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Francesc VALLS (ca.1671-1747)
(Introit): Confitebor tibi, psalm 138 (137) [5 :29]
Missa quarti toni (1709) [16 :48]
(Introit): Lætatus sum, psalm 122 (121) [4 :22]
Missa primi toni (1709) [17 :30]
(Cant final): Credidi, propter quod locutus sum, psalm 116 (115) [5:23]
Exaudi nos: Alexandrina Polo, Meritxell Olaya (sopranos) ; Elisenda Arquimbau, Montserrat Bertral (altos) ; Albert Riera, Damià Carbonell (tenors) ; Xavier Pagès (baritone); Arnau Rodon (cornetto); Meritxell Ferrer (bass); Josep M. Martí (theorba); Santiago Mirón (viool); Mireia Ruiz (organ)/Joan Grimalt
rec. 19-20 July 2006, Church of St Pere de Terrassa, Spain
LA MÀ DE GUIDO LMG 2074 [49 :42] 


Francesc Valls was one of the biggest names in Spanish Baroque music, but, while the occasional title has appeared recently there remains a disproportion in the quantity and quality of the music he created, and the attention paid to it at present. The programme on this CD contains two masses and three psalms which were written for the liturgy. The emphasis in the psalms is on communication of the text, and as a result they have a more direct nature than the masses. Valls draws on Renaissance motet style in the word setting of Confitebor tibi, the melodic structures and cadences following the flow of each sentence. Lætatus sum reflects joy at being in the temple, and the final Credidi, propter quod locutus sum, another psalm of thanksgiving, is nonetheless a fitting conclusion to the programme, carrying an intensity reflected in such parts of the text as “How can I repay God for all the good He has done for me?” The mass and psalm texts are given in Spanish and or Latin in the booklet, but not translated into English. 

The masses are basically the Ordinarium missæ – the usual texts used for each mass, which are set to music and available for use regardless of the religious feast being celebrated. Valls’ masses for higher feasts have a more extended instrumentation, whereas the charm of these masses is in their more intimate austerity. The Missa quarti toni has two soloists, soprano and tenor, and uses a typical Renaissance monothematic technique, the whole work being based on a single motif – in this case an unidentified fragment of a Gregorian-like melody. The Missa primi toni has a more solemn air than the previous one, using two sopranos, one alto and one tenor as solo parts. While missing the better-known Missa Scala Aretina’s more adventurous harmonies, the richer setting does in places recall some moments from that work’s atmosphere. A descant part for the cornetto has been reconstructed in this piece, the original having been lost. 

Ensemble Exaudi nos bases its performances on research into historical practice, and in this they appear to achieve a successful balance in voices and selection of instruments. In terms of an authentic approach they might actually be said to have been a little too successful, the overall result in these apparently live recordings might possibly be said to represent a typical church service of the time, but falls a little short of being an entirely enjoyable listen. The singing is generally good, with only a few dodgy moments, but rather betwixt and between when it comes to style. Vibrato is the order of the day for most of the time – thankfully not too heavy, but a cleaner, purer sound might have been less wearing in the long run. The bass is a bit woolly and boomy, the organ is very low in the mix and might have helped things along with a bit more presence. Both the cornetto and the bassoon sound a little sad, I’ve certainly heard better; and there are certainly some moments when the ensemble sounds a little tentative. The acoustic is relatively dry for a church environment, and a photo on the back of the booklet indeed shows a fairly restricted space – I would imagine something just a little more resonant would have made a big difference. The left/right separation of the voices is good however, with some nice antiphonal effects.     

The caveats mentioned to one side, these works are recorded here for the first time, and as such are deserving of at least some recognition. Those keen to investigate Francesc Valls have little enough choice, so any titles with new works are to be welcomed. It is a shame that this CD is not more of an emphatic or eloquent statement for his cause. 

Dominy Clements                    


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