Johan Duijck is a very versatile musician: choir director, teacher,
pianist as well as composer, although his composing activity burgeoned
fairly late. Though they may not have been planned as such, the
three works recorded here form a choral triptych setting texts
by three important mystical poets from the Golden Age of the Spanish
Renaissance: Fray Luis de León in Alma de la Música Op.16,
Saint John of the Cross in Cantar del Alma Op.24
and St Teresa of Avila in Alma, búscate en Mí Op.25.
Fray Luis de León’s text of Alma
de la Música Op.16 for soprano, chorus and orchestra
completed in 1996 was inspired by the organ playing of Francisco
Salinas, organist of Salamanca Cathedral and a friend of the
poet. The poem sings Salinas’ praise but also expresses the
mystical experience suggested by the blind organist’s playing.
The eleven sections of the work roughly follow the order of
the poem’s stanzas, whereas the music reflects the various
moods suggested by the words, which results in varied and
contrasted settings. The fifth section in praise of Salinas’
playing builds to a first climax at the words “produce el
son sagrado” (“producing the sacred sound”). The next section
(“Y come está compuesta” possesses a fugal character which
may remind one of Britten (the fugal sections in Hymn
to St. Cecilia Op.27) but ends with a more reflective
coda. The next section opens almost as a song for soprano
and piano, but women’s voices and strings join in later. The
finale is preceded by a beautiful a cappella setting
of the words “que todo lo demás es triste lloro” (“for all
the rest is misery”). The orchestra joins in at a later stage,
mild dissonance emphasising these words. The concluding section
implores Salinas to continue playing “so that all my senses
are opened to this heavenly gift and reject the rest”. The
soprano returns with a restatement of a phrase that has been
heard repeatedly as a refrain, and the work ends peacefully.
Cantar del Alma Op.24 for
alto, chorus and piano opens with a short recitative by the
soloist. The music then unfolds in several differentiated
sections linked both by the refrain “Aunque es de noche” (“although
it is night”) and by an short phrase played by the piano,
that almost graphically evokes streams (“aquella eterna fonte
está escondida”). For all the variety of musical setting -
the second section is set as an aria for alto and piano -
the whole work is mostly meditative, which does not exclude
a more animated section evoking rushing streams.
The third panel of the triptych, Alma,
búscate en Mí Op.25 on words by St Teresa of Avila,
is a somewhat shorter setting for mixed chorus and organ,
in which the dialogue between God and the soul is represented
by a colloquy of women’s voices with men’s voices. In the
last stanza, the voice of God is heard spoken over wordless
chorus and organ. The work ends with a restatement of the
As already mentioned earlier in this review,
Johan Duijck was and still is well known as a choir director;
and his vocal writing has obviously gained much from his conducting
activity. He writes idiomatically and gratefully for voices.
His way with the notes always sits comfortably for voices,
although it is not always as simple as one might think. It
certainly has its intricate moments, posing problems of intonation
and of articulation, all supremely mastered here. Another
remarkable characteristic common to these three works is the
way with which the composer succeeds in bringing formal and
structural coherence in his settings of texts that might have
prompted a more episodic musical setting. Duijck achieves
unity in diversity by his use of recurring themes and motives.
Finally, he eschews any temptation to write music with all-too-obvious
Spanish inflections. All his settings possess a refreshing
timelessness thus emphasising the universality of the texts.
Excellent performances throughout and the
recordings, made in different venues, are all warmly natural.
In short, a really very fine release of superbly made, eminently
singable and often quite beautiful choral music.