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CD: Crotchet

Feliz Navidad - Mediterranean Christmas Music from the Renaissance
ANONYMOUS (Cancionero de Uppsala) Dadme albrícias [2:08]
Bartolomeo TROMBONCINO (1470-1535) Ostinato vo sequiré [2:15]
ANONYMOUS (Cancionero de Uppsala) Yo me soy la morenica [2:28]
Bella de vos son amoros [3:13]
Vos virgen soys nuestra madre [2:12]
No la devemos dormer
Un niño nos es nasçido
Verbum caro factum est
Francisoco GUERRERO (1528-1599) Ave virgo sanctissima [2:25]
ANONYMOUS (Cancionero de Colombina) Reyna muy esclarescida [1:53]
ANONYMOUS (Cancionero de Uppsala) Alta Reina soberana [1:42]
Sebastiano FESTA (14??-1524) Vergine sacra [2:14]
ANONYMOUS (Cancionero de Uppsala) Señores el ques nasçido [1:22]
ANONYMOUS (Cancionero de Colombina) A los maytines era [3:05]
Qué bonito Niño chiquito!
ANONYMOUS (Cancionero de Uppsala) Falalalan falalala [2:08]
NEAPOLITAN TRADITIONAL Quando nascette nino [3:06]
ANONYMOUS (Cancionero de Uppsala) Que farem del pobre Joan [1:56]
Francisoco GUERRERO A un niño llorando al hielo [3:24]
ANONYMOUS (Cancionero de Uppsala) Rey a quien reyes adoran [1:58]
Pedro ESCOBAR (1465-1535) Virgen bendita sin par [1:49]
Francisoco GUERRERO Pastores si nos queries [1:56]
ANONYMOUS (Cancionero de Uppsala) Riu, riu Chiu la guarda ribera [3:25]
Francisoco GUERRERO Los Reyes siguen la estrella [2:54]
Rossino MANTOVANO (early 16th century) Lirum bilirum lirum lirum [1:48]
Francisoco GUERRERO Al resplandor d’ una estrella [3:24]
ANONYMOUS (Cancionero de Uppsala) E la don don [4:03]
Cécile Kempenaers (soprano); José Pizarro (tenor)
Capella de la Torre/Katharina Bäuml
rec. 24-27 March 2008, Church of St Osdag, Mandelsloh, Germany. DDD.
Texts and translations included.
Experience Classicsonline


This is a thoroughly delightful CD of music from early- to mid-16th-century Iberia and Italy. Very few of the items are at all well known, so there is nothing hackneyed about the programme. You may recognise the traditional Neapolitan Quando nascette nino (tr.17), which Handel purloined for He shall feed his flock from Messiah, presumably picked up during his Italian sojourn and which has more recently had some success in souped-up form with macaronic English and Italian words; not that the music needed to be souped up all that much. The tune of the opening Dadme albricias (track 1) surely owes something to Puer natus in Bethlehem, perhaps better known in Praetorius’s setting of its German translation Ein Kind geborn zu Bethlehem.

Otherwise Riu, riu chiu (tr.23) seems to find its way fairly regularly - and justifiably - into Christmas anthologies and Mantovano’s Lirum bilirum (tr.25) may sound familiar. The latter is one of the few pieces with a known composer - and we don’t know much about him, not even his exact dates. Of the named composers, only Francisco Guerrero (trs. 9, 19, 22 and 26) is at all well known. If you haven’t yet encountered his music, these four pieces will probably inspire you to explore further, in which case your next port of call should be the budget-price Hyperion Helios recording of his Missa sancta et immaculata, etc. (CDH55313, Westminster Cathedral Choir/O’Donnell) which I recommended last year, or the Gimell recording of Missa Surge propera, etc. (CDGIM040 Tallis Scholars), which I highlighted in a postscript to my August 2009 Download Roundup, or his Missa de batalla, etc., again on the budget Hyperion Helios label, which I favoured in the October 2009 Download Roundup (CDH55340, Westminster Cathedral Choir/O’Donnell again).

Guerrero’s Ave virgo sanctissima is included in the programme on CDGIM040. Those who know the Tallis Scholars’ tendency to savour the music of this period a little more than others will not be surprised to discover that their performance is unaccompanied, about one third longer and more reverential in tone than that on the new Coviello CD. There is room for both; the new recording is faster and accompanied, but it’s by no means lacking in reverence.

Much of the music here comes from the Uppsala Songbook, the Cancionero de Upsala (sic) or Cancionero del Duque de Calabria, the sole surviving copy of a collection of 54 villancicos, printed in Venice in 1556 and possibly originating from the court of Ferdinand of Aragon (early 16th century). The collection contains twelve Christmas carols, ten in four parts and two in three, all of them included on this CD. For more details about the Songbook, see the Goldberg Early Music magazine No.28.

Three other pieces come from a similar collection, the Cancionero de la Colombina, put together between 1451 and 1506, a collection probably associated with their Catholic majesties Ferdinand and Isabella. Of these, Reina muy esclarescida (tr.10), in common with a handful of other pieces here, is performed instrumentally.

It’s interesting how biblical concepts have become thoroughly Iberian in some of the pieces. Thus the ‘black but comely’ woman of the Song of Songs, traditionally identified with the Virgin Mary, becomes a morenica of Arab descent in Yo me soy la morenica (tr.3), another of the few pieces which may just have passed across your radar in the past - it’s been performed by Montserrat Figueras with the Capella Reial de Catalunya/Jordi Savall and by others. I’m not sure if that recording is currently available outside Spain; in any case, the few pieces which overlap between it and the new Coviello CD are hardly enough to deter purchasers.

There is also a recording of Yo me soy la morenica by Shirley Rumsey on a delightful collection of Music from the Spanish Renaissance, on which she accompanies herself on the lute, vihuela and baroque guitar (Naxos 8.550614). There’s just the one piece in common - the Naxos CD is not Christmas-orientated - so there should be nothing to prevent having both, especially as the Naxos is moderately priced.

If you are looking for more music from the Cancionero de la Colombina, there’s a Jordi Savall recording of 22 items from this source, including the well-known Niña y vina, but not involving any overlap with the three items on the Coviello CD. I don’t believe that recording is available on CD in the UK, but it can be obtained as a download for £6.99 from

This was my first encounter with the rising German label Coviello Classics; I hope it will not be my last. The presentation of the CD, in an attractive pack, tastefully illustrated and with informative notes, is little short of the high standards which I associate with the likes of Hyperion. The diptych arrangement employed by Coviello is probably the best way to prevent damage to such a thick booklet of notes.

This was my first encounter with the performers, too. Cécile Kempenaers has a fine soprano voice; though I marginally prefer Shirley Rumsey in Yo me soy la morenica, there’s very little in it. José Pizarro, the tenor, has an equally fine voice and the two sound excellent in the duet items. I look forward to hearing both again.

The members of Capella de la Torre employ a wide variety of accompanying instruments - almost equivalent to the kind of line-up which David Munrow used to employ and which has become less fashionable now. They produce a rich sound; for my money, however, the accompaniment is never allowed to go over the top. The CD booklet advertises another Capella de la Torre recording, this time purely instrumental, of the music of the Town Pipers or Waits (COV20714, SACD) and I’d certainly like to hear that. There’s also what looks like an interesting programme of Praetorius and Scheidt on their website (COV202907, SACD). Everything here goes with a real swing, though there’s sensitivity, too, where it’s required.

The booklet includes all the texts, in the various languages of the Iberian and Italian peninsulas - significantly, almost all the texts are vernacular; only tracks 8, Verbum caro factum est, and 9, Ave virgo sanctissima, in Latin - and the translations are in idiomatic English. Sensibly, the translator has not attempted anything other than a plain translation - or paraphrase in places.

The recording, too, is just right for this type of music and manner of performance. All in all, then, this CD merits a pretty strong recommendation. The performances can stand comparison with the likes of Jordi Savall’s Capella Reial and the programme itself joins a select number of Christmas recordings from the renaissance and baroque period in my collection - the Boston Camerata’s A Mediterranean Christmas (2564 62560-2; see my Christmas, 2008, Download Supplement) and Padilla’s Christmas Matins (UMA2011; see my December, 2008, Download Roundup) to name but two.

Brian Wilson 


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