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Ave Maria – 19th Century Romantic Sacred Music from Menorca
Josep M. Pons MELIÀ (1882-1960)
Ave Maria [3:45]
Jaume Alaquer REYES (1785-1823)
Ingemisco [3:31]
Ramon CARNICER (1789-1855)
Sonata [5:12]
Benet Andreu PONS (1803-1881)
Docebo iniquos vias tuas [4:42]
Preludio [1:35]
Ego sum panis vivus [4:36]
Villancico [2:50]
Sacrificium Deo [3:14]
Joan Fuxà GELABERT (1819-1890)
Ave Verum [4:39]
Damià Andreu STIGES (1851-1935)
Bone Pastor [3:12]
Quoniam iniquitatem [4:42]
Panis Angelicus [2:16]
Gradual [2:50]
Lluís Sintes (baritone); Tomé Olives (organ)
rec. Church of Santa Maria de Maó, Menorca, 10 January 2008


Experience Classicsonline

Not being an expert on 19th Century sacred music from Menorca I console myself with the fact that probably I am not alone in that particular failing.  This disc helps rectify this gap in my knowledge and is a record of a live concert given in the Church of Santa Maria de Maó on Menorca in 2008.  Greater documentary significance is added in that this is the church and indeed organ on which most of the composers represented worked and played. 

Sad to report, there are no lost masterpieces here.  Jaume Carbonell I Guberna in his succinct but informative liner-notes emphasises the influence of Italian operatic writing and this is undoubtedly true.  But even that goes little beyond the occasional Rossiniesque flourish or Bellini-ism.  I had to do a double-take over the range of the composer’s dates.  The earliest was born in 1785 and the latest died in 1960 but there is no possible way one could have surmised this from the sound of the music which all feels rooted around the early romantic period.  All is pleasant in rather nondescript manner.  One feels that rules of harmony and melody are being observed in a way to please the most reactionary of composition professors as well as a Church trying to distance itself from the secular excesses of a Verdian style requiem.  The main problem is that there is not a single moment in any of these compositions where one’s ears prick up with a memorable melodic phrase or apt word setting.  Without wishing to sound at all dismissive it is rather parochial. 

Clearly the audience enjoyed themselves.  They respond very warmly to the performances here which are given with great gusto by baritone Lluís Sintes and organist Tomé Olives.  Olives is following in the footsteps of the composers here by being the current incumbent organist of Santa Maria.  Achieving any kind of lifelike balance between a solo voice and a large organ is a thankless task but the engineers do pretty well.  Certainly Olives does not opt for registrations that gently enfold the voice – he has a marked preference for dramatic statements (try the very opening of the disc – no gently pleading Ave Maria this) but Sintes’ powerfully – albeit not always beautifully – projected baritone is able to ride the wave of sound. 

The liner-notes draw attention to the organ; “…[when it was built it was] an exceptional milestone in terms of dimension and quality……[and] is considered to be one of the finest in Europe and, indeed, the world”.  Quite a bold statement.  This has to be one of the most bizarre organs I have ever heard.  Olives seems to struggle with the action. Certainly the relative lack of responsiveness inhibits his ability to play some of the passage work as he might wish.  But it is the actual sounds it makes which stopped me in my tracks.  Listen to the passage 1:26 into track 2 – Ingemisco – it really does sound like the left hand and right hands are playing in different keys.  But that is nothing compared to the moment in track 3 Sonata when the carillon of bells appear.  The descent to the fairground is complete.  In the best tradition of such carillons they seem to have been tuned with no relation to the notes they nominally accompany.  I can only assume that the registration of these pieces calls for the bells here and that the composers wrote specifically for that stop on this particular organ.  If that is the case then the historical precedent is clear – it is just a shame it does not make for a more pleasurable listening experience.  The final track finished me off in every sense.  Stiges’ Gradual seems to have been written for some kind of trompette militaire stop.  Perhaps age has withered this particular part of the organ but now for all the world it sounds like a massed phalanx of outsized kazoos.  I suspect the aim was for something along the lines of Gigout’s Grand Choeur Dialogue – sadly this is not achieved.  Additionally, adjacent notes from this stop spring from opposite sides of the stereo picture adding another degree of manic absurdity to proceedings.  Yet, precisely because of the location and relevance of this instrument to the music being played it is hard to utterly dismiss it.  I suspect a major restoration is required.  

So, a disc of modest music, running to a miserly forty seven minutes, enthusiastically performed in idiomatic surroundings on the strangest church organ you might ever hear – make your own mind up, I really do not know! 

Nick Barnard



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