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Francisco JUNCA (1742-1833)
Mass in A major (1777)
Olivia Biarnés (soprano); Montserrat Pi (alto); Jordi Casanovas (tenor); Rafael Muntaner (bass)
Coral de Cambra Dyapson/Teodor Roura
Orquestra de Cambra Catalana/Joan Pàmies
rec. La Capella de L’esperanca de Barcelona AI, March 2000. DDD
COLUMNA MUSICA 1CM0068 [49:50]


 


Well here’s a new name for you, In fact here’s a new full name because he should be called Francisco Junca Y Carol. Junca was born in Sabadell twenty kilometres north of Barcelona. He was a choirboy at the mountain monastery at Monserrat a further twenty kilometres to the west. He then worked away for twelve years in far away Toledo and then in Girona, only to return to Barcelona. With the exception of those twelve years his entire long working life was spent in the service of the church in Catalonia.

His music is typical of its age. One might say ‘Rococo’ but straight ‘Classical’ will do. His output is large, over three hundred works according to the amazingly brief booklet notes by Joan Pàmies, the overall director of this performance. Junca left Toledo under appointment from the King to be a canon at Girona Cathedral a very important musical centre at the time. It was in Barcelona that this Mass was composed. It’s good therefore to have it performed here by a choir and soloists who hail from that city, in a good edition by Daniel Guinot and recorded by a company with an extensive catalogue set up with the express aim of promoting Catalonian music and performers.

I must say that finding any other information about this composer is rather hard. His Mass number 22 is recorded on the Spanish broadcasting organisation label (RTVE 65111) but it is difficult to find out much else, but then perhaps Junca had a fairly uneventful life. Listening to this music I would guess that that is the case.

Its style is akin to the early Haydn Masses but, as was common in Spain at the time, is a little more Italianate. The movements are, as usual divided between the soloists, who carry the bulk of the text in several often elaborate arias and the choir, which we might call ‘the ripieno’. Although it is not always easy to tell with continental voices, the choir seems to have boys singing the treble lines and they are strong with that typical vibrato you expect of Spanish boys. Sadly the composer, it seems to me, under-uses the choir compared with the soloists. What of the soloists?

Well I must try to be polite and remove my English critical ear and assume a continental one where vocalists sound quite different and have different expectations. It’s not easy. Let’s take the longest movement, the ‘Gloria’. Junca divides this into seven movements and incidentally each section of each movement is separately tracked which is an excellent idea. We open with ‘Et in terra pax’ which is normally for full chorus. The orchestra open the bowling, and feature the oboes and some other attractive woodwind playing. Here the bass and alto sing the opening to be joined by the soprano and only later - and briefly - by the chorus who interject occasionally. A graceful, operatic aria for alto follows with the ‘Laudamus te’ after an orchestral prelude. No texts are produced in the booklet. It is assumed that you know the words of the mass. The phrases can be long, just as in an operatic aria with the words constantly repeated. The alto voice of Montserrat Pi is flexible but plummy.

The ‘Gratias’ is mainly a chorus item with the soloists adding the odd phrase. The soprano soloist, Olivia Barnès, has, it appears, only one dynamic – and that ‘can belto’. The ‘Domine deus’ is a tenor solo where surely Jordi Casanovas is very lumpy and heavy-handed. His trills are likewise rather perfunctory and I’m not sure if he has a convincing upper range. The soprano takes over and then the bass Rafael Muntaner booms out. When all four sing together the decibels ring out in the spacious church acoustic. The dramatic ‘Qui tollis’ is choral at the start with soloist interjections which are nicely unpredictable in their placement. The movement includes a little vocal cadenza from the tenor. The ‘Quoniam’ is blasted and screeched out by the soprano soloist which is so unnecessary against a chamber orchestra. I could go on, but you get the idea I’m sure. At this point both with the (I’m sorry to say) second-rate music and the soloists I was practically at frustration point. I was only relieved by the fact that the Credo, with its huge text, is somehow all over in half the time of the Gloria. The playing time of the disc is mercifully short. In many ways however this is all a pity because of fine work from the choir who end the Gloria with a brief if uninspired fugal ‘Cum sancto spirito’. The orchestral playing is pleasing and neat; the direction crisp and clear.

I have British ears and who’s to say anyway if this kind of operatic approach is not the one which the composer expected and had in mind. After all at this period if the opera houses were closed for whatever reason, the star soloists made a few pennies singing in the cathedrals and abbeys. We do not know very much about the quality of Spanish singers in the late eighteenth century but the zarzuela was immensely popular in not far away Barcelona.

On the positive side, this disc represents a wholly admirable venture and I would like to recognize those who have put it all together. I’m sure that many will enjoy the strongly characterful music and earnest performance. Unfortunately for me I am not one of them.

Gary Higginson

 


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