This collection of Cançons de Bressol
(Songs of the Cradle) from Catalonia is an unexpected delight. Some of the lullabies are versions of melodies familiar to many of us far beyond Catalonia - notably El cant dels ocells
- but most of the others will be new to all but a few.
The Cor Sant Esteve de Vila-Seca (Vila-Seca is near Tarragona, south of Barcelona) is an all-female choir founded in 1974. It has often worked with major orchestras, such as the Orquestra Simfònica de Barcelona I Nacional de Catalunya and it has given concert performances of repertoire ranging from Vivaldi and Hasse to Debussy and Ravel. Xavier Pastrana has been the choir’s conductor since 2005. Here choir and conductor are joined by some accomplished instrumentalists in a recital which is consistently moving and always technically assured.
Particular delights include Allà en un pessebret (‘There in a manger’), in which the ensemble work of the choir is outstanding and the simple, attractive melody is presented without affectation or sentimentality; Sant Joan, feu-lo ben gran (Saint John, make him big’), in which Mariona Fernàndez is an excellent soloist and there are vocal passages which are almost Moorish in inflection. Quan el Sol se’n va a dormir (‘When the sun goes to bed’) has some beautifully hushed singing at its opening. There is a fine, lyrical performance of El cant dels ocells (‘the singing of the birds’), where the solo cello of Oriol Aymat is well blended with the voices of the choir. The Cançó de bressol (from Reus, where - or near where- Gaudi was born) is marked by some exquisite work from the choir and richly communicative singing by soloist Irina Paredes (all the soloists are members of the choir) of a text in which the angels console ‘la Mare de Déu’. The closing piece, Quatre bressols de l’Ebre, is the most sophisticated and harmoniously adventurous on the disc, but even here Xavier Pastrana’s arrangement largely respects the essential simplicity of the originals. A booklet note by Marta Badia Solé, a pedagogical theorist of some standing, observes that these are “melodies [her] fellow countrymen and women have conserved in their memory, a part of their inheritance that was bequeathed to them through oral tradition”. Pastrana seems almost never to have forgotten that in the making of his arrangements.
The playing time of this CD is very much on the short side, but if one is prepared to settle for quality rather than mere quantity there is much to recommend it. There is an emotional warmth that is never gushing or cloying. There are some lovely melodies and there is some excellent choral work. This may not be music of great profundity or structural complexity - but it is full of humanity, full of the archetypal bond between mother and child. As an added grace, the CD is beautifully packaged, with its repeated use of details from the Milanese painter Bernardino Luini’s The Sleeping Christ, or Madonna and Sleeping Child with Three Angels, now in the Louvre.
N’ha berenat lo Jesuset (collected in Tortosa) [2:31]
La Mare de Déu quan n’era xiqueta (traditional Catalan) [3:26]
Allà en un pessebret (collected in Reus) [3:38]
La dida (traditional Catalan) [2:58]
Sant Joan, feu-lo ben gran (traditional, from Camp de Tarragona) [4:24]
Quan el Sol se’n va a dormir (collected in Valls) [2:29]
El cant dels ocells (traditional Catalan) [3:53]
Son, soneta (traditional Catalan) [2:28]
Noninó (traditional, from the Balearic islands) [2:55]
La don, don (collected in Tarragona) [3:12]
Cançó de bressol (collected in Reus) [3:12]
Quatre bressols de l’Ebre (on four melodies collected in Les Terres de l’Ebre) [6:40]