingable’ intervals for which Bruna had a predilection, and with the baroque tuning of the gorgeously intimate sounding organ in the Church of St Laurent the reasons for applying this term to Bruna’s writing becomes immediately apparent.

This release is a beautifully prepared and performed production, and a stylish representative of current historical performing practice – something which has progressed immeasurably in recent years. The gatefold cardboard sleeve in which the CD and booklet are somewhat precariously held might have been a little more sturdy, but this is a very minor caveat and should put nobody off from adding this big-hearted little gem to their collection.

Dominy Clements  


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